Motorhome advice: A guide to campervan insurance
Knowing that your sanity hangs in the balance at campervan insurance renewal time, we’ve put the industry under the microscope so you are better informed to decide who to turn to when you come to renew your policy.
We detail who can insure your campervan and what they have to offer. We've also had a chat to some of the key players in the market to see what's going on in the world of insurance.
Experts Ben Cue of Comfort Insurance, Caravan Guard’s Craig Thompson, Nigel Coppen of Vantage Insurance Services (which takes in Club Care Insurance Services) and Safeguard's Nic Waddington, all contribute their thoughts and opinions to help guide you.
Campervan insurance when travelling in Europe
*picture credit: Alamy
There’s currently no way of knowing what the outcome of Brexit will be in terms of its impact on campervan insurance.
Craig Thompson says: “If we leave with a deal, everything will probably continue as before. If we leave without a deal, it’s possible that anyone travelling to Europe will have to carry a green card along with an international driving permit.”
A green card is a document that’s recognised at border crossings showing that a driver is insured to drive their vehicle. And green cards never went away for those keen to drive in countries like Andorra, Albania, Macedonia or the Faroe Islands, which sit outside the EU.
Craig clarifies: “Our green cards last for up to 270 days at a time, so you can easily sort it out before leaving the UK. We don’t charge our customers if they arrange green cards through our website, but we levy an admin fee if it’s done over the phone.”
Comfort’s Ben Cue notes: ”The original cards were introduced at a time when things were very low-tech but, in the modern age, it shouldn't be difficult to have an electronic green card that would be scanned, much like a passport. We automatically include up to 365 days of European cover to all of our policies, and most of our customers take their vehicles abroad, but the worst-case scenario is that you might have to pay a fiver for an international driving permit and plan ahead by requesting a green card, which may or may not be free.”
Nic Waddington adds: ”We've had reports from some of our customers that green card checks are already taking place at border crossings. One thing that won’t be changing overnight post-Brexit is the level of cover that we provide, whether travelling in the UK or in the EU.”
In the event of a no-deal Brexit there could be other ramifications, as Nigel Coppen explains: “It could be that the current pet passport scheme is overhauled and a new certification for travel introduced with a four-month period before travel, so you’d have to sort out some paperwork if taking an animal with you. Also, while shorter trips would be covered by a green card, it could be that visas will be necessary for longer trips.”
Regardless of what happens with Brexit, you still need to make sure that you’re covered to drive your campervan in the EU if you’re visiting Europe.
As Craig says: “Not all policies include EU cover as standard; Caravan Guard’s doesn’t because it would be forcing a large chunk of our policyholders to pay for something that they wouldn't use, which is why it’s an optional add-on. Only about half of our customers ever leave the UK, so we can offer them a useful saving.”
The cost of campervan repairs
Ben adds: “An EU withdrawal is likely to have an effect on the cost of parts and vehicles, too. It's already getting increasingly difficult to source parts for older vehicles – for the first dozen years or so things tend to be OK, but then the supply often deteriorates. Parts supply is becoming more fragmented and they generally have to be ordered in specially as few companies keep much in stock nowadays, resulting in longer waits and higher costs.
Sometimes, things aren't helped by customers insisting on OE parts, or wanting to stick with specific brands, when often a cheaper alternative is simply the same part but in a different box. The key thing is to ensure that the part carries a BSI kitemark. Windscreens are a good example, as there are just three companies making these across the whole of Europe – but they can sell the same part under an array of brands.
“Part of the problem is model year changes, when things get changed to keep a vehicle looking fresh or to add new technology. This adds to the number of parts that have to be kept available and if the prices for these increases it's more likely that a vehicle will be written off, even though paradoxically these vehicles are lasting longer than ever.”
“It’s not just about the parts supply, though. Van sales are booming, especially for bigger models. The problem is that while the number of commercial vehicles is rising, the number of repair centres is not, leading to longer waiting times.”
As if all this isn’t enough, many motorhomes are built in such a way that repairs are very specialist and therefore potentially very costly. We had an instance recently where a shelf was damaged inside a campervan. The part itself cost just £30 but to replace it would have meant major disassembly of the campervan, then reassembly, but we found a company that uses very specialist repair techniques and the £7,000 bill that we were facing was trimmed to just £750. That’s still a lot of cash to replace a damaged shelf, but it’s far less than it might have been.”
As if all of this isn’t enough to contend with, campervan and motorhome theft rates are going up, just as they are for most motorised vehicles these days.
All of those we spoke to advocate the use of a mechanical lock that will act as a visible deterrent as well as impede the progress of thieves intent on stealing your campervan. Nigel says: “We would always advise the fitment of mechanical locks; anything that slows down or deters a thief has to be a good thing.” Or you could try a gadget that Comfort Insurance recommends: a lock for the OBD port that stops thieves plugging their own device into your campervan’s brain, enabling them to steal it without the keys.
Ben adds: “Ford-based campervans seem to be particularly likely to be stolen, partly because there are lots of them – but over the past year Fiats have also become more likely to be pinched. There’s a huge demand for used Fiat and Ford parts across Europe, with items such as engines and gearboxes very easy to sell on.”
Steering wheel locks and campervan security
Craig says: “We advise owners to look at the Sold Secure website - soldsecure.com - and to invest in steering wheel locks with a gold rating. Clutch locks and wheel clamps are also good options. An increasing number of theft claims are for vehicles taken from driveways. We’d always advise trying to keep a vehicle out of sight and if you really can’t do this, think about adding driveway security such as driveposts or locked gates, or even moving the campervan into secure storage instead.
A more positive trend is the number of younger enthusiasts who are getting into campervanning. All of our contributors have noticed this trend, as Nigel says:
“There are more converters than ever offering more choice than there has ever been. The ready availability of finance has helped a new generation get into motorhoming.”
It also helps that, with Volkswagen selling significant numbers of its California each year, and with Mercedes having introduced the Marco Polo a couple of years ago, there are now a few on used forecourts. This greater availability of used vehicles to choose from suits those 30-something families perfectly. However, as Nigel points out, many of these campervans aren’t reserved for occasional weekends away – they’re more likely to be used on an everyday basis, perhaps even for commuting. Not all insurers can cover this risk, though, and those that can will often have a relatively low annual mileage limit in place of 8,000 or so.
Nic says: “We have seen a rapid growth in campervan policies; a lot of traditional motorhome, caravan and even car dealerships are branching out and selling campers. We work closely with a large and ever-growing volume of converters; the conversions vary widely and can be very bespoke. For this reason, and because they’re a lot smaller than motorhomes, insurers are nervous about the fact that the lines between leisure and everyday vehicles are being blurred.
It’s important that you're clear with your insurer regarding the mileage and use of the vehicle to ensure you have the correct cover in place, and that you won’t encounter any problems if you need to make a claim.”
Instead of ensuring in advance that they’re adequately covered, some owners try to pull the wool over the eyes of their insurer in the event of a claim, which is bonkers because you can get a good level of cover for a ridiculously small amount of cash. It’s not just about inadequate cover, though; some people break the terms and conditions of their cover.
Nigel explains: “Some owners go away for several weeks or even months at a time, so unsurprisingly they take their spare campervan keys with them just in case. That in itself isn’t a problem – but what is a problem is leaving them in the campervan when it’s left unattended, because if a vehicle is stolen when the keys are inside, that will void the terms of any insurance policy.”
On this note, when someone unwittingly breaches the terms of their policy, most reputable insurers will try to help in some way, even if it’s just a contribution – note the use of the word ‘unwittingly’ here. Remove that from the equation and the claim becomes fraudulent, so that’s a different matter entirely. According to Ben, if someone exaggerates an insurance claim, their insurers are supposed to pay just a part of that claim – but new legislation is likely to land soon, which would mean an insurance company wouldn’t have to pay out anything at all.
Ben adds: “To put things into context, our average premium is £350 yet we’ll get people trying to under-insure their campervan to pay a slightly smaller premium and to avoid having to fit security measures. We do our research at the point that a policy is taken out and if we’re not happy that we’re getting the whole story we decline the business – that’s why we pay out for 99.6% of the claims that we receive.
“It’s not unknown for someone to buy a brand-new campervan for the thick end of £60,000 but to insure it for £54,000 so they don’t have to fit the tracker or alarm that we insist must be installed on any campervan worth £55,000 or more. On a new-for-old policy you stand to be thousands of pounds out of pocket in the event of a claim – and all for the sake of just a very small saving. People also sometimes don’t insure their vehicles over the winter because they’re not being used – despite the fact that fire and theft are constant possibilities whether or not the campervan is being driven.
People think that it won’t happen to them, but bad things do happen, which is why at the point that you take out your insurance cover you must disclose everything and ensure that any claims limits won’t leave you out of pocket.”
Shop around for campervan insurance
Armed with all of this information, when you come to buy your insurance it’s crucial that you shop around and, when you do, don’t just look at the headline price; pin down what you’re getting for your money as well as whether or not there are any add-ons.
Not all policies are the same; some allow you to tailor things to suit your needs while others are little more than car policies, which don’t provide the specialist cover than you need. Also, don’t rely too heavily on price comparison websites because not all companies are on those, and as Ben Cue comments: “Instead of just filling out an online form, give the insurance company a call as they might be able to offer a better deal on the strength of a conversation.”
To illustrate the point, Craig says: “Caravan Guard offers a range of discounts that a price comparison site wouldn’t necessarily flag up when you’re entering your information. For example, we offer a 5% discount on vehicles fitted with Tyron bands, which help a driver maintain control in the event of a tyre blowout, preventing a more serious accident. We can offer the same discount on vehicles fitted with pressure monitoring systems such as TyrePal, to help reduce the likelihood of a campervan being driven on incorrectly inflated tyres, while reversing cameras are rewarded, too.”
Finally, make sure that you’ve got the best suitable policy in place – some are rather better than others. Ben illustrates: “One of our customers bought a £46,000 campervan and initially insured it on a general motor vehicle policy so there was no specialist cover. You might save a bit at renewal time, but in the event of a claim you could be left out of pocket by thousands of pounds.
“That’s because most car policies provide just a few hundred pounds-worth of possessions cover, whereas a motorhome policy increases this to a few thousand. Also ensure that you’re completely honest when answering questions and don’t be afraid to ask your own questions; a good sales person will know the product and will guide you through everything.”
If you found this information useful, read more campervan and motorhome practical advice articles here.