Last Updated on February 24, 2022
For certain people, the road is their home away from home. Some extraordinary folks decide to take their home on the road, literally. Hitting the open road in your own personalized, customized motor home sounds appealing to many, but not everyone’s cut out for the job. Converting a school bus, ambulance, or fire truck, into an RV is also a popular DIY project, but requires plenty of time and effort. If you’re one of the few willing to take the journey, then you’ll need to do something important before taking your converted RV onto the road. Here’s how to get insurance for your nonconventional RV (ambulance, school bus, fire truck).
The terms “motor home” and “RV” are often used interchangeably, however motor home is an informal phrase used to describe some recreational vehicles. On the other hand, RV (recreational vehicle) is a legal term used by state departments of transportation to classify vehicles. This type of classification affects the vehicle’s registration and insurance.
The U.S. Department of Transportation categorizes RVs into three classes:
- Class A – are motor homes converted in RVs, regardless of the type of chassis on which they are built, such as school buses, ambulances and fire trucks
- Class B – are campervans, which are conventional vans with raised roofs (either pop up or fixed).
- Class C – are motor homes that rely on a tow vehicle to move.
There are other similar recreational vehicles too. Truck campers include a living space contained in the bed of the pickup truck. Pop-up campers are towed, collapsible campers with tent walls. And travel trailers are towed, non-collapsible, light-weight trailers, sometimes referred to as caravans.
How to Register Skoolie as an RV
Before you get rolling, your converted RV needs to be both registered and insured. Begin both processes during the DIY part of your conversion. Getting insured and registering can take several weeks to complete, so starting them simultaneously with the conversion will get your RV on the road sooner.
Your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) outlines requirements for converted RVs. The criteria your vehicle must meet will be similar across all states, but there could be something specific to where you live. Check out the specific requirements for your state.
The registration fee is fairly low cost, though this varies by state. Your local DMV probably uses a calculation that factors in the age, weight, length, and market value of the RV. Use the DMV website registration fee calculators to estimate the cost.
If you don’t get your converted school bus (called a skoolie by those in the conversion community), ambulance, or fire truck registered as an RV, the vehicle will keep its commercial designation. Insurance providers won’t give you RV insurance on a vehicle that is registered as a commercial vehicle. Instead, they will give you commercial insurance, which is a lot more expensive than RV insurance.
Next, find an insurance provider that will cover converted RVs. Not all insurance providers will provide this type of insurance. Start with your own insurance company. If they can’t offer you a good rate, several companies are well-known for being friendly to owners of converted RVs (such as Good Sam and National General). Auto Insurance Specialist (AIS) provides access to multiple insurance providers with great coverage and rates.
Depending on the amenities in the RV, you will need some insurance coverage that isn’t as important for passenger vehicles. Plans should cover regular vehicle damage, as well as replacement costs for personal belongings, emergency expenses, and towing costs for RVs weighing over a ton. Also, some insurance policies come with towing packages included, which is something you should get either through your insurance or from a tow company.
If your converted RV is still registered as a commercial vehicle, you may still be able to get RV insurance, but the insurance agency may cancel your policy if they later find out your vehicle’s true status. That’s what one converted RV owner discovered.
Decommissioning your Vehicle
In order to provide RV insurance, insurance agencies require that the vehicle can’t be in the same condition as it was in its pre-RV life. School buses must have the passenger seats and stop sign removed. Ambulances must have medical amenities and equipment removed. Fire trucks must have firefighting amenities and equipment taken out too.
Additionally, these vehicles must have all sirens and flashing lights purged. The words “Ambulance”, “Firetruck” and “School Bus” must be painted over, as well as any other markings that indicate the vehicle’s former purpose. This requirement ensures compliance with state laws that dictate only vehicles in service are allowed to bear these markings.
Nonconventional RV Conversion
Once the vehicle is decommissioned, you can begin the DIY process.
When performing the DIY (do it yourself), there are two steps you should take to ensure the vehicle can be registered as an RV.
First step, check your state DMV’s website to see the requirements needed to register a vehicle as an RV. The requirements vary from state to state but, generally, all states require RV’s meet at least four of the following six criteria:
- Cooking appliance with an on-board fuel supply. The easiest solution is a microwave oven (110v power supply), but a stovetop that operates on the same fuel supply as the RV’s heating system is also an option.
- A refrigerator, either propane fueled or electrical.
- Potable water. Install a freshwater tank supply in the framework of the vehicle.
- Septic disposable. You need to be able to remove waste.
- 110v Power Supply. This much power can provide heat, cooling, refrigeration and lighting.
- Heating or air conditioning, which must be powered by something other than the vehicle’s engine battery. Examples include propane gas or 110v electric supply.
Keep these in mind when designing your RV. Make sure all the registration requirements are met.
Also, some DMVs now request that seat belts be installed in the rear seats of an RV. They ask for enough to accommodate each passenger.
Another issue to watch for – some people report that installing a wood-burning stove in the RV or a roof deck, can be an obstacle to getting (or keeping) insurance. Insurance agencies will also want to determine whether you are using the vehicle recreationally (as in occasionally) or constantly (as a permanent home).
The second step is to keep receipts of important items that will be installed in the RV. This includes the sink, toilet, table, bed, water tanks, and furniture. Some agencies want to see the receipts for larger-ticket items to validate the vehicle actually has them. Showing receipts demonstrates that you purchased the items needed to convert a vehicle into an RV.
The registration process requires the converted RV owner to send photos of the conversion too. This is because not all DMVs send someone to perform an in-person inspection. For that reason, photos are often used to verify that the vehicle is designed as an RV. The DMV wants to eliminate the possibility that you are misusing pictures of a similar vehicle. They want to ensure that you are not keeping your vehicle in commercial condition with the intent of getting cheaper insurance on a commercial vehicle.
The DMV will require at least six photos from specific positions. Four must be for the exterior, one from each corner of the vehicle. Each should be taken from far enough away that the entirety of the two sides can be seen. Then two should be taken inside the vehicle. Of these two, the first one must be taken from the front of the vehicle facing the rear, and the other is taken from the rear of the vehicle facing the front.
Inspection and Weight Certification
Once the conversion is complete, bring it to the local state patrol for inspection. They will review the RV to see if it meets road safety standards and RV requirements set out by the DMV.
Bring your driver’s license, the title of the vehicle, the vehicle’s description, and the bill of sale. Don’t forget all the receipts for the essential larger-ticket items needed to convert the vehicle into an RV. You will also need to locate the vehicle’s VIN (vehicle identification number).
Once you pass the inspection, you will receive a vehicle inspection report that states your vehicle meets road safety and RV conversion requirements.
Once approved, you will immediately receive the registration windshield sticker, the license plates, and the vehicle’s title application receipt. They mail out the physical title, which is usually received within two to three weeks.
Then you need to take the RV to a vehicle weigh station, have the vehicle weighed, and get a certified weight certificate. This document is needed by the DMV to register the vehicle and by the insurance company to provide insurance.
When you take the RV to the weigh station, bring it in empty. You want the vehicle’s empty weight, which is its weight without items that can easily be carried in and out of the RV. Examples would be the bedding, dishes, clothes, books, and toys. However, more permanent features such as the bed, table, and seats should remain in it.
Now, you have all the documents needed to register the vehicle with the DMV.
How to Get Insurance for a Skoolie
The insurance company will want several items from you. The weight certificate, registration document, the six photos showing the vehicle has been converted, the vehicle’s bill of sale, the VIN, and your driver’s license. Let’s not forget the vehicle’s make, model, year, and length. They will also want to know the address where the vehicle will be “garaged” and what coverage you want.
Be specific about how you plan to use the RV. Whether for recreation or living, consider how many months you plan on using it? How far do you plan to travel?
RV insurance is similar to personal vehicle insurance. The common link is that all items in the RV are covered by your home insurance rather than your vehicle insurance. If you don’t have home insurance, you will need to get personal property coverage to cover the items inside the RV (clothes, iPads, jewelry, bikes, etc.).
Home insurance policies usually settle losses on a replacement cost basis. This means the cost of the lost (or damaged) item doesn’t depreciate over time. Everything that is insured keeps its original monetary value. Auto insurance policies usually settle on a cash value basis. This means the lost item depreciates in value and the insurance agency pays out the depreciated monetary value.
A policy that pays out on a replacement cost basis is preferred. This way you will get more money for your lost items. If you don’t have home insurance (or renter’s insurance), you may have to settle for cash value settlements.
Ask for personal liability coverage and coverage for your contents. It is an important (and usually relatively inexpensive) coverage that will defend you against lawsuits, either frivolous or legitimate. You will also cover defense costs and damages (such as when your dog bites someone or someone trips over your patio furniture). The liability limits on your personal liability coverage should be greater than or equal to your net worth.
Personal liability coverage is separate from automobile liability coverage (bodily injury, property damage, uninsured, and underinsured motorist coverage). The latter is required by law for all vehicles that drive on public roads.
Personal injury protection (PIP), also called med pay in some states, can be a great complement to your health insurance. This is especially if it carries a high deductible (the medical payments coverage pays only if the injury was caused by an auto-related injury).
You may also want to include a towing package in your insurance policy. Towing an RV is expensive.
When you speak to the insurance company about getting coverage, be honest about your plans and forthcoming with your needs. This will get you the plan that best suits you and your RV.
If an RV becomes a home for six months of the year or more, National General advises their clients to get Full Timers coverage. Similar to a homeowner’s policy, Full Timers coverage offers built-in general liability protection. RV parks sometimes require proof of this insurance when staying more than a few weeks onsite.
On the flip side, if you don’t use the RV for months of the year, you can have a policy that changes coverage to meet that lifestyle. The RV is still covered in case of theft or damages from fire and storms. However, you will save significantly by not paying all premiums for the entire year.
The insurance agency will give you a quote for the policy that you decide upon. Besides the details of the policy, your credit rating and driving record will be major factors in determining your rate.
If you have other insurance (home, life, auto) with the insurance company, you may be eligible for bundled discounts.
Hitting the Road
Ideally, you want to spend as little as possible while getting the most possible overage. Don’t rush to get insured. Take your time, consider your options, and when you feel ready, get your policy. Converting your school bus, ambulance, or fire truck, required a lot of time. Don’t make all that effort go to waste by getting a policy that negatively impacts you in the first place.
Instead, strive to make the conversion experience worthwhile. Whether your RV is for recreation or permanent living, once insurance is under your belt, hit the road with confidence.
If you are still unsure about whether to convert or are just looking for your next RV, Municbid has several options for you.