Whether you start with a school bus, a box truck, or a van, there can be advantages in registering as an RV or motorhome instead of whatever purpose it served in its past life. For instance, you may not be legally allowed to drive a school bus with a standard driver’s license. Or you might want to get RV insurance, which combines the benefits of vehicle and homeowner’s insurance because your vehicle serves as both. Having just dealt with an apartment fire, having our personal property inside the van insured as well as the vehicle itself was quite relevant to our interests.
While transferring Smokey Da Van’s title and registration to Florida, Trisha discovered that Florida makes it possible to change a vehicle’s classification from a van, bus, etc. to a motorhome through an extremely simple process. We followed it, and it worked perfectly. In a very legal sense, the van is no longer a van, but a motorhome
The Letter of the Law
I want to stress that what we have done is 100% legal by the laws of the State of Florida. The requirements to switch a title to a motorhome and the process of doing so are clearly spelled out in the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles procedure TL-13. You don’t have to take my word for it — read the procedure for yourself, straight from the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles website. Like any law, this is subject to change at any time, but when we did this in May 2021, this was the way. Your mileage may and probably will vary in other states. I can also make no guarantees that if you make this change to a Florida title, it will follow you to another state if you register it elsewhere later.
The entirety of procedure TL-13 is worth a read, just so you understand what it’s all about (especially if the clerk you deal with has the wrong information). When a company, like Winnebago, makes such a conversion, they also issue the vehicle a new VIN, a process that is just as tricky as it sounds. Federal and state governments are extremely restrictive about when a vehicle can be given a new VIN, and for good reason. They want to make it difficult to steal a car, swap on a clean VIN, and put it back on the street with no connection to its theft history. When Winnebago turns a Promaster into a Travato, they start with a new Promaster, not one that’s already racked up a hard life as a delivery van, so they’re allowed to change the vehicle from a Ram to a Winnebago VIN.
This situation doesn’t apply to people like us who convert vehicles ourselves. The State of Florida recognizes that, and this is exactly what Section III of TL-13 addresses — a motorhome conversion that the owner has performed themselves. It says that the owner must submit an affidavit to the tax collector stating that it meets at least one of the following requirements:
- Installed 110-volt electrical wiring
- Installed liquid propane gas piping
- Installed plumbing system
That’s it. While a full-blown RV would have all of these, only ONE of these is required for a home conversion. This lowers the bar significantly. As I’ve explained elsewhere, I’ve chosen not to install a 110-volt electrical system, relying solely on 12 volts straight from the batteries. I have a composting toilet, but this doesn’t qualify as plumbing to the state of Florida, since there are no pipes, holding tanks, or water involved. But, I do have a propane system that supplies both the heater and the stove/grill. Therefore, by Florida’s definition, the van legally qualifies as a motorhome in the state of Florida!
How I Did It
I decided to request the vehicle classification change at the same time I transferred my title and registration to Florida, which would get everything done at the same time. In addition to all of the other paperwork required for transferring an out-of-state title and registration, I brought a typed affidavit copied from the FLHSMV instructions, with my information as well as the van’s already filled in, as well as a full printout of FLHSMV procedure TL-13. I provided these to the clerk.
At first, she had no idea what to do because she’d never encountered this before, so she left to check with her supervisor. That’s a fair move. I handed her my TL-13 procedure printout to show her supervisor as well when she asked. A few minutes later she came back and processed my new title as a motorhome according to these instructions. I didn’t even need to sign the affidavit in front of a notary. Signing it in front of the clerk was good enough for them.
Keep in mind, I did this at the Sumter County Tax Collector’s office. This is the home of the Escapees domicile for Florida, so they know exactly what we’re doing — establishing domicile there, then leaving and not coming back. Sumter County knows it’s a good deal for them. They get our tax money, and we rarely use their services! So they are extremely friendly toward RVers and other nomads going through Escapees.
Other Florida counties may not be as cooperative. I’ve read about some counties insisting that a vehicle inspection is required to verify the modifications. This is only the case for professional conversions, not homebuilt ones as defined in Section III. Even worse, if you give in and take your vehicle for this inspection, they’re going to have no idea what to do. The law says nothing about inspecting homebuilt conversions.
If you run into trouble, I suggest simply doing what I did, and bring a copy of procedure TL-13 with you. If they give you trouble, be polite, yet firm, and stick to the procedure as defined in TL-13. Yelling at someone doesn’t get you anywhere, and makes them even likely to cooperate. But stick to your guns (not literally — it may be Florida but I’m sure they’d frown on that). TL-13 is the instructions the state has given the counties to follow in this situation, so they have to follow it.