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RV Insurance
Common Claims & Tips To Avoid Them

The goal of this page is to make you aware of common RV insurance claims and help you avoid them.

Let's get started.

The Top Five RV Insurance Claims

My research indicates that most RV insurance companies are in agreement on the Top 5, but there are differences in the order.  Since we're so close to the issue, we're going to start with tires.

1. Tire Failures

2. Fires

3. Hitting Low Overhangs & Bridges

4. Failure to Retract Steps, Awnings, & Antennas

5. Animal Infestations


After the top five, the next few claims can probably be summed up as "Body Damage" due to RVs being taller, longer, and wider than we're used to.

We RVers tend to not swing wide enough in turns, we forget about "tail swing", we back up without assistance, we forget to look up, and we forget our mirrors and awnings stick out a bit.

And then, unfortunately, there are Theft and Vandalism claims.

Let's look at all of these and see what we might do to help prevent them.



1. Tire Failure

Through our work with the RV Safety & Education Foundation (RVSEF), we know that the number one cause of RV tire failure is overloaded (aka underinflated) tires.

By weighing a couple of hundred RVs a year, we personally see how many RVers are not running correct tire pressures for the loads the tires are carrying.  And we see first hand the massive damage tires can do when they fail.

So, here are some tips to help prevent tire failure.

Make Sure Your Tires Are Properly Inflated

RV tires aren't like car tires.  RV tires are designed to carry different loads at different inflation pressures.

The ONLY way to know 100% what your proper inflation pressure should be is to 1) know how much weight the tire is carrying, AND 2) have a tire chart from the tire manufacturer (or from The Tire & Rim Association) for your size tire.  Once you have the load, you can set your inflation pressure based on the tire chart.  Also, we always inflate tires on the same axle to the same pressure (using the chart-indicated pressure for the heaviest loaded tire).

Note:  IF your tire is carrying a load beyond the maximum weight on the sidewall of the tire, that's what we call a GROSS overload and adjusting tire pressure won't help that issue.  The risk of tire failure is increased.   

The tire chart is the easy part.  Finding a place to weigh your RV by wheel position can be a challenge.  But, it's worth the effort to make sure your tires are properly inflated, to reduce the chance of tire failure (and thus RV damage), and to increase your safety as you go down the road.

If you can't weigh your RV by wheel position, the next best thing is to weigh your RV by axle.  You can't get exactly what load each tire is carrying, but you can get a better estimate than just guessing or using the "recommended" pressures on your federal compliance label.

Until you get your RV weighed and get accurate loads, use the "recommended" inflation pressure on your federal compliance label.  Every RV has such a label - it's required by law.  But, we can tell you from experience that the "recommended" inflation pressures are often wrong based on actual loads, so it's best to get your rig weighed and know for sure.

One last thing.  Though underinflation of tires is the number one cause of tire failure, overinflation is also a problem.  When overinflated, our tires are more susceptible to road hazards, and we don't have as much "tire patch" on the road which compromises our steering and braking.

Check Your Tire Pressures Every Driving Day

Whether you use a tire pressure gauge on each tire or you have a Tire Pressure Monitoring System (TPMS), check your tire pressures before each trip or move.

The tire pressures should be checked when "cold".  "Cold" simply means before the RV is driven, preferably before the sun heats them up.  Then adjust the pressures accordingly.

As you go down the road, your tires will heat up and the pressures will increase.  They are designed to do that.  So, whenever we set our pressures as indicated on our tire charts, we do that when the tires are "cold".

Keep Your Speed Down

Many people don't realize that their high-priced, high capacity RV tires have low speed ratings.  Many commonly used tires are only speed rated for 65 mph.  So, tire failure is often a combination of underinflation and too much speed.

The faster you go, the lower the carrying capacity of the tires.  So, if you are near their capacity, too much speed may put you over.  Conversely, going slower actually gives you more capacity, so if you are borderline, slowing down may give you a little more safety margin.

Know The Age Of Your Tires And Don't Wait Too Long To Change Them Out

Every tire manufactured for use in the U.S. has a Department of Transportation (DOT) code on the sidewall.  The last four digits of the DOT code indicate the week and the year the tire was made.

For example, if the last four digits of the DOT code are 2214, that tire was made in the 22nd week of 2014.

In RV applications, we will usually "age our tires out before we wear them out".  Our RV tires, under absolutely perfect conditions, could last 10 years.

However, we tend to not take perfect care of our tires.  We run them underinflated, we run them overinflated, we hit curbs, we hit road hazards, we store them in the sun, we use dressings on them that damage them, and we don't use them often enough.  And once a tire is damaged, it's damaged - they don't miraculously "heal" themselves.

So, when your motorhome tires are 5 - 7 years old, have them removed and inspected.  Just checking tread depth isn't enough.

If you have a trailer, the time is shorter.  Have your trailer tires removed and inspected at 4 - 5 years.

And if you bought your RV used, you have no idea what damage the prior owner may have done.  So you might want to have the tires removed and inspected sooner, or you may just want to start out with a new set to be safe.

Storage & Maintenance

First of all, tires are designed to be used and they deteriorate when they sit.  Tires are built with chemicals and protectants in the rubber, and those chemicals spread out through the tire as they roll down the road.

So, whether you are storing your RV or you are in a seasonal spot for a few months, it's always a good idea to take the RV for a spin about once a month to keep the tires from getting flat spots and to allow those chemicals to get spread out.

When storing your RV or staying put for months at a time, have something under the tires.  Concrete leaches chemicals from the tires and asphalt has petroleum which softens and damages the rubber.  Gravel can cause problems over time as well.

You can clean your tires with soap and water or the tire dressing of your choice as long as it doesn't have petroleum in it.  Read the label.

Use tire covers IF the sun will be hitting the tires while in storage or in a seasonal spot.  However, tire covers can retain moisture if they are too tight and you are in a humid area.  Moisture creates heat and you may be doing more harm than good if air can't circulate around the tires.  By the way, there are UV protectants in the rubber, so you don't need tire covers if you stay on the move.

Visual Inspections

Before each trip, walk around your RV and take a look at your tires.  You don't have to be an expert.  Just look for obvious tread damage and sidewall damage.  Pay attention to any major cracking or strange bulges.

As you get into the habit, you will notice if there are any significant changes that could indicate a problem.

If it doesn't look right, get to a tire shop and have the experts look at it.

This is an easy way to prevent an impending tire failure.

Pay Attention To Fellow RVer Tire Problems

Though most tire failures can be attributed to overloads and underinflation, there are certain tires put on by manufacturers that just aren't top quality or they aren't suited for a particular RV model.

Usually, those issues come up on the various owners' forums, so, if there is an owners forum for your RV, it might be worth browsing any tire discussions.  Of course, use some cautious skepticism because people rarely admit that their tires were overloaded or they were driving too fast.


Well, that's just a little information to help prevent tire failures which can cause major RV damage or even fires that can cause total losses.  If you get a chance, go to an RVSEF Tire Safety Seminar offered at various rallies and RV shows across the country for additional information on tires - the foundation of your home on wheels.


2. Fires

Honestly, I don't believe that fires are anywhere near the top five "most common" claims, but I'm sure they are responsible for the most "total loss" claims, and that's probably why insurance companies include fires in their lists of "top" claims.

There are all kinds of statistics thrown around about RV fires - how they start, where they start, motorhomes vs. trailers, whether they start while stationary or while moving, etc.  Many of the statistics have been used for years and it's difficult to find updated information and information from "official" sources regarding RVs as their own category.

So, rather than regurgitate a bunch of statistics that I can't independently verify, we'll use what data there is out there to make a few conclusions.

  • RV fires start while RVs are parked as much as when they are moving
  • Most motorhome fires while traveling start in the engine compartment
  • Most trailer fires while traveling are the result of bearings, wheels, and brakes locking up
  • Tire blowouts on all types of RVs can cause fires (see above discussion on Tire Failure) 
  • When stationary, fires start due to
  1. Carelessness (cooking, candles, unattended heat sources, etc.)
  2. Shorts in wiring
  3. Loose wiring connections
  4. Propane leaks
  5. Refrigerator overheating and failure 


For several years in a row, almost all the attention regarding RV fires was focused on RV dual power (electric or propane) refrigerators.  The major refrigerator manufacturers had recalls because their cooling units were failing causing leaks, overheating, and fires.

It was and is a serious issue, but I think the focus on refrigerators overshadowed all the other fire causes.

RV fires are actually relatively rare, but as mentioned above, they often result in total losses.  Certainly, fires can happen to even the most safety-conscious RVers, but many fires can be prevented through common sense, inspection, and proper maintenance.

Fire prevention tips:

  • Never leave candles, electric fireplaces, or portable heaters unattended
  • Never leave anything cooking on the stove top unattended
  • Never use the stove or oven to heat your rig
  • Have motorhome engine compartments periodically inspected and services to make sure there are no rotted or loose hoses and no loose cables or wires
  • Periodically inspect and service wheels, brakes, and bearings
  • Keep tires properly inflated, check pressures often, and inspect them often - See Tire Failure discussion above
  • Periodically inspect and service refrigerators, furnaces, air conditioners, generators, and water heaters - check for loose wires, clean vents of debris, soot, insect nests, and make sure propane appliances have proper air flow
  • Periodically inspect back of refrigerator for smell of ammonia or yellow powder both of which indicate cooling unit failure
  • Write down your refrigerator manufacturer and model number and periodically check for recalls (especially if you bought a used unit) 
  • Annually have the three propane system leak tests performed - Lock Up Test, Operating Pressure System Check, Timed Drop Pressure Test
  • Perform routine battery maintenance
  • Inspect main electrical cord for damage
  • Periodically have all wiring connections inspected, especially in transfer switch boxes, electric panels, inverters, and generators
  • Consider automated, temperature activated fire suppression systems for your engine compartment and for the back of your refrigerator cabinet
  • Have multiple fire extinguishers available (living area, kitchen, bedroom, exit door, storage compartment, tow vehicle (or towed vehicle) and know how to use them

So, those are some fire prevention and mitigation tips.  Of course, RV fires are very serious and dangerous.  The most important thing is to get you and your family out as RVs burn fast.

At least annually, practice your own fire drills, remind everyone of fire extinguisher locations, and test emergency exit windows to make sure they don't stick.  Practice your unhitching technique so you can disconnect from the RV quickly in an emergency.

We hope you NEVER have to deal with an RV fire and chances are you won't, but those of us that have been on the road awhile probably know one or more people that have suffered through a fire.  Better to take some preventative measures and be prepared rather than to rely on the odds.


3. Hitting Low Overhangs & Bridges

Getting used to the height of your RV may take time.  And if you don't take it out very often, you may never get used to it.

But it's very important that you measure from the ground to the top of the highest point on your RV (perhaps a vent cover or your air conditioner shroud).  Many people then stick or tape that number on the dash where it serves as a quick reminder to the driver.

"I think I can make it" is a statement often made just before a call to the insurance company.

Pay attention to all the clearance signs that we usually ignore while driving our cars.  Just to be safe, you might want to make sure the clearance is a few more inches than the measurement you have stuck on your dashboard.

When traveling to an RV park or campground, pay close attention to the directions on their website.  Very often they say "DON'T RELY ON YOUR GPS".  It's also a good idea to call ahead and ask someone at the campground about overhead clearances including tree limbs.

When routing your travel plan, you may want to check for low clearances.  I like the American Independent Truckers Association website for that.  Some people rely on their GPS units for low clearances, but I know they aren't all in there and it only takes one miss.

Be very careful at gas stations.  Don't assume the awnings are high enough.  Consider going to the trucker pumps or somewhere else if you are unsure.

Knowing your RV's height and paying attention to clearance signs will go a long way toward avoiding this type of claim.


4. Failure to Retract Steps, Awnings, & Antennas

As full-timers we see this all the time.  We've run down numerous people with their antennas up and a few with their steps out.  And we've seen several RVs on the side of the road with awnings ripped off.

Steps

For many motorhomes, the steps are automatic, so it's not always the RVer's fault the steps didn't come in.  This often occurs after a long stay where the steps remained out.  It's a good idea to "exercise" the steps periodically.

For manual steps, a simple line item on a "departure checklist" may do the trick.

Awnings

For awnings, the problem usually isn't a failure to retract as much as it is a failure to make sure the awning is locked in place securely.  Wind catches the rolled up fabric while traveling and the awning rolls out and acts like a sail.  The force can rip the hardware right off the side of the RV causing significant damage.

But, again, sometimes it's not the RVer's fault.  Sometimes the locks and "brakes" on the awning roller fail or they are simply no match for the wind that catches the fabric as you go down the road.

Some awnings roll up into protective covers or weathershields that help keep wind from catching the fabric.  And there are also aftermarket travel locks and clamps.  These improvements may prevent lost awnings and damage.

Antennas

Lots of RVers have developed little tricks and reminders to help remind them to stow their TV antennas.  Again, adding "stow antenna" to a departure checklist get the job done.

5. Animal Infestations

Multiple websites list this as a top five RV insurance claim.  I'm not sure I buy that, but I can't find anything to refute it.  Of course, you can only file such a claim if you have Comprehensive (aka "Other Than Collision") Coverage.  Even then, your particular policy may or may not cover it.

What I do know is that we've had rodents get into our RV fifth wheel and chew through wires while we were living in it.  Once was while we were workamping in the Colorado wilderness and the other time was while we were parked on a horse farm for a couple of weeks.

We've also had wood rats build a nest on the engine block of our truck.

Usually, mice, rats, and squirrels get into RVs when they are stored.  But that's certainly not always the case.

It's very difficult to keep rodents out if they really want to get in.  But you can take some steps to try.  Some of what follows are tips some people swear by and others say are worthless.  If you are having issues, it's likely you'll try anything.

  • If storing your RV, make sure all food is out
  • Inspect the bottom of your RV and fill all holes you can find with something - expandable foam, steel wool, or anything else that won't compromise the operation of the RV
  • Some use moth balls or dryer sheets
  • Set traps ("live" traps if you prefer)
  • Some people leave their engine hoods up and even leave a light on while camping in rodent-friendly areas to keep critters from nesting or chewing wires in the engine compartment
  • Some people use rope lights under their RV to discourage rodents at night
  • Some people use some mint fragrance oils (supposedly rodents are deterred by mint) on the outside of their RV
  • There is a minty gel spray-on product called "Mouse Free"

While storing our RV for a month on a farm, we used "Mouse Free" in conjunction with plugging holes with steel wool.  Surprisingly, it worked.

We tend to discourage the use of poisons because 1) the rodent is likely to crawl up in the RV and die in a place you can't get to causing an awful smell, and 2) poisons are dangerous for your pets and the pets of others.

Of course, other animals can get into RVs, but the rodents seem to do the most damage.

Insects can be a problem as well.  The biggest culprits are wasps and mud daubers that build nests and cause multiple problems.  Consistent inspection of furnace vents, air conditioners, refrigerator flues, etc. can prevent serious issues.


Body Damage

Certainly there are numerous ways to prevent running into things.

  • Know your RV height
  • Know your RV length
  • Know your RV width
  • Go slow
  • Be patient
  • Work as a team
  • Practice driving and parking
  • Learn the swing room you need in turns
  • Learn your tail swing
  • Plan routes in advance
  • Provide lots of distance between you and the vehicle in front of you on the road
  • Anticipate carelessness of other drivers
  • Take a driving course
  • Attend safety seminars

Wrecking your RV is a terrible, sinking feeling.  We've had a few mishaps and we know how it feels.  Fortunately, it's been awhile as we have gained experience and learned all of the above.

No matter what, accidents are going to happen.  But hopefully, we can keep the damages to a minimum and keep every one safe.  They are, after all, "Recreational" Vehicles.


Theft and Vandalism

In all of our years of RVing, we have seen very, very few problems with theft and vandalism in campgrounds and RV parks.

Most of what we hear about is while RVs are in storage or on dealer lots.  RVs themselves aren't stolen that often, but criminals do break into them and steal TVs and other contents.

Obviously, the farther away from high crime areas you can store the RV, the better (possibly leading to a better premium).  And the more security there is at the storage facility or storage lot, the better.  And the more you can personally check on the RV, the better.  Of course, monthly exercise of engines, generators, mechanical functions, and tires is important and a good excuse to visit the RV. 

Certainly, audible alarms and security systems may help (and that may also get you a discount on your insurance).  Their value increases depending on your storage location, how far it is away from your home, and how long the RV remains unused.


Summary

Sometimes we just get in our RVs and drive, expecting them to be just like big cars.  But they are big, heavy, complicated machines, with house-like systems that get jarred constantly as we go down the road.

We have to give them respect and there are certain precautions we can take to keep ourselves safer, which will, in turn, keep our RV safer and our insurance claims to a minimum.
 


Links to our other RV Insurance pages:

RV Insurance - Understanding The Coverages

RV Insurance - The Factors That Affect Your Rate

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