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Insuring My Weird and Exotic Cars Has Been Surprisingly Hard

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author photo by Doug DeMuro November 2016

I'll never forget the moment in 2014 when I first bought my Ferrari. The happiness. The joy. The elation. The excitement. The feeling that I wanted to eat off my own toes when I was trying to find someone who would insure it.

I always thought the hardest part about buying a Ferrari would be, you know, buying a Ferrari. But in reality, the hardest part about buying my Ferrari -- which I owned from January to December 2014 -- was insuring it. And this difficult insurance situation has played out several times since with a few other exotic and unusual vehicles I've purchased.

Before we get into the other cars, let's talk about the Ferrari. I owned a 2004 360 Modena, which is about the most "regular" Ferrari you can have -- and yet, my normal insurance company wouldn't touch it. In fact, my insurance agent chortled when I asked him about it, as if I had just told him some funny joke, the kind insurance agents probably tell each other at insurance-agent conventions. ("And then he says to the guy... liability? More like VIABILITY!!! Am I right, people?! CHORTLE CHORTLE CHORTLE CHORTLE...")

So my agent referred me to Chubb, a specialty insurance company with a funny-sounding name, and he said they could take care of me. So I called Chubb, and the first thing they said to me was, "OK, you want to insure a Ferrari -- what other vehicles do you own?" At the time, I owned my used Range Rover and a Nissan Cube, so I said that to the guy. He then responded with the Official Sound of the Insurance Agent: the chortle. A loud, prolonged chortle. The conversation ended soon after, apparently because my other cars weren't nice enough to justify Ferrari ownership.

Next up was a different "normal" insurance agency, who agreed to insure the car -- for $540 per month. This was in spite of the fact that I had a clean record and hadn't filed a claim in 5 years. Left with no choice, I went with them until I could find a better solution.

In the end, I insured my Ferrari with a different specialty company. They were very nice and very easy to deal with -- except that they insisted I park my Ferrari in a locked, single-car garage at my residence. The only problem: I lived in a condominium building, and I didn't have a locked, single-car garage at my residence. Instead, I kept the Ferrari several miles away, in a warehouse full of exotic cars, stocked with security cameras, fire sprinklers and alarm systems. This was approximately 74 times more secure than a locked, single-car garage at my residence would have been, but the insurance company didn't care.

So I took a picture of my car parked at a friend's locked, single-car garage and kept my Ferrari in the warehouse anyway. And each time I drove to pick it up, I deeply feared that the warehouse roof had collapsed overnight, that I would have to file a claim and my lie would be discovered.

My most recent issues have come from trying to insure my latest vehicles, including my Dodge Viper. Specialty-car insurer Hagerty, who handled my imported Nissan Skyline GT-R with no problems, refused to insure my Viper on the grounds that it's "too dangerous" -- especially since I told my agent that I planned to drive it up to 6,000 miles a year. When she informed me that 6,000 miles is basically "regular use," I told her that in reality, I'd probably only do 2,000 miles a year, but I initially had said 6,000 miles just to play it safe. If it makes a difference, I said, just bump it down to 2,000 miles a year.

She then said -- I swear this is true -- something along the lines of, "I'm sorry, sir, but you already said 6,000 miles, and I have to go with what you said." I protested, "But now I'm saying 2,000 miles!" But it didn't matter. She wouldn't budge. It was as if I was playing "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?," and I had already said "A" was my final answer, but then I wanted to go with "C," and Regis was being especially strict during that taping because he wanted to get to the Hamptons and fire up the grill. I ended up insuring the Viper with my normal insurance company.

My normal insurance company, however, wouldn't touch my Skyline -- or, more importantly, my Nissan S-Cargo, which has a 12-digit VIN number despite being manufactured in the era of the 17-digit VIN number. This is tremendously confusing to people. Whenever I provide someone with the VIN of my S-Cargo, they look at me like I've just walked up to their desk and lifted up my shirt to reveal my mouth is actually in my belly button.

So, like the Skyline, I insured my S-Cargo with Hagerty. I thought this would be a breeze, but it was harder than I thought, and there were some unusual happenings. For example, Hagerty requires that you have at least one daily-driver vehicle -- insured by someone else -- for each licensed driver in the household before they'll insure your classic or exotic car. Although they told me they might make an exception in a big city where each driver doesn't need a car, my experience with insurance companies suggests "we might make an exception" usually means "you'll have to call back every 45 minutes for the next 19 days until our underwriters have considered it, thought about it, looked it over and eventually denied it."

Also, the agent asked me if I planned on using my S-Cargo at the race track or for autocross events. (I responded, "Um... just Google a picture of it.")

But once again, the most difficult part was parking. Hagerty insisted I send them detailed photos and a description of the parking garage where I keep my S-Cargo so they could be sure it wouldn't get damaged. So I spent 20 minutes on the phone with an agent describing the garage, and then I sent over pictures of its entrance, its exterior, its interior and my parking spots, along with a full email description. This wouldn't strike me as unusual for many collector cars, but there's a difference here: The S-Cargo is only worth about $8,000. In fact, I had planned on parking it on the street until Hagerty told me, in no uncertain terms, that such a thing wouldn't be allowed.

Now, I admit that part of my problem here is that I live in the city, where I don't have an oversized garage that can hold my cars, my riding mower and my boxes of artwork that my children made when they were 7 years old and that I cannot throw away even though much of it looks like drawings of deformed melons you'd pass up in the produce section.

But still, insuring a specialty car is much more difficult than I ever expected it to be. It doesn't matter if you have a clean driving record. It doesn't matter if your car is only worth $8,000. It doesn't matter if you park it in a safe, locked space around cars worth five times as much. It doesn't matter if you haven't filed a claim in a decade. Somewhere, at some point along the way, you will probably be met with a chortle.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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