Wednesday, February 19, 2014

Questions from Readers - RV INSURANCE

We have a lot of readers who contact us about buying a Roadtrek, owning a Roadtrek, dealing with issues and problems with their Roadtrek, and asking for clarification on something that they read in one of our articles. I am always happy to answer these questions and I had a thought that perhaps sharing my answers with all of our readers would benefit others. As we go along, I will share these questions and answers.

Recently I was contacted by someone who is purchasing a pre-owned Roadtrek and wanted to know about RV Insurance and any help that I could give in choosing a policy. She wondered if she should just use the insurance company that covers her car.

Here is my response, and I will add some more after my answer to her.

"I can share with you how I selected RV insurance for my Roadtrek. Just to be clear - we are talking about vehicle, damage, and liability insurance just like car insurance - and not emergency roadside assistance plans. I only say this because some people confuse the two. So - when we were buying the Roadtrek I found an internet forum about RVs in general. There were many categories of discussions there including Class B RVs like the Roadtrek as well as other larger RVs. I read with a lot of interest stories from some on the group about insurance claims and which companies worked to make things right and which gave the policy owner a hard time when making a claim. The one company that kept coming up positive was Progressive - the company with all of the TV commercials with the lady, Flo. They only sell by telephone or online. I was not able to find a local broker that represented them - though in other parts of the country there may be Progressive offices and Progressive brokers that one can walk into. I contacted them by telephone and got a quick quote. I then went to AllState which I have had my car insurance with since I started driving back in 1970.  AllState did have an RV policy but the lady in the office that we deal with really had no idea about specific information on the policy. She did not know RVs and was reading along with paperwork to provide me with a quote. The AllState quote was a lot more money than the Progressive quote. I called Progressive back and spoke with the agent over the phone and he knew all about RVs and RV insurance. Together we set up a policy that would cover the Roadtrek. One important thing that is different from a car policy in a good RV policy is that the RV policy if you take the option will include FULL replacement value. This is more than the value of the RV on the books at the moment but a replacement of my Roadtrek should that ever be necessary due to a serious accident. AllState had that also as an option. It is worth getting this coverage - you should talk with them about what this means for a pre-owned older model RV, but I believe the coverage is available for that too. This was something that impressed me about Progressive's handling of one of the RV owners on the forum. He told how he had to use the full replacement coverage for his Class B RV and had Progressive insurance, and had no problem doing so.

Just like car insurance the cost of the premium will vary by state, location in the state, etc. It will also vary by how much you tell them that you will be using the RV. This is not something that you are committing to but a way for them to not charge you the same using the RV for vacation trips as they would charge someone living full time all year in their RV. I told them a number of months leaving out the coldest, non-travel months. This is not to say that if I decided to go on a trip in the Roadtrek in January that I would not be covered. Somewhere along the line of applying for the insurance this question will be asked.

The Progressive policy also includes emergency roadside assistance but I have a plan for that with a company that does that specifically for RVs so I have the coverage from Progressive, didn't pay any extra for it and if I ever wanted to use it I could.

I am sure there are other companies out there. Sit down with your car insurance agent and get a quote. Get several quotes from different companies and make sure that what is covered in each company's quote is the same. I hope this helps."

I am going to share with all of you the actual coverage details of our policy with Progressive. I will list the Coverages but not the limits, deductibles, or cost. At the top of the coverage listings is my zip code, indicating that the coverage cost is dependent upon location - as they put it "Garaging Zip Code".



Liability to Others
      Bodily Injury Liability includes Supplemental Spousal Liability Coverage
      Property Damage Liability
      Wrongful Death Coverage

Mandatory Personal Injury Protection

Additional Personal Injury Protection - Full

Aggregate No-Fault Benefits Available
      Death Benefit
      Maximum Monthly Work Loss
      Other Reasonable & Necessary Expenses per day

Supplementary Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist

Medical Payments

Comprehensive  (This is the Total Loss Replacement/Purchase Price - "Full Replacement" as I spoke about in my response - and it list the actual amount that I paid for my Roadtrek.)


Included With Comprehensive And Collision:
      Mexico Coverage
      Fire Department Service
      Emergency Expense
      Vacation Liability

Replacement Cost Personal Effects

Roadside Assistance (it seems I am paying less than $24 for this coverage a year but it cannot be deleted)


The rate was added up for each of the coverages listed and then discounts were applied that include Anti-Lock Brakes, Home Owner, Good Driving Record, Passive Restraints, and Daytime Running Lamps. There is also a discount to pay the premium in full rather than in two or more payments during the insured year.

Now, as I had indicted in my response to the reader with this question, I had been asked about our intended length of use of the RV during the year. No where on the policy does it list this.

Insurance is important and necessary. There was a time that in some states vehicle insurance was optional. I do not know if any state still exists but driving without insurance is foolish. Insurance is also something that you buy and never want to have to use - and be very happy when you have not had to use it.

There are many insurance companies that provide good RV insurance and service. This is in no way an endorsement for Progressive Insurance. It is just the insurance company that I choose based on my reasoning given above. Do not just accept that. Investigate yourself before you purchase RV insurance - and do so thoroughly. Know that you are getting the best coverage for the best price for the area that you live in. If you full-time, your insurance will be based upon the state that you register your RV in - and full timer RV insurance may be a very different thing all together. I do not full time so I cannot provide any detail about such a policy.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Extreme Winter and Charging the Roadtrek Batteries

This winter has been extreme all over the country. In the west there are droughts, in the mid-west, central and eastern states there is extreme cold and deep snow. This has is the worst winter that Meryl and I have experienced with the Roadtrek. Since we got her it has been cold and it has snowed but there has been nothing like this. As a result the temperatures are taking their toll on our Roadtrek's batteries.

I wrote in a recent article, "After Winterizing", I spoke about our schedule to keep the batteries charged. I have a schedule to plug the Roadtrek into shore power at our house on the 28th of every month (28th chosen because of February) and I exercise the generator for two hours on the 15th of every month. This schedule has been fine until now. With single digit and below zero temperatures day after day, and wind chills that bring those down even lower, I have been going out at least once a week to check to see that the battery level is still on the green LED on the monitor panel inside the Roadtrek. Suddenly with these temperatures combined with what seem like regular snow storms, a once a week check is not seeming to be enough.

I looked at the battery monitor panel a week ago before a snow storm and everything looked fine. The 28th came on the day of another snow storm and when I was able to get into the Roadtrek to check the batteries the level had dropped to the red LED second from the bottom. This one is labeled "F" for Fair which is an indication to me that the batteries are getting too low and need to be charged as soon as possible. You really never want that monitor to read at the bottom red LED - "L" for Low.

Had this been an ordinary, no snow, normal winter temperature day - normal being upper 20's into the mid-30's or higher - I would have pulled out the RV extension cord, plugged that into my Surge Guard Power Protector, and connected that to the Roadtrek's cord - which needs to be pulled about four feet out for the two electric cords to reach the outside outlet in the rear of my house. This would have been plugged into that outlet and the Roadtrek would have charged for 12 hours. That is our usual routine.  But the snow was coming down and would not stop until the next morning. The night temperatures were going into single digits. And the forecasts for the coming days were as uncertain as they always are. All of this and the Roadtrek's batteries needed to be charged.

Let me stray a moment to talk about Roadtrek 190 Populars from 2011 on and why I have to rely upon the Roadtrek's battery monitor LED panel which I know some of you will say is highly inaccurate and does not provide a much needed digital reading of the battery voltage. In 2010, the Roadtrek 190 came with two coach battery compartments. All were outside - one was located behind the rear passenger wheel on the side of the van and one was located on the same side in front of the rear wheel. The one in front of the wheel contained a tray on which the battery slid out. The one behind the wheel opened with clear and easy access to the battery that was there. In 2011 for some reason, Roadtrek changed this design. For one thing, they changed from using wet cell batteries to AGM batteries for 12 volt coach power. The new design put both batteries into one battery compartment located where the former compartment was in front of the rear wheel. From the outside you see the same compartment door as before, but once you look inside the compartment, there now sit two batteries on a fixed platform that no longer slides out for access to the batteries. Without getting deep into this compartment there is no access to the battery terminals and therefore no convenient way to touch the test leads on an electric voltage meter to the terminals and read what the actual voltage is. There are also no 12 volt outlets inside the Roadtrek (not since several model years earlier) to be able to use that to connect a voltage meter to - another way that many with such outlets read the actual voltage of the coach battery(ies). So what I am stuck with are the LEDs on the battery monitor panel. There are estimates of the battery level and the LEDs - this is from the Notes for the Roadtrek Electric Simulator - "The “C” light will be on if the voltage is above about 12.7 volts, the “G” light comes on at about 12 volts, the “F” light comes on at about 11.3 volts. The “L” light will come on with less than 5 volts." Notice that the "L" is less than five volts. This why you never want the battery to fall that low - it will potentially damage the battery and charging the battery(ies) back will take much longer.  I know that one Roadtrek owner with a much older model was able to wire a small digital voltage meter into the back of the monitor panel and have the reading show on this meter affixed to the wall adjacent when pressing the test switch. This is not something that I am confident in doing myself. It has been suggested to tap into an empty fuse spot in the fuse box, but when I looked there are no accessible empty fuses spots and certainly no ground wire that is accessible - and I am not about to remove the fuse panel to look for what may be available inside. So, again, I rely on the LEDs which under ordinary circumstances - in that normal winter world that may or may not exist any more - the future will tell.

So - here I am, in the snow and I am not sure how close to that second LED going out and the bottom LED remaining the Roadtrek actually is. I had to charge as soon as possible.

The next day when the storm was over, the temperatures were not much better and they would remain that way for at least two days with maybe or maybe not a rise after that. First I had to shovel the path out of the house, the driveway, the sidewalk, and attempt to shovel a path to the rear of the house that had not really been shoveled since the last storm a week before. I got enough cleared in the back of the house to get to the outlet, but all the while I was realizing that I would have to deal with the other problem of charging the Roadtrek in the cold - the lack of flexibility of the Roadtrek's power cord and the RV extension cord. The RV extension cord was secondary. I could just drag that into the house after use and warm it up to put the long, wild snake of a cord into a store-able condition. The Roadtrek's power cord is located in the lower outside storage compartment and comes out through what has been called a "mouse hole". The mouse hole is located on the rear side of the compartment and comes out into the next covered section where the city water connection is. The "mouse hole" is made up of a flex opening - a round of plastic that is cut like a pizza in the middle. The Roadtrek plug is pushed through this plastic with the flex fingers holding it on place and not permitting any little critters to crawl in around it into the storage compartment. On the outside of the "mouse hole" is a flip cap with space inside the "mouse hole" outer cup for the plug to sit in. We learned the hard way that getting the plug through those so-called flex fingers and into that cup section looks a lot easier than it actually is - and this is in the heat of summer - and you never want that plug to pull back into the storage compartment. In the winter there is no flex. And in just regular winter cold, the cord is difficult to pull out and even more difficult to push back in. Now with this so-called Arctic Vortex this cord if it came out too far from the opening was going to be a problem getting back in - and with this weather, I was not going to let this plug just hang out after the charging was finished. There was no way that I was going to pull it out enough to meet up with the RV extension cord to reach the backyard outlet.

I have two outlets outside and one outlet inside a small porch where our house's side door is. The second outside outlet is in the front of my house - close to the Roadtrek, but to get to it one must go into the front garden and the front garden is where two winter storms' snow was put when shoveled. This outlet was not an option. The outlet inside the porch would work - as long as it was not connected to any wiring for other electric service inside the house, and I had to check the circuit breakers to see if it was - it wasn't and surprisingly it was a 20 amp outlet. The only thing that shared that line was the porch light which does come on with an electric eye but that would not be a problem with 20 amp service.

I don't really know how much amperage the Roadtrek's charging system uses. Once the Roadtrek is plugged into shore power and nothing else is turned on inside the only thing that comes on other than the Tripp-Lite 750W Inverter/Converter/Charger is the microwave (at least the microwave display panel lights up). In my Roadtrek with the all electric refrigerator the fridge turns to 110 volt power automatically but the dial inside is turned to Off. I tried looking at the Tripp-Lite specs but did not see this listed.

When we were finished shoveling and after a short break in the house for feeling to return to our fingers, we went out to charge the Roadtrek. My first thought was to charge for a several hours into the early night and then charge again longer the next day with hopes that maybe it would be warmer. Our usual routine of charging twelve hours straight involves a trip outside at about 2 am to shut it all down and put everything away. With our late night schedule this is not a problem normally. Yes, we are late night people and 2 am is not an issue for us at all. But at 2 am there were temperatures in the low teens predicted and that would be a problem. After we got it all going we decided together that we would just leave it charging overnight until the next day and let it charge for 24 hours - no problem with AGM batteries and no problem with the Tripp-Lite that would allow the charging to continue without a problem is the Roadtrek was always plugged in.

We decided to forget for this time plugging in the Surge Guard. The power from our house should be fine without it. We worked the Roadtrek power cord less than a foot out of the "mouse hole" pushing out from the inside. The cord was very cold and very stiff.  The RV extension cord is kept on a reel inside the porch an while it was cold in there, the cord did roll off the reel to the floor of the porch - maintaining the coils which it does not do when it is warmer. We got out the Plug Dogs - the pull handles for RV plugs. These are one of the BEST things that we have bought for the Roadtrek. Over and over they prove their extreme value and benefit! We also got out the 30 amp female to 15/20 amp male adapter plug cord. I went inside the Roadtrek and turned on the battery switch - necessary before plugging into shore power. A Plug Dog went onto the plug of the extension cord and one went onto the female socket of the adapter. The adapter has a plastic pull on the socket but with this cold I was not going to trust that not to break if pulled on. Two more Plug Dogs were used between the Roadtrek plug and the RV extension cord socket. I am so glad that I ordered four Plug Dogs when I got them. The Roadtrek plug was hard to get into the extension cord socket and I was afraid to force it as I did not want them to be stuck together due to the extreme cold. I managed to get them together and the adapter plug was plugged into the wall outlet in the porch. The porch door when closed would have to sit on the cord and the door would sit out about an inch open as a result - letting a lot of cold into the porch. I went  into the Roadtrek to check that all was well and the batteries were charging (shown as C on the panel monitor when the test button is pushed). I pushed the test button and... Nothing. Oh boy! Now we had to troubleshoot.

We don't often use that porch outlet and perhaps it was not working. The light attached on the same line works fine. We found a lamp and plugged it into both sockets on the outlet and the lamp lit. The extension cord and the adapter were tight together. This put the problem either inside or outside of the Roadtrek. I first went to the Roadtrek plug which we had hanging in mid-air plugged into the extension cord. As soon as I touched them, they fell apart. There was the answer - simple but now, to get them together as they need to be I was going to have to push them together hard - which even in the summer means put them on the ground and using a foot to apply enough pressure for them to mate. This is only a problem with the heavy rubber socket on the extension cord. The Roadtrek plug plugs easily in and out of a campground 30 amp socket. OK. If I had to force them together I would have to hope that they would come apart - and hopefully, in this cold the Plug Dogs would work as well as always. I got the plug and socket mated, put it on the ground and gently with my foot pushed them firmly together. Meryl plugged the adapter into the house outlet and I went in again to check. Yes! The test switch showed Charge on the battery LEDs. I decided to unplug the microwave. While the lit display panel should not make a difference I decided that it was easy enough to just have the Tripp-Lite charger circuits running on the 110 volt electric circuit.

We left it to charge for 24 hours. Twice after plugging in I checked that all was well inside and it was still charging. I was. The next day was sunny and felt warmer though the thermometer was not showing any better than the day before. We went out about 2 pm to shut it down and put it all away. The Plug Dogs did their job well on the Roadtrek plug and extension cord socket that sat out all night and with a sharp yank the two separated. Thank goodness! The adapter and extension cord was not as easy and it took several yanks to get these apart even though they had been inside the porch all night. They did come apart and I thought how good it was that I did not rely on just one Plug Dog and the adapter's little plastic pull ring that is screwed like a hinge around the upper half of the socket. With a little effort I was able to get the RV extension cord back on the reel. The Roadtrek plug was pushed reluctantly (on the cord's part) back through the "mouse hole" and into the cap. Done.

Lessons learned. In extreme cold, checking the battery voltage level once every week may not be enough. I will be checking twice a week in temperatures like this. With this weather it may be a good idea to charge the batteries twice a month and will check the level just before exercising the generator and then plug in the next day if the battery is low. The generator does charge the batteries but not enough in the two hour run. With this weather consider moving to a warmer climate - but heck, it snowed and froze over in Virginia, Georgia, and parts of Florida this past week (the week I am writing this).

Asides - you can charge the Roadtrek coach batteries by driving. This is fine for some - maybe many - but we live on a four lane avenue that has steady traffic. It is difficult to pull out in good weather. I am not sure that the area of the cut into the street is even large enough for the Roadtrek to get in and out of - plus I would not want to drive it now on the roads here that are thick with salt - and where would I drive for two hours?

If the coach batteries are too low or dead, the generator will not start - even if you run the van engine as a boost. If you think of the Roadtrek as a shelter in the event of a power outage which can happen during these cold, snowing, and iced conditions, it is no good to you if the batteries have no charge.

When you charge the coach batteries you are also charging the van battery. This is important in the winter as well!

If you have a Roadtrek with the new solar panel option, the batteries will charge in the light of day from the solar panel and inverter charging circuits. This is one big benefit to the optional solar package. 

Well, I had intended this as a short article. It is longer than I anticipated but adding the whys and what happens to this small tale is perhaps more important to you all than the tale itself. Stay warm!