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Insurance for Motorcycles, Sidecar Rigs, etc.
(Includes some hints on accidents and damage claims)

copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer

Need insurance?   Ready to spend some time getting a good rate & good coverage?
Willing to do it every year or two or three? 
Want some insider's knowledge?

Insurance questions comes up now and then on just about every motorcycle LIST and FORUM.   There is no simple answer as to which company is best; cheapest is NOT necessarily the best; there is a LOT to know about insurance, and it is not simple nor cut-and-dried.   I hope to give you some REAL information in this article!

"The truth of the matter" (sounds like I'm a political  is that insurance costs vary not only by company, but by State and location of your home (typically that means where you sleep >50% of the time) and where the motorcycle is kept and if garaged.   Also of note is YOUR past history of traffic citations, accidents, if married or not, if you have more than one vehicle or your home and/or boat insured with this same company, whether or not you have taken a motorcycle and/or car driving course,your credit rating, etc.   Being a Member of the American Motorcycle Association and/or AARP can often make a difference in rates. 

Insurance companies do not pay the same amount of attention to the same factors. 
Some companies are especially interested if you live in or close to a big city with lots of traffic; OR, in a no-fault insurance State... or near one.  Some companies are interested in the mileage that you estimate to them you will do every year, and for which they may ask you to fill out a form, showing the mileage every year, and maybe odometer reading.  Some are interested in seasonal use or not.  Some insurance companies automatically include seasonal coverage changes by ASSUMING you ride less... or none... in the Winter and they don't state this, which is fine, if you do ride in Winter; and so on. Some companies are interested in knowing if you are retired or working.  Almost all want to know if you commute to work on the motorcycle.    Other companies are interested in other things.  Some care if you have had a 55-Alive or similar type of driver program from such as AARP.  Some States, like California MANDATE a discount for taking such courses, but this is unclear if it is mandatory for motorcycle ASK.  ALSO: have you attended some sort of motorcycle or sidecar training or safety program?

TALK to your present and proposed insurance companies, about all these things, and how they affect coverage, and, of course, rates.

When getting a rate quotation, you need things written down, in front of you, for ready reference.  Be sure the Agent knows of them all.  You need to THINK about what questions may come up, and how you will answer them.  If you COMMUTE on the motorcycle, that is NOT going to DEcrease your insurance cost, it MIGHT raise it!   You may have to ask questions about mileage affects on policy costs.   You really SHOULD ask questions about how passengers are covered, and lots more.   BE PREPARED!

ASK the correct questions & check your policy or proposed policy for the exact wording.   In quite a few instances, some details are NOT clearly spelled out in policies.   I have especially found this to be ESPECIALLY so in these areas:
1)  Coverage when borrowing or renting or test riding.
2)  Passenger coverage  ...  AND....  Is there a difference if the passenger is related by family or by marriage?).

DO NOT ASSUME....ASK!...and, you may even have to look at a policy to be sure, because what an Agent says is not usually binding.

When asking about insurance and passengers, think liability and medical too.  Do you REALLY know what "medical payments" means on your policy, if you have that coverage?   Do you know if it is not just for YOUR medical bills if in an accident....but for passengers in/on your vehicle... BUT motorcycle passengers MIGHT be read the policy, or ask!...and, again, if a difference between family and marriage or NOT.  

If you are not sure, and can't find the details spelled out in a sample policy in the Agent's office (or, on-line, if purchasing that way is contemplated), you can ask for a legal clarification, in writing, by the COMPANY.

Do you REALLY want to carry collision and/or comprehensive coverage...??  This is an important consideration on an OLD bike, where the BOOK VALUE of the bike (as an insurance company would view it), might be a lot less than you think!  If you have a valuable bike, valuable over and beyond what the same make, model, year might normally be on the insurance companies books as to its payoff value for a 'total loss', you may want to consider paying the price for STATED VALUE coverage...some companies offer that type of insurance.  SOME companies seem to almost specialize in this area, and rates may be better.

You will want to ask about the mileage per year break-point (that yearly mileage above which your premiums increase, and by how much).   You may want to ask about historic or antique vehicle coverage.  Your State may have lowered costs for historic or antique vehicle licensing, so you might look into that too on the State motor vehicle website or at a DMV office.  IF your bike is so registered, and/or titled, tell your proposed insurance agent.  There are usually State restrictions on mileage, where you can travel, and how, for historic vehicles.  Sometimes NOT!

Just how you want to have your motorcycle or sidecar rig or trike insured is up to you.   You PROBABLY will want a sidecar rig or trike NOT listed as such... yes, really!   The conversion value is, or partly, covered under "Accessories ". Many company underwriters DO NOT understand, or want to discuss, the word 'sidecar', or 'trike'... some go nuts if you ask for the policy to state such words on your policy.  THAT is often NOT necessary, and can really cost you.  It is OK to have such things as sidecars, etc., covered under Accessories. MOST companies seem to prefer to treat sidecars as motorcycle ACCESSORIES, and may use the words "Custom Parts and Equipment" instead of 'Accessories', simply declare the value of the 'accessories'.   Some companies have a standard stated maximum value for accessories as a normal part of collision and comprehensive coverage, yet they can write for higher amounts where your 'accessory' has more value.   That is very often the way to go for an expensive motorcycle & with a very valuable sidecar and all the various conversion items.  You can even spell it all out, if you felt better about it.   MORE in the next paragraph!

Some companies will charge plenty extra if there is a ""sidecar"", compared to the same over-all value for a motorcycle without a sidecar....or with Custom Accessories.  Pretty crazy, since sidecarists are just about the safest drivers and sidecar rigs are just about the safest motor-vehicles per mile traveled on the road.   This can vary by State and area in the state, with the same insurance company.  Some companies automatically cover, at no additional charge, these Custom Parts and Equipment, or Accessories, for perhaps a stated maximum $1000 value (some to $3500).  THAT is supposed to cover things like those pricey saddlebags and tail trunk that came with your bike; maybe a fairing;....and may well cover a sidecar if it was that value or under or that was the value you wanted to use.  If you have Custom Parts and Equipment, and pay extra for it, it is a very good idea to be sure the insurance company, and your policy, says and shows STOCK things, that might come under that heading,...that they are going to be handled as if they are NOT custom items.  That leaves you more insurance for REAL added accessories.  This may confuse you a, let me clarify that by an example:
You have a R100RT.  The R100RT comes with saddlebags & don't include these as part of Custom items.  But, do include your pricey custom seat, GPS, travel trunk, & expensive modifications (which can include a sidecar, listed as value under "Accessories" or Custom Accessories; $$$ special front end, & other custom parts).    It is probably a reasonably good idea to have coverage that would pay to replace everything, if 'totaled'.  

"Totaling" a bike:  With some bikes, particularly those that are older and came with factory full fairings, the wholesale value of the bike, if the fairing is scratched a quite modest amount, let alone any other damage, will result in the company trying to 'total' the bike.  This CAN be advantageous to you...but you must REALLY think about it.

If your bike or rig is declared totaled, you may well want to negotiate purchasing it back....often cheaply....from the insurance company.  NOTE that it may not pay to have coverage for collision and comprehensive.   NOTE carefully, that the bike is worth only what the insurance on it states.....and if not stated, then it is worth 'book value', which the insurance company will try to use as the wholesale book value, and not with any sidecar or special accessories nor compensate for very low mileage, showroom looks ETC, especially valuable model, etc.  Read this paragraph a second time, slowly!

If you have a serious or total loss, you may be negotiating with YOUR insurance company to REPLACE WHAT YOU HAD; which is almost always done by a cash payoff to you.   Once that is settled or agreed-upon, you can, and maybe should, think about negotiating to purchase your bike from the insurance company,... after all, they own it after a total loss and paying you off.   This can be very advantageous to BOTH YOU AND THE INSURANCE COMPANY.  They usually do not want to have to sell your bike as salvage, and most will sell it back to you for a cheap salvage value or a bit more.  YOU can determine its salvage value with a few phone calls.

Be aware of what happens with a Salvage Title, in YOUR State....or any other the bike gets taken to for titling/registration.  That's a whole other subject.  ASK me if you need the information.  If you decide to purchase a replacement bike, and have purchased back your wrecked bike, you now have a parts bike, or, you have a bike YOU are fixing-up for whatever reason.   DO keep in mind that the bike you purchase from the insurance company may well be titled 'in the system' as a salvage title, which can cause some problems, but not overly serious ones usually.   Some States will want the bike tested for lights, brakes, proper VIN on chassis and engine (when that applies).  This typically comes about if/when you try to put a Salvaged Title bike back on the road. Usually this means a visit to whatever Authority has the responsibility for inspection for the proper VIN numbers, plus a quick visit to a brake and lights inspection place...or, the local dealership who knows you and the bike will sign off the paperwork for you.

Many models of bikes are fully described by the model number.  If you have a particular year of  R100RT, that describes the engine size; carburetors, rear drive, etc........but also describes the NORMALLY INCLUDED saddlebags and full fairing.  Thus, you may well not have to declare any 'special equipment or accessories''.  Some companies will ask if you have those things, and you can say "yes", BUT be sure YOU state, and they understand, that they are STANDARD on that they are NOT 'custom', and you should NOT be charged separately for such things by the insurance company when they calculate your policy cost!

You can always declare a value to cover an expensive custom bike and/or a sidecar (don't forget pricey sidecar subframe mounts, special wheels, and leading link front fork, ETC.), at an increased premium, that is usually reasonably priced, but just how it is declared, is something to ask about.   It is likely going to be cheaper to have such things covered by the automatic accessories amount, if you have such, or an increase in that category. DO keep records!  You'd better have and keep pictures in your personally-kept insurance folder.

If your bike is particularly valuable (anything over its Blue Book value...and Blue Books don't go back in time enough these days to cover most of our Airheads)...then consider Stated Value insurance.

You WILL want to ask about UNinsured motorist coverage and UNDERinsured motorist coverage... for medical and property damage.  This type of insurance is not available everyplace.  Some companies will not write it to high limits, only the State required minimums....if any.  I personally consider low limits to be FOOLISH for uninsured and underinsured coverages; if such is available reasonably.    Many companies ARE willing to write these coverage's to the same limits as your PL/PD limits.    Some companies still charge outrageous premiums for such coverage's.    This is a VERY important consideration, as many people are driving cars/trucks around with no insurance, or only the State-required absolute minimums.  I prefer high value insurance for UNinsured and/or UNDERinsured motorists, in fact I have it in the same amount as my liability insurance value.  I won't consider some companies because they do not offer this type of higher coverage.

Some companies will not write medical coverage for bikes, or charge a tremendous amount, for a minimal amount of coverage.   You likely don't need medical insurance if you already have medical coverage without exclusions for what you are riding/driving.  Do consider that such insurance covers YOU, and maybe your spouse...but likely not other passengers!....then, again, it may cover any and all passengers.  You have to ask.  Also ASK if your spouse or passenger is actually covered, or excluded!...DO NOT FAIL TO DO THIS!   Get it in writing if you can!

You had better be VERY careful about asking about insurance coverage for passengers and the details of such passenger coverage (what if blood related? spouse?); and, if the insurance covers YOU if you drive someone else's bike,.....and if that situation is considered a LOANER.....or a TEST DRIVE.   Get SPECIFIC details for all these things.  

>> I insist that my insurance cover 'guest passengers'.   Those are the two words on my own policy. 

Where things are critical to YOU, you may want the insurance company or agent to send you a signed letter.   They may balk.  Often, the company or agent will refer you to a clause or two in the insurance policy.  Read carefully.  In fact, you may want to have the Agent show you the fine print for each and every thing you ask about!

Roadside mechanical breakdown coverage ...towing, fuel delivery for running out of gasoline, may or may not be what you want.   Be sure to read the fine print and ASK QUESTIONS.   Some insurance policies allow you to telephone who you want to, and then you later submit a bill to the insurance company (the bill  should be 'reasonable', based on THEIR criteria!).   SOME companies INCLUDE roadside assistance and may even have a number to telephone, at no additional charge.  Some have a small charge for such.   Some riders just carry a cell-phone (it does not work everyplace, often not in the prettiest places).   Some riders have towing insurance through AMA or AAA.   It does not pay to have duplicate overage.    If you have a breakdown, BE VERY SURE that on the telephone the towing folks know, understand, and repeat back to you, that "you have a motorcycle; or trike; or sidecar rig".  KNOW how wide your trike or rig are!  I think it wise to consider the reputation of the company (or its designated service company) for roadside problems, this is best done by asking on-line, on a motorcycle LIST or FORUM.  

While on the subject of asking about things, do NOT take the agent's word, LOOK and READ the Policy....and LOOK AT ANY endorsements that come with the Policy.  ASK the AGENT to SHOW YOU where the policy states, in writing, what concerns you!

You can certainly request a policy before purchasing it!  NOTE that coverage for borrowing, test drives, and specific passenger coverage information, are often MISSING from policies!

If you have more than one sidecar rig or trike or motorcycle, and a car or truck or home, etc., try, or at least look into having, the same company handle them all, even if you have to phase them in, as old policies with another company come due for renewal.  Insurance companies offer discounts for additional insured vehicles...and especiallyif you have homeowners or renters policies with them!  Almost all offer discounts for longevity/loyalty (that means being with that company for a long time).    If you are getting a discount on your motorcycle (or car) insurance because you have Homeowner's or renter's insurance with that same company, be sure to take the discount into consideration if pricing a policy with another company.  Ask about recent rate increases, and expected future increases....although that is usually not overly valuable, from a practical standpoint.

If you have a 'collection' of vehicles, sometimes a blanket policy with minimum coverage with an additional UMBRELLA policy works out best.   Note that you could own 100 bikes, and obviously can not ride them all at once, but insurance companies view things a bit strangely as you likely see it.  You might end up with a single liability policy and a major umbrella, or any number of various combinations, and find the results cheaper, and better.

You need to make a list of questions to ask the company agents, and you probably should get quotations from quite a few companies.   It would do little good for me to list my bikes and costs for insurance, as it will be vastly different for the majority of the rest of you, depending on the many factors I have written about in this article.

If you have a second home, know which should be your official residence and think about which, if it is the official residence, will have your cheapest insurance.   NORMALLY, your official legal 'home' is where you SLEEP 51% or more of the time.   You may find a BIG difference in Premiums.

Obtaining insurance on motorcycles and rigs requires at least some of the same sort of questioning and scrutiny you would do for such as purchasing a new car or home.  Do it well before renewal.

You may want to take into account a company's claims history, especially in your area, the company reputation.  Some may want to take into account the company's political leanings and perhaps such as furnishing free radar detectors to cops.

Once set up with a company, most offer discounts for staying with them, as I have mentioned, called Longevity/Loyalty, etc; and always for being traffic citation and accident free.   Once in awhile, you may find SOME companies inexplicably raising the premiums by a huge amount.  When that happens, and you will hopefully know WAY ahead of time when you get your advance bill, ASK may want to go hunting for insurance again.  I recommend that some, if not most of you, do the insurance quotation dance yearly.  It can be a chore...or; you can look at it as a money-saving game. NOTE,  when you request a quote, particularly on-line, that information MAY be available to other companies (that you requested a quote from, and, who knows what other type of information is revealed). I am very careful, and even delete my computer's cookies between inquiries.  Phone calls are good.

There is a LOT in this article.  It is not easy to properly shop for insurance.  If you are not really good at it, write down all your concerns, spend a lot of time with the insurance agent, ask LOTS of questions, and every year afterwards it will be MUCH easier, as you will have learned a lot.

Traffic citations:    Many companies raise rates TREMENDOUSLY if you have a single moving violation, of ANY kind.   This is LIKELY to affect not only your motorcycle insurance, but your car insurance, even if you use different insurance companies.   YES... ALL insurance companies DO all have access to EVERY driver record in EVERY State. Citations ARE reported, automatically, to a National insurance database!

Expect such INcreases to last 3 years.  This can be a substantial amount of money, since OFTEN NOT JUST your motorcycle is involved.   Here is only an example, but a decently honest one:

Let us say you have an exemplary driving record, no accidents, no citations, for MANY years.  You are probably getting all the best discounts already.  You are cited for riding 55 mph in a 45 mph zone.   You decide to not fight the citation which would require a Court appearance, but to just pay for it.   Perhaps that costs you $155.00.  You can expect your insurance to go up $100+ a year on your motorcycle.  You can expect the same for your car.   You have a two cars, two bikes.   3 years of these increases. Some companies might raise your homeowners or renters insurance too, and LIE ABOUT WHY, even when asked.   Getting the picture?   It may well pay you to fight ALL moving citations.....and in some States, you may be able to pay a bit more than the fine (not always) and 'go to traffic school' and thus wipe out any record of the citation...DO consider that!

Ensuring Wrath (from a Car and Driver article, Feb. 2016)
(slightly edited by Snowbum for clarity...)

A damning report released in 2015 by Consumer Reports revealed that auto insurers use Big Data to learn their customers’ credit histories and spending habits, relying more on those factors than driving history to determine premiums.

Insurance regulations, practices, and costs vary from state to state, but CR compiled more than 2 billion price quotes from every ZIP code in the country, finding consistently unscrupulous practices nationwide. In Florida, for example, a motorist with a clean driving record and excellent credit would pay an average annual premium of $1409. The same driver with a poor credit rating would pay $3826. Even with a drunk-driving conviction, a driver with excellent credit would pay an average of just $2274.

It gets worse. In a practice called "price optimization" insurers gradually hike customers' rates if Big Data indicates that they're unlikely to notice or look elsewhere for a better deal. If you're someone who never complains and tolerates unexplained rate hikes, you'll almost certainly pay---unless you live in California, Florida, Maryland, Ohio, Vermont, or Washington, states that currently ban the practice. (snowbum adds here, that you should NOT depend on those States' laws to protect you).

Consumer Reports called credit scoring a tax on the poor, pointing out that people who can't afford high premiums often go without protection against financial calamity. The National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies defended the industry thusly: "Low-income consumers already spend more on alcohol and tobacco products or audio and visual equipment and service than they pay for auto insurance."  The Consumer Federation of America, an advocacy group, refuted that claim using figures from the federal government’s most recent Consumer Expenditure Survey. By adopting such vitriol as a stance, insurers don't need CR to damn them. They're doing just fine themselves.

What to do IMMEDIATELY, if you have an accident?
See article 82B.  Don't it NOW:


Had an accident, or otherwise damaged your motorcycle or sidecar rig, etc.?  Some of this section is covered earlier in this article; but there are plenty of new things below.

States often require specific types of accident reporting, depending on damage costs involved (quickie estimates are often adequate), or, especially, if any person involved has medical expenses, hospitalization, doctor treatment/visits, whatever.  KNOW THE LAW, as best you can, at least for YOUR State.

MOST of the hints, below, are based on you having insurance that covers more than just liability; that is, you have coverage for such as Collision damage, Comprehensive (fire, theft, perhaps severe weather, etc.).   Be sure you KNOW what type of coverage you have. I don't get into  medical coverage, below, as I would need to make this article very long, or make another article, to cover that subject.  Just keep in mind that medical coverage can be for YOU AND(??) YOUR     PASSENGER, depending on how it is written...and interpreted.  Understand "Insurance Subrogation", LOOK IT UP if you want to;.....basically it means, often, that if you have OTHER coverage, perhaps medical, THAT coverage takes over FIRST.    Do you REALLY need vehicle medical insurance?    Maybe, if you have a passenger who does not have medical insurance.  Otherwise, possibly (?) not.    NOTE that you cannot collect from two different policies on the same vehicle, unless you have some sort of special insurance over-ride, or umbrella policy, and things so spelled-out. Very unusual.

A considerable number of the hints here is based on your bike being 'totalled'.  That is often very  misunderstood.  DO understand that sometimes damage that appears to be minimal, can result in a 'totalled' bike.   This is particularly so if the bike is older.  Often it need be only a FEW years old.  Suppose you were not in a multiple vehicle accident (damage from those is often severe to the bike).  Suppose you simply fell over at 5 mph in a parking lot maneuver. Think about what the cost to replace a fairly substantially scratched fairing would be at a dealership; parts, painting, labor.  A bike that is 5 or 10 years old might be worth less than 1/3rd of its original price.  Guesses:  $1000 for replacing the fairing, $1200 to paint it, plus labor, etc.  HOWEVER, if your bike is insured for a STATED VALUE, things may ...or may not.... be different for you.

1. Think it all over very carefully.  Be SURE you understand that the insurance company, not you, owns your bike if the company "total's"  your bike and you sign away your rights to the vehicle when it pays you off".   What happens in your State and out of your State, if you buy the bike back from the insurance company?   The Title have likely have SALVAGE written on it, AND be in the insurance industry nation-wide database. Will that (or not) have an effect on the value of the bike if you later want to sell it?  How do you license and register a Salvage bike in your or any other State (and, which State)?  Check it all out.

The insurance company will likely try to 'total' the bike if the repair costs go over 50% of the bike value.   The SALVAGE value is also negotiable, often hugely!

2. When dealing with the insurance adjustor, be prepared with proof that your bike was worth what you say it is.  Remember, your bike's REAL legal value is the value a similar bike in similar condition just before the accident (or theft, or?) would bring, on average, at RETAIL.

3.  Don't go for the insurance company's initial total loss offer. Insurance companies usually use 3rd party valuation companies to provide a range of values for your damaged vehicle.   This will be from wholesale to retail. EXPECT the initial contact with your insurance company's 'Adjustor' will be for the lowest value!  YOU SHOULD:
Ask for the sales taxes you will have to pay on obtaining a replacement vehicle.
Ask for the value of the months remaining on your vehicle license registration fees.
Ask for the value of the prorated un-earned insurance premium.
Ask for the value of the rental car (or?), towing, etc.

4.  You can tell them that you want xxxxx more dollars.  YOU know what added items, even newer tires, are on your damaged bike.  The "Adjustor" has lots of leeway!  BE SURE YOU HAVE PROOF OF VALUE.  Have photos.  Have receipts.  Have proof of value.  "Book values" are only a guide, and OFTEN not a good one.  Know that values are different for the same bike, same year, same condition, etc., at various places in the USA....even in the same State.

5.  BEFORE doing any acceptance, tell the Adjustor the following:   "I wish to substantiate your figures, so I am going to talk to SEVERAL motorcycle shops that have recently sold a bike like mine in the last few months....the same year, make, mileage, equipment,condition, etc.  I will get the $$$ the bike sold for, in WRITING from them."   This almost always will have the Adjustor think carefully about what more they might offer, before you even check on values.  I think telling the Adjustor those or similar words, and then seeing what the Adjustor will do, right then, is a GOOD idea.

Do NOT settle immediately, you should have plenty of time to get values, negotiate, etc.  If you need to replace the vehicle immediately, you probably will effectively have less over-all bargaining power.

Remember what you should be after: 
The right insurance to protect you, your passenger, and your property, under all the conditions you anticipate using (or storing) the motorcycle.  The insurance cost should not be the only thing you consider!  Price is highly variable between companies, rather often, particularly in some areas.  Use a solid company that has a good reputation.  I suggest you read this article again and again, and make your own check-list, to take with you the next time you visit an insurance agent....and you can always ask questions on-line, if that is how you purchase insurance.

03/08/2009:  Incorporate all prior revisions and check for accuracy and clarity.
03/29/2010:  Add Damage Claims section; and update article in other areas a bit.
08/15/2010:  Check over.
06/14/2011:  Clarity improvements.
07/11/2011:  Add note to read 82B.
10/07/2012:  Update entire article.  Also add QR code; add language button; update Google Ad-Sense code.
10/06/2013:  Update negotiating with insurance company and its adjustor.
01/17/2014:  Recheck article.
05/15/2014:  Expand article a bit.
08/22/2014:  Update article some, clean it up some, fix width problems.
02/29/2016:  Add table, containing "
Ensuring Wrath".
03/05/2016:  Update meta-code; formatting; layout.
08/09/2016:  Update metacodes, scripts, layout, fonts.  Simplify prior ugly HTML code. 


Copyright, 2014, R. Fleischer

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Last check/edit: Wednesday, August 10, 2016