Be sure to sign up for the weekly RV Travel Newsletter, published continuously every Saturday since 2001. Click here.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Do you need to register your truck camper?


Truck campers are the "strange ducks" in the RV world. No matter where you go in the US, a motorhome is always a "motor vehicle" and requires a title, registration, and license plate (or tag). The same is basically true for fifth wheels and travel trailers. Ah, but pity the poor truck camper--or maybe not!

Licensing of truck campers varies from state to state. Some states require a title, registration, and license plate on any truck camper. Some states don't require any such legal paperwork, and others (or at least one other) simply require the legal mumbo-jumbo "if" the camper sticks out beyond the truck's rear bumper. Go figure.

None of this should be construed that you have no need to worry about legal papers. Even if your state of residence doesn't even want to talk to you about your camper, you should still be aware of ownership and paperwork, and you should be keeping a little paper in your file.

When a truck camper comes off the manufacturing line (assuming it was produced commercially and not home built) it's issued a "certificate of origin." The first buyer is issued that certificate, and you'll do well to hang on to it, even if your state doesn't ask you for it. If you involve a finance company with the purchase of the camper, then they may "get" the certificate. If somebody else lays claim to that certificate, ask the dealer for a photocopy--keep it in your files.

Since campers aren't recognized as "motor vehicles," they aren't customarily issued a 17-digit VIN (vehicle identification number) like you'd see on a car or truck. However, each manufacturer does identify each individual truck camper with a series of numbers and or letters. That same identifier will show up on your "certificate of origin." When you insure your camper, that's the number you'll provide to the insurance company in place of a VIN.

If you buy a used camper in a state where titles and registrations aren't issued for campers, make sure you get a signed and notarized "bill of sale," that includes that identification number. Match it up against the ID number on the rig. If you're the least bit concerned about the reliability of the seller, take that ID number down to the local police station and ask if they can run it against a database of stolen vehicles--before you hand over you cash.

If you suffer a loss on your camper--accident, fire, theft, having that identification number (and preferably the original or copy of the certificate of origin) will go a long way to helping you settle things out.

Now about that, "pity the poor truck camper" statement: Some states may even make registration of your camper "optional." Most see that option as a great one to skip out on, after all, you won't be stuck having to pay a fee. Still, having that registration may make it easier to sell the rig later, as some buyers are interested in having a "paper trail." You pays your money, and takes your choice.