What every vanlifer should know about insurance

Auto insurance may cover your van, but it won’t cover upgrades you made, like if you installed a stove or fridge. Consider setting money aside for repairs to the interior of the van conversion. Qualifying for RV insurance can be tricky, but not impossible.

Kara McGinley

By

Kara McGinley

Kara McGinley

Property and Casualty Insurance Expert

Kara McGinley is an insurance editor at Policygenius, specializing in home, auto, and renters insurance. She's been writing about insurance since 2019, and her work and insights have been referenced in Kiplinger and WRAL.com.

Published July 23, 2021|5 min read

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In recent years, vanlife — meaning buying a van and converting it into a movable home — has become popular on social media. And although it’s many people’s dreams to take to the open road and travel while still living in their own space, when it comes to insuring a van home, things can be a little tricky. 

Some insurance companies may refuse to cover you altogether, especially if you DIY the conversions yourself, like if you install a bed slab and fridge on your own and without professional help. Other insurers may offer you auto insurance, but will likely exclude coverage for the upgrades you made when converting your van into a van home. 

If your van conversion was constructed by a professional, however, and an insurance company considers it to meet the requirements to be categorized as an RV, then you may be able to re-title the van to an RV and purchase RV insurance. Coverage may also depend on the state where your van is registered. 

No matter what, you should always be honest and upfront with your insurance company about your van and the conversions you made or plan to make — omitting information could lead to cancellation of coverage and in some cases may be considered fraud.

Key Takeaways

  • Auto insurance can cover your van like it would any other vehicle, however it won’t cover upgrades you made, like if you installed a TV, stove top, or plumbing

  • It’s smart to set money aside to pay out of pocket for repairs to your van conversion upgrades

  • Qualifying for RV insurance can be a little tricky, your van conversion will have to meet certain requirements which vary from insurance company to insurance company

Are van conversions more difficult to insure?

Van conversions can be trickier to insure than your standard, everyday vehicle. And some converted vans are simpler to insure than others. If an insurance company agrees to insure your van conversion, they may offer you an auto insurance policy. But standard auto insurance doesn’t include coverage for upgrades that you make, so all the construction and built-in appliances that morphed your van into a dream van home would not be included in coverage. 

Auto insurance also does not cover your personal belongings, (and if you don’t have a residential address you don’t qualify for renters insurance) so if your laptop gets stolen from your van or if your glassware breaks in a collision, you’ll be stuck footing the bill for replacements. 

Since auto insurance doesn’t cover vehicle upgrades, it’s a good idea to set money aside for repairs to your van home that you’ll likely need to pay out of pocket for, like if you have a kitchen fire or your plumbing floods the van.

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Does car insurance cover a vanlife conversion van?

Whether or not an insurance company will cover your van home will depend on the company, your van conversions, and what state you live in. Nearly every state requires you to have a minimum amount of liability insurance in order to legally drive on the road, so at the very least you’ll need a standard auto insurance policy for your van home. If you can’t find an insurance company to offer you an auto policy, try shopping around or asking an insurance agent why you were denied coverage — you may just need to modify a few things to make your conversion safer.  

That said, you’re going to need to increase your coverage limits, and add collision and comprehensive coverage to your auto policy in order to be better protected. 

Here’s how full coverage auto insurance works:

Coverage typeIs it required?What does it cover?
Bodily injury liabilityYesPays for the other person's medical expenses if you are at-fault for an accident
Property damage liabilityYesPays for property damage to the other person's vehicle if you are at-fault for an accident
Comprehensive coverageNoPays for damage to your vehicle that happens when you're not driving, like weather-related damage or vehicle theft. Requires a deductible
Collision coverageNoCovers damage to your van after an accident, no matter who was at fault. Likely will only cover the skeleton of the van, not the conversions you installed, like a fridge or bed. Requires a deductible
Personal injury protectionDepends on the stateCovers medical expenses for you and passengers after an accident
Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverageDepends on the stateCovers the costs if you're in an accident caused by a driver with little or no car insurance

It’s important to be honest with your auto insurance company about the conversions you made to your vehicle. You should know how much the conversions cost, so that you can purchase enough auto insurance to cover the van in the event of a total loss. 

And as mentioned, setting money aside to repair the upgrades you installed — like your toilet, plumbing, and kitchen — is a good idea, since you’ll need to pay out of pocket for any issues that come up.

Summary

You can typically get an auto insurance policy for your van home, but it will cover your van as if it was just a van, not your home. An auto policy won’t cover the conversions or upgrades you made, so if your stove, bed frame, oven, or plumbing system are damaged or cause damage, then you should expect to pay out of pocket for repairs. And auto insurance never covers personal belongings. 

Can I get RV insurance for a vanlife conversion van?

It can be complicated to convince an insurance company to agree that your converted van qualifies as an RV. It may be more likely that you’ll just have to get an auto insurance policy and foot the bill yourself for damage to the upgrades you made.

However, it’s not totally impossible to get RV insurance for your van. The requirements can vary from state-to-state and insurance company-to-insurance company. Below are a few examples of common RV classification requirements:

  • A plumbing system, like running water and a toilet

  • A stove or other cooking equipment

  • A refrigerator

  • A bed or bedroom

  • Heating and cooling 

Again, what classifies as an RV will depend on the insurance company, and sometimes what state you live in. If you did the conversions yourself, it may be more complicated to find an insurance company to cover you. You should expect to provide the insurance company with detailed receipts, before and after photos, and a breakdown of costs. 

You’ll need to let your insurance company know if you are living in the van full-time or part-time, as this will affect the type of coverage you need. If the insurance company receives enough proof and decides your van conversion qualifies as an RV, you’ll need to re-title the van as an RV with your local Department of Motor Vehicles or equivalent agency. 

What does RV insurance cover?

If your conversion van qualifies as an RV, the RV policy will contain the same required coverage and coverage options as an auto insurance policy, such as:

  • Liability coverage - Pays for bodily injury and property damage that you’re at fault for

  • Comprehensive coverage - Pays for damage to your RV when it is not being driven, like vandalism or damage from bad weather

  • Collision coverage - Pays for damage caused by an accident, regardless of who was at fault

  • Uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage - Help pays for damage caused by a driver that has no insurance or doesn’t have enough insurance to cover the damage they caused

Additional coverage options for RVs

RV insurance policies offer additional coverage add-ons that are catered to people who live both full-time or part-time in their RV. 

  • Custom equipment protection - Protects custom modifications and upgrades that are attached to your RV, like custom flooring 

  • Personal effects replacement cost coverage - Unlike auto insurance, this RV coverage add-on protects your furniture and personal belongings that you keep in the RV

  • Emergency expense coverage - Pays for emergency expenses, like hotel stays, if you live in your RV full-time and it becomes uninhabitable due to a covered loss

Summary

It can be tricky to convince an insurance company that your van conversion meets the requirements to receive RV status, especially if you constructed the van build-out yourself. RV insurance offers the same coverage as auto insurance, plus add-ons to cover furniture, personal belongings, and upgrades like custom flooring.

Tips for insuring a conversion van

With all the coverage add-ons, you can see why RV insurance may be the more attractive option to some vanlifers. But you should expect to hear a lot of “no’s” from insurers about RV insurance, especially if you built out the van yourself. If you believe your van is upgraded to the point of RV status, though, it is worth shopping around different insurance companies. Most major insurers who offer auto insurance also offer RV policies. 

Below are a few more tips and considerations when insuring your van conversion:

  • Be honest with your insurance company, omitting information can be considered fraud

  • Keep records of the upgrades you make, you’ll need to provide the insurance company with receipts and proof of what the van is worth

  • Set money aside in savings to pay for out of pocket expenses, like repairs to your furniture and appliances

  • Ask your insurance company if you qualify for any discounts, most insurers offer loyalty and affiliation discounts

  • Shop around. Just because one insurance company refuses you coverage doesn’t mean it’s impossible to find a policy. Shopping around can save you money as well