Forgotten Details: Making Sure we Could Get Insurance Before We Bought our Motorhome

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Saturday 24 January 2015

Forgotten Details: Making Sure we Could Get Insurance Before We Bought our Motorhome

Having only ever owned and driven a car, getting comprehensive motor insurance had always been quite a straightforward process. A simple matter of trying out a few comparison websites, ringing around, paying by card and receiving all the paperwork in the post a few days later. The question of whether or not anybody 'would' or 'would not' insure us at all was not something we'd had to worry about before. The few people we knew who owned a motorhome had told us that motorhome insurance was both easy and cheap to get. Cheaper than a car in fact. However, as we were to learn, finding a company who would actually insure us and our specific circumstances for an extended trip into Europe in a motorhome was much more difficult and almost forced us to consider cancelling or at least drastically altering our plans right at the last minute.

We weren't completely unprepared when it came to the issue of motorhome insurance and had looked at a number of quotes shortly before we started looking seriously at buying a motorhome. However, the question we had been interested in at the time was whether any company would be able to give us comprehensive insurance on a 'self-build' motorhome. We had seen some really nice looking DIY converted vans that we liked. Instead of major motorhome manufacturers doing the conversion on brand new vans, these ones had been done by individuals or smaller companies on used vans. Most had been registered as a 'motorhome' on the V5 document, but we wanted to make sure they were insurable. Unfortunately had found that none of the mainstream insurance companies (SafeGuard, Comfort, Caravan Club) would consider insurance for our circumstances.

Our circumstances were that we were 31 and 30. This would be our first motorhome. I had just 2 years of driving experience/no claims but Esther had 13 years. We did own our own home in Durham where we would be registering the vehicle. We were only going to be running one vehicle so the no claims would be transferred to the motorhome policy and the self-build motorhomes we were looking at were between £5,000-£10,000. We did find some specialist insurance brokers (including the National Farmers Union) who would consider us, although the cost was in excess of £1000, plus other restrictions (see below)!

So, having decided we wouldn't buy a 'self-build'as our first motorhome, we began our search for our first motorhome assuming that as long as we bought an officially converted motorhome built by one of the recognised companies we could get insurance cover. We didn't actually revisit the question of motorhome insurance until we reached the point of putting down a deposit on a motorhome (which we didn't buy in the end as the seller cheated us!) and we wanted to get a quote in place ready for when we drove it away.

So, sitting down to ring round the major insurers and get a few quotes I was completely unprepared for the panic I was about to experience. I don't remember who I called first, but as soon as I mentioned that we planned to go touring outside of the UK for perhaps up to 10-12 months, they immediately said "sorry, we can't insure you...." before going on to explain that they didn't offer "full-time" motorhome insurance policies. Essentially, if we planned to be out of the country for more than a certain number of days we were considered "full-timers" and as such their underwriters would not cover us.

So, I started phoning other companies and the story was the same every time, just with a different number of days. At one point I got a little more hopeful when Comfort told me they did do a specialist "full-timer" policy that would cover us, but he premium was over £1000 and I had to have a motorhome less than 10 years old and worth more than £20,000 to qualify, neither of which was the case. They also said that we had to leave our home in the UK unoccupied while we were away, but we needed the rental income to allow us to go at all. They would have been happy to insure us provided we never left the UK in the motorhome for more than a certain number of days. The issue was always the number of days we wanted to be outside of Britain. An extended UK tour would not have been a problem.

It turned out that even though there appear to be countless companies offering motorhome insurance they are almost all underwritten by the same 2 major insurers, Allianz and Zurich, who set many of the terms of insurance. Therefore anyone with same underwriters as Comfort had similar clauses on what they called "full-timing", even though we didn't consider ourselves "full-timers" at all since we had planned our trip for up to 10-12 months and perhaps even less as there was a work possibility after 8 months. Some people told me that it was ok if I stayed on the electoral roll, but only for 6 months away. Other times it was "leave the house empty, but you can only go for 90 days". The details changed, but the story was the same...."you need a 'full-timing' policy and we won't insure you for that".

There were a small number of specialist companies/brokers (e.g National Farmers Union) who claimed they would cover us for a "full-time" policy despite not having a £20,000 motorhome, but their premiums were between £1000-1500. The other specialist firm, Saga, sadly wouldn't accept us on account of being too young.

By this point I was desperate, we had a deposit on a motorhome for the sole purpose of an extended European motorhome tour and I couldn't find insurance! I was preparing myself to break the news to Esther that we might be rethinking our plans. Fortunately I then called SafeGuard who do offer "365 European cover". I was sceptical after all the knockbacks I'd had so was ecstatic when they told me that as long as we "owned" a house in the UK they would cover us for up to 365 days a year overseas in Europe as the fact of my home ownership allowed them to recognise our plans as a temporary trip abroad. Better still, the policy was less than £500 since it was a conventional motorhome policy rather a specialist "full-time" one. Other "conventional" policies with the companies who wouldn't cover us had been cheaper, but we were just relieved that our specific circumstances were covered.

Had we been renters in the UK, they would not have covered us either.  I actually had them repeat their small print to me several times and promise all their calls were recorded as I explained exactly what we planned to do. Esther later called them to verify it herself as well. Needless to say SafeGuard are the company we went with. (The policy also included AA/European breakdown cover)

Looking back now we were actually very naive about vehicle insurance and should have sorted this out much sooner. We have since met people on the road who are much more blase about their insurance. One couple we met said they couldn't find anyone to cover them for Europe but have gone touring anyway. Also, many of the self-build vans we've seen say they just have normal vehicle cover but after our experience ringing round I'm doubtful what would happen if they had a major claim, but everyone has to make their own choices.

For us, perhaps we are more risk averse than others and more inclined to verify everything fits within the small print. But, for us, our motorhome was a very expensive purchase. Other than our house it was easily the most expensive item we've ever bought (far more than any car we've owned) and we wanted to be certain we were both legal and protected ourselves, so fully comprehensive cover was important to us.

Looking back now it is surprising how difficult we found it to find consistent and helpful advice online about motorhome touring in Europe and insurance. We even emailed some blogs that we found at the time by people on (or who had been on) a European motorhome tour, but none of them replied. The best advice we would give is to phone around before you start serious searching and certainly viewings and make sure you find a company who will insure your specific circumstances at a premium you're happy with.

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