We were luckily able to drive the bruised and battered “Comet the Travato” back to Humz’s parent’s house in central New Jersey, only about a 170 mile drive from where we got hit, but with inoperable rear doors. Both doors were crushed in so we didn’t know if we could shut them again if we tried to open them. Luckily the crash damage was just low enough that it didn’t wreck our bike that was on the bike rack during the rear-ending, although we did need a new bike rack.
Immediately after the crash, we did all the normal things people do when getting into an auto accident, ie: taking pictures of damage at the crash site, pulling off to a safe parking lot to exchange info with the other driver, calling the police, obtaining a police report number, and calling our insurance company. When we bought Comet we debated between Geico and Progressive and since we had a terrible time dealing with Geico when our parked SUV got side swiped earlier that year, we went with Progressive. Since this was our vehicle AND our house, we would be at a severe disadvantage if something happened to it, so we did not skimp on insurance.
After the crash, we called our dealer, Colonial RV in Lakewood, NJ, and they referred us to a body shop near us. I will not mention the body shop’s name because we did not have a great experience with them. We took Comet to them and the owner of the shop had just finished repairing another Travato that had similar damage to ours. He told us that the right back door was very hard to find and there were only 6 available in the country at that current time. Comet is a Winnebago Travato, but is built out using a Dodge Promaster 3500 chassis. The rear doors are from Chrysler. Fortunately for us, the shop owner had ordered two rear right doors for the other Travato and installed whichever one came first; he had not yet cancelled the order for the other door and it should have been on its way. He told us that after the doors arrived he could have the repair done within 5 days; we just had to wait for the doors to get there.
Twenty-five days later and a full month after we were rear ended, we were ready to roll. Yes the body shop did get the work done, eventually, but their lack of communication was extremely frustrating and getting updates during the repair was like pulling teeth. They knew we were full-timers, not just people trying to repair their rv after the summer RVing season. We originally intended to be on this trip for 3-4 months and after only a month we were burning through our time and savings for this trip by having to stay put for another month.
We didn’t want to be “those” people who were always calling the shop for updates, so we established a schedule with them of when we should call if we didn’t hear from them first. They never called us and we ended up having to be “those” people constantly chasing them when we didn’t hear anything for them. It turned out that the doors were “unlocatable” and “untrackable” for about 3 weeks and every time we called they seemed irritated that we wanted an update. Even if that was true about the doors being untrackable, we would liked to be kept in the loop, rather than hung up on. (Yes that did happen.)
On the contrary to our dealings with the body shop, our experience with Progressive Insurance was excellent. There is only one RV insurance adjuster for our region and he was backed up for almost a week before he could get to us, but as soon as he saw our crushed vehicle at the body shop, he did not delay with issuing any payments and battled the other driver’s insurance company to get our deductible back. (They admitted full fault, so the battle shouldn’t have been that hard.) Since the repair took so long he was done with this before we had to pay our deductible to the body shop and forwarded it directly to them, so we never had to pay a cent for the entire repair. This was the exact reason why we went with Progressive over Geico to insure our RV.
Our previous issue with Geico was when our Honda CRV got sideswiped while parked earlier that year (before we started vanlife), Geico did not even want to touch our case with a 10 foot stick. They said we may or may not get our deductible back if we went through them, even though the other driver admitted it was 100% their fault. I thought that’s what insurance companies are for!?! So we were left to fend for ourselves, spending too many hours emailing and calling the other person’s insurance company who moved at turtle speed to issue payment so we ended up paying out of pocket just to get our car fixed before we got reimbursed…but that’s another saga that I don’t need to go into. Overall, I have a very low bar for insurance companies, but our Progressive adjuster went above and beyond and any time I expressed my concerns about the body shop he tried to reassure me and would try to get updates for me since he had a good working relationship with the body shop.
During this 29-Days-of-Torture, we were shacked up at Humz’s parent’s house in Princeton, NJ, about an hour from the body shop. Thankfully they were cool with us staying with them, or at least they pretended to be. We did however feel like assholes since we could never give them an update of when we were leaving since we were convinced at least for the first 2 weeks that we could be leaving any day. The last 3-4 weeks we pretty much gave up and assumed we would be living at the in-laws forever. They were also troopers about all our stuff being scattered around their house. We emptied almost everything out of Comet and it lived on their dining room table for a month.
During our vanlife hiatus we tried to keep as busy as possible to keep our minds off of how upset we were, and to try to make the time go by quicker. We knew the first 29 days of our trip in New England were “trial vanlife” and were eager to finally get out west. We had only intended on stopping back in Princeton for a few days to make last minute adjustments to the van and eliminate things we didn’t need. We ended up having a few more loose ends to tie up than we thought which included haircuts, dentist appointments, reorganizing our storage unit, removing the liens off of our Travato and our SUV (which we paid off both after the money came through from our home sale), random repairs on our our SUV. Removing the liens off of our vehicles required multiple trips to the DMV, which was actually quite enjoyable since we didn’t have to battle weekend/night DMV crowds. We were there a total of 10 minutes or less every time we went. Thank you flexibility!
In retrospect, if we had known the repair would take a month we might have tried to explore other places we were planning to go to, but we were never able to commit to anything because we never knew if the van would be ready the next day. So we had to stay-put and wait for that phone call that never came. We also made the mistake of taking our van back to it’s “home”. Progressive did say that if we were 50 miles outside of our home we would have been eligible to rent a similar RV so we could continue our trip, but it was unclear at first if this would actually get reimbursed or not, so we chickened out and did the most cost-effective thing of staying put at our family’s house. If we had known we had a solid 3-4 weeks to wait we would have definitely done this and adjusted our travel plans, since our entire plan was dependent on getting through the northern states before it got too cold.
Our naivety with RVing/vanlifing gave us an unrealistic optimism that this would be a “fast” repair. Upon my further, after-the-fact research of similar repairs, this type of work usually takes at least a month. Our van’s injury ended up costing over $17,000 in damage with both doors, bike rack, ladder, and all associated hardware having to be replaced. When we got the call from our insurance adjuster that Comet was ready to roll (yes, it was him who broke the news to us, not the body shop…big surprise) we were ecstatic to get back on the road. We got rear ended on September 10, 2017 and left the comfort of our parents’ home for good on October 10, 2017. It would be a race against winter to get through the northern US states.