The easiest and most efficient way to initiate an auto insurance claim is to call your insurance agent directly. They will walk you through the forms and information you need to collect in order to file your insurance claim. You should contact your insurance company as soon as possible after your accident, both to settle your claim quickly and to ask for their guidance as you navigate a claim against another driver, or if they, in turn, are filing a claim against you.
Filing an Auto Insurance Claim
Even if you don't have a specific agent that you normally work with, most insurance companies also allow you to easily file a claim over the phone or online through their website or mobile app. Collecting all the relevant information before you initiate your claim will help you expedite the claim process.
Once your claim has been initiated, you will begin the process of repairing or replacing your vehicle, as well as continuing to seek medical attention for any injuries you may have sustained in the accident. If you've added the optional rental reimbursement coverage to your policy, your insurance company should pay for a rental car during this time, up to the policy's limits. If significant damage is done, the insurance company with which you're filing may send an insurance adjuster to evaluate the damage, and to give you a quote for the repairs. The company might also provide you with a list of reputable auto body shops where you can get the repairs done.
Make sure you get a time and expense quote from the auto body shop before approving any repairs. If the amount quoted exceeds your policy's limits, you'll have to pay the difference out of pocket, so you should shop around for a lower price at another reputable shop. Always keep a record of any expenses you incur, so you can seek reimbursement later from your insurance company.
The amount of time required to process the claim and complete the repairs will depend on the type of claim you submit. If you're filing a claim to get the body of your car repaired, you should expect an insurance adjuster to inspect your car within three days of your filing the claim; your auto body shop will then estimate the date on which the repairs will be complete, based upon their workload. If you're filing a claim to have your windshield replaced, it could take a few days for the glass to be delivered. If you're filing a claim for hail damage, you could encounter delays throughout the process, since it's possible that hundreds or thousands of other cars were damaged in the same storm and both insurance companies and body shops will be swamped. Needless to say, we especially recommend filing your claim as early as possible if it involved weather-related damage.
What Does a Claims Adjuster Do?
A claims adjuster is an expert engaged by your insurance company to assess the scope of the damage to your vehicle. Depending on the adjuster's estimate for the total cost to repair your vehicle, and the car's actual cash value ACV, the insurance adjuster will recommend whether the insurance company should pay to repair your car or should instead deem it to be a total loss. In either case, your policy's deductible will be deducted from the amount your insurance company reimburses to you.
What Information Do I Need To File a Car Insurance Claim?
The more information you gather about the accident, and concerning the damage to your vehicle, the better you'll be able to present your claim to your auto insurance company, and the better they'll be able to defend you against any claims from the other driver. Some documentation, such as a copy of the police report from your accident, may be required in order to complete your claim. Other information, such as photographs of the other car's damage, might not be required, but are strongly recommended to assist in proving your claim and to minimize any delays in processing it. As you're preparing your claim, review your auto insurance policy's declaration page to familiarize yourself with your coverage limits and deductibles.
Information to Gather from the Scene of a Collision
Once you've notified the police, and you've verified that the scene poses no additional risk to anyone involved, make a record of the information in the following list. As soon as you've gathered it, contact your insurance provider to initiate the claims process.
- The names, phone numbers and addresses of all drivers involved
- The insurance companies and auto insurance policy numbers of all drivers involved
- The license plate numbers of each car involved
- Each car's year, make and model
- The number of people who were in each car
- The name and contact info of any witnesses
- Detailed photos of all vehicle damage
- Notes about the scene, and its conditions prior to the accident
Other Records to Maintain for your Claim
It's critical to keep meticulous records of any medical attention you've received or any vehicle damage you've repaired. Doing so will help you defend your claim to your insurance provider and to get your claim settled more rapidly. As you go about proceed to get your car repaired, and seek to finalize your claim, gather and submit the following information to your insurance agent, in addition to all information gathered at the scene of the accident:
- Your name and address
- Your auto-insurance policy number and effective dates
- Your completed proof of loss form, or other insurance claim forms, as supplied by your agent
- Medical bills
- Auto-shop repair bills
- A copy of the police report, if you didn't receive this at the scene of the accident
- Rental-vehicle receipts
- Proof of lost wages, if you were or are unable to work
I Was Just In an Accident. What Should I Do?
There are a number of steps to take after you're involved in an accident in order to facilitate filing a claim. Likewise, there are a number of things to avoid doing, to help protect yourself from a potential lawsuit.
Things To Do After an Accident
- Call 911. If serious damage was done to any vehicle involved, and especially if anyone involved is injured, your insurance company won't process your claim until a police report has been filed.
- Document the accident. Photograph any damage to all vehicles involved and make a record of the road conditions and the scene prior to the accident occurring.
- Record information from the other driver. Gather as much information as possible, including their name, phone number, insurance company and policy number, and license plate number.
Things To Avoid Doing After an Accident
- Making physical contact with any injured people: Moving an injured person could cause further injury. Even if it doesn't, the person might assert that the contact injured them, and use that claim in a lawsuit against you. Naturally, if you judge that a person's life is in danger (because, say, their car is leaking fuel), you might choose to move the person anyway, at your own risk.
- Apologizing for the crash: Comments of an apologetic nature after an accident could be construed as an admission of fault, which the other driver might later use against you to escape the responsibility of paying for damages.
- Telling the other party your coverage limits: If the person you collided with carries only your state's minimum required liability insurance, and you carry a higher limit, that might encourage them to blame you for the accident, in order to avoid having paying for any damage themselves.
- Agreeing to any private settlement or accepting any cash: Unless you're absolutely certain you want to negotiate a settlement privately with another driver, don't accept any payment or agree to any terms before contacting your insurance agent. Doing so may hinder your ability to file a claim later.
Should I File a Car Insurance Claim?
After months or years of paying car insurance premiums, you may wonder why anybody would choose not to file an insurance claim after they have an accident. In reality, though, car insurance is primarily designed to protect you from facing accident expenses that are so large as to be unaffordable. If the cost of the mishap isn't at that level, it's worth pausing before you submit a claim, and weighing the downsides to doing so. For one, filing a claim will often increase your rates. This is always the case if you are at least partially at fault for the car's damage, and especially so if this is not your first claim. Because of the potential rate increases that can follow a claim, it's often cheaper in the long run to pay out-of-pocket for minor damages, such as a dent or a scratch caused by a fender bender. For example, a situation where you would almost certainly want to pay for repairs yourself is after a minor accident where the repair cost is lower than your car insurance policy's deductible. In this case, you wouldn't be reimbursed anyway, and you might still be subject to a slight rate increase for the next three years of your coverage.
Here are a few scenarios in which you should or shouldn't file a claim with your insurance company.
|Scenario||Should You File a Claim?|
|You rear end somebody and cause significant damage to their car||Yes. Depending on which parts of the car need to be replaced, repairs could be in the thousands of dollars. Additionally, the other driver could later complain about an injury, such as whiplash, which could imply further costs.|
|You rear end somebody but cause seemingly minor damage||Yes, most likely. The safest choice is still to go through your insurance company. What may seem like a minor ding may require the entire bumper to be replaced, or the vehicle's frame to be straightened, or the suspension to be damaged, all of which are relatively costly repairs. Paying somebody cash won't prevent them from at least trying to come after you for additional repairs, and if they succeed, you'll be out the cash you paid at the scene of the accident.|
|You're at fault for an accident that injured someone else||Yes; you should absolutely go through your insurance company. Medical bills can easily exceed $10,000, and injuries are not always apparent in the first few hours or days.|
|You're injured in an accident that was not your fault||Probably yes. If you require any medical attention, it's wise to file a claim, in case the injury turns out to be more serious than it initially appeared.|
|You crash your car into a stationary object.||Possibly. Get an estimate from an auto repair shop. If the projected repairs cost significantly more than your collision policy's deductible, file a claim. Keep in mind, though, that the claim will likely increase your insurance premiums.|
|Your car is damaged in a non-collision event, such as a hail storm.||Yes, assuming you have comprehensive insurance. If you don't have comprehensive insurance, you'll have to pay for the repairs yourself.|
What Type of Claim Should I File?
Different types of damage are covered by differing forms of insurance. The insurance policy under which you file your claim—and whether you're able to file a claim at all—will depend on the coverage you've purchased, the state you live in (and whether it has no-fault or fault insurance) and who was responsible for the accident. If you caused the accident, or if your car was damaged in a non-collision event, you'll file a first-party claim—that is, a claim under your own insurance policy. If another driver is at fault for an accident, and you live in a fault-based state, you usually file a third-party claim with their insurance company.
Whose Insurance Company Should I File With?
Most states are fault-based states, meaning the person responsible for the accident, or their insurance provider, is liable for the expenses caused by an accident. In some cases, your own insurance may help communicate with the at-fault driver's insurance company on your behalf. In other situations, you'll need to file a claim with their insurance provider directly.
Currently, 12 states and Puerto Rico are no-fault states. This means that, unless expenses caused by another driver exceed a state's specified limits, you'll probably file your claim under your own insurance policy. In addition to Puerto Rico, these are the 12 no-fault states:
- New Jersey
- New York
- North Dakota
Your auto insurance agent should be able to tell you how you're covered and direct you to the type of claim you need to file in order to receive reimbursement. However, knowing the policy under which your damage falls, and reviewing that policy's limits and deductibles, can help you determine what your ultimate costs might be. Here are some examples of damage you may have sustained and the type of coverage you should claim under, if you're covered by that policy.
|If You Are Injured||If Your Car Is Damaged||In No-Fault States|
|First-Party Claims (your insurer)||Medical Payments (MedPay) Personal Injury Protection (PIP)||Collision Comprehensive Diminished Value||PIP Collision Comprehensive|
|Third-Party Claims (another driver's insurer)||Bodily Injury (BI)||Property Damage (PD)||BI, if certain expense thresholds are met.|
For example, let's say you live in California, a fault-based state, and you're at fault for an accident where both your car and another driver's car are significantly damaged. Since you caused the collision, the other driver would file a claim under your bodily and property liability insurance policies for their car repair and medical bills. Additionally, you'd file a claim under your collision insurance policy for repairs to your own car, and you'd file a separate claim under your medical payments or personal injury protection (PIP) insurance policy for your own medical bills.
Your insurance company would handle the other driver's medical and repair bills directly. You might pay for your own repairs up front and seek reimbursement from your insurance company after. If the total cost of your car repairs was $3,500, but your collision insurance has a $1,000 deductible, your insurance company would write you a check for $2,500 and your claim would be settled.