How We Got the Van Repaired and The Realities of Insurance for Vans


Back in the fall, we were in a car accident and while we were perfectly fine, it left the van with a large dent in the back bumper which was letting cold air into the van. As we mentioned in our “What happened in Nashville” article, we returned to Oregon earlier than planned last November in order to get the van repaired. In the repair process, we learned quite a bit about what happens when one needs to get their van fixed and deal with insurance.

First off, we get a lot of questions about insurance for the van, so let’s look at that before we talk about the accident and aftermath. We have RV insurance through State Farm. We struggled to find insurance since most car insurance companies don’t cover RVs, and all the reputable RV insurance companies declined to cover our van since it is home built. Prior to purchasing the van, we arranged for standard auto insurance for it with State Farm. Once we finished the build and had the toilet and sink installed (some of the distinguishing features for an RV), we switched it over to RV insurance. We were afraid that our premium would skyrocket once we made the switch, but we have actually paid less to have it insured as an RV than we did to insure it as a cargo van. We think this is likely due to statistics. People with RVs tend to park them for large parts of the year whereas people with cargo vans tend to drive them a lot.

The party who hit us also had State Farm, but since we were reporting it against their policy and not our policy, them having the same insurer as us didn’t really seem to matter. The reporting process itself was fairly straightforward, the at-fault party had already reported it and State Farm had already decided that they were 100% at fault. All that was left was for us to provide some information, our statement, and start discussing repairs. This is when it all started getting a bit more complicated.

We at first figured we would get the van fixed up as soon as possible, we thought that it wouldn’t take more than a week, so we could head to Austin, maybe get a hotel room, and get the van repaired. That plan came crashing down as reality stepped in. The first place we spoke to (GP1 Collision Center in Round Rock, TX) said that it would take about four weeks to repair, possibly longer. That would mean we likely wouldn’t make it back to Oregon for the holidays and that wasn’t really an option.

Once we realized that timing wise we would need to get it repaired in Oregon, we started calling around to dealerships in Portland, Salem, Eugene, and Seattle getting their recommendations for collision centers and then cross-referencing them with State Farm’s preferred vendors. While per Oregon State law, insurance companies must allow you to get your repairs done at any collision center, they have the right to make it very difficult to go to a non-preferred vendor. We ended up finding a shop in Salem (Skyline Ford Collision) who were great to work with.

Rebecca’s grandparents kindly agreed to host us while the van was being repaired; we lived with them while we built out the van and are grateful to them for giving us a place to stay twice and for taking care of mail for us. They live a bit south of Portland, which worked out well for getting to and from the collision center in Salem.

This is the hole in the back doors we were dealing with. That little hole let in a lot of cold air! It was about the size of a golfball.

The biggest insurance challenges came when arranging for dropping the van off and for getting a rental car. The collision center asked us to bring the van in as soon as possible so they could get an estimate written up and get any parts ordered. We weren’t sure if they would need to have us remove any of the panels from inside the van to get the estimate done, and so we decided to at least empty out all our belongings before taking it down to the shop. Our plan was to try to leave it there if they did need to remove anything as we had taped up the back and didn’t want to remove all of that and let water in. This ended up not being an issue and they were able to do the estimate from the outside of the van only with just a peek at the layout on the inside.

After the estimate, we were able to cross one concern off our list but were left with a cold empty van (furniture remained, but we pulled the cushions and curtains) and one new concern. We learned that there are multiple interlocking plates which make up the rear of the Sprinter. The outermost plate is easy to remove/fix, but if the next one in was buckling at all, they would have needed to pull up some of the flooring and pull out some furniture. They wouldn’t know for sure until they could pull everything apart, so we were left to wait and hope.

The other big challenge was getting a rental car. We knew we would be going to Bend, then Seattle, then back to Bend over the month of December. This means lots of driving and the potential for snow. We wanted to at least have all wheel drive in case there was unexpected snow in our travels. We also wanted something that wouldn’t be a huge gas hog, while the Sprinter doesn’t have the greatest MPG, we were also adding more driving and wanted to conserve our fuel budget in the rental car. Knowing that we would be in Bend off and on, the insurance company didn’t want to risk paying for a car longer than they needed to if the van was ready mid-way through our stay; as a result, they were reluctant to upgrade us to a larger vehicle than the standard size cars. After they gave a spiel about comparable options and adequate options, we asked if they had any Sprinter vans laying around, they didn’t, so we were able to settle on a crossover with AWD.

We dropped the van off in early December prior to leaving for our first visit to Bend. Because we took the van to a popular repair center and they had a long backup of cars to work on, the van took a while to get back. In fact, it took almost a month to get the back end of Filmore all fixed up and road ready. This ended up working out just fine though and allowed us to use the rental car for all our driving around town, taking family to and from Bend, and allowed Rebecca to have a bit more freedom (she’s more comfortable driving a smaller car around town than the van). We ended up having to get chains for the rental, as there was an early snowstorm which hit just as we were leaving for Bend; AWD is great for bits of snow and ice, but not so adequate when snow is dumping down on a mountain pass. Since we have chains for the van which didn’t fit the rental, insurance agreed to cover the cost of chains, though it sounded like we were the first to ever ask.

Finally, Christmas was over and the van was ready. Luckily the damage wasn’t that far-reaching and they didn’t need to remove any of the insides. They ended up replacing the bumper, fixing the hitch, and removing the dent from the door all while leaving our furniture and flooring inside alone.

The process of dealing with insurance and getting the van repaired was not an easy one. We had to fight with insurance every step of the way and oftentimes they had conflicting information that they were working from. Living in a van, we didn’t fit any of their molds and that was apparent every step of the way. However, even with all the time spent calling insurance and ending our fall travels early, it still could have been much worse. We are thankful that everything worked out in the end and know how lucky we are to have needed to only deal with these more minor damages and that the other person even had insurance.

Hopefully, this isn’t something we will need to go through again, but if it is we feel that we are more prepared to represent ourselves in our conversations with insurance and make sure that our needs are met. We do have more what if questions lingering though, because we quickly realized we would need to get the van repaired in Oregon, we didn’t explore lodging alternatives much. The conversations we did have about lodging made it seem like they wouldn’t cover lodging at all since they considered us a passenger vehicle. We carry a tent for emergencies but don’t know what we would do if this had happened in a cold climate without family around who was able to host us. Have you ever dealt with van repairs while living on the road? Comment below with your experiences!