When and How to File a Car Insurance Claim

Car Accident Insurance ClaimYou return to your parked car to discover that someone has dented your rear bumper. There’s no note on your windshield, and the offending driver is nowhere to be seen. The thought runs through your head “Should I file a car insurance claim?”. Check out our helpful car accident claims advice below.

This is a tough call. While it stings to pay for damage someone else caused, if you file a claim your premiums may go up. Here are seven questions to ask yourself when you’re trying to figure out if it’s worth it to file a car insurance claim.

First, a few caveats: You should report all accidents involving other drivers to the police and to your insurer, even if you don’t end up filing a claim. You should not, however, ask your insurance agent for advice on whether you should file a claim. Why? Your agent may be obligated to report that you asked about a claim, raising your rates whether you end up filing or not.

1. Was another vehicle involved in the accident?

If a collision involves another driver, you should file a car insurance claim. Even if the damage appears minor, it may be costly to fix, and there could be injuries involved. If you don’t report the accident immediately, Consumer Reports warns, your insurance company will be limited in the protections it can offer.

What if the at-fault driver asks you not to file a claim and instead offers to pay for your repairs out of pocket? You may feel inclined to shake on it, but beware: these private arrangements rarely work out. You may even find yourself the victim of fraud.

2. Was anyone injured in the accident?

If you think you sustained an injury in a car accident, it’s vital to file an insurance claim. Visit a doctor immediately and document your injuries in photos and in writing. You may need to hire a personal injury attorney as well. If there’s a possibility that another driver or passenger was injured, you should report the incident to your insurer to help protect you from high-dollar personal injury lawsuits.

If you’re involved in a single-car collision and you feel reasonably sure you’re unhurt, then you may choose not to file a claim.

3. Have you filed other recent car insurance claims?

If you file one car insurance claim, it’s probably no big deal from your insurer’s perspective. If you file several, your insurer will label you a high-risk driver and may even cancel your coverage. Two at-fault claims in a 12-month period could increase your premiums by 86 percent or more.

4. Have you had any recent speeding tickets?

It seems unfair, but if you file a car insurance claim when you’ve had recent moving violations, your insurer may raise your rates.

5. Do you have accident forgiveness?

A number of insurers offer accident forgiveness, which means they won’t raise your rates because you’ve had an accident, even if you’re at fault. If you have this benefit, you can file a car insurance claim without worrying about a rate increase. However, if you’re a crash-prone driver and you have accident forgiveness, you may want to avoid filing a claim on a fender-bender so you can save this benefit for a more serious accident.

6. Was the damage caused by weather or an animal?

If you have comprehensive coverage, you can probably file a claim without seeing a rate increase if your vehicle was damaged by:

  • Hail, wind, lightning or other weather
  • Natural disasters
  • Vandalism
  • Hitting a deer or other animal

7. Is the cost of fixing the damage lower than your deductible?

Say you back into a telephone pole and damage your rear bumper. Get an estimate for repairs before you submit a car insurance claim. The cosmetic damage may cost about $500 to repair — and if your deductible is $500, you’re essentially paying the full price. In this situation, filing a claim will only give your insurer an excuse to raise your premiums. A good rule of thumb is filing a claim only if the damage exceeds $1,000.

The Car Insurance Claim Checklist

You may not want to go through the paperwork that a car insurance claim entails, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. Going through the proper protocol is vital. This checklist can help make sure you’re taking the appropriate steps.

  • Assess the scene: Are you injured? What about any passengers you may have in your car, or other motorists? Are you or others in imminent danger of being hit by other motorists? Try and get to a safe place before you do anything else.
  • Call 911: Orient yourself so that you can describe your specific location. If there are injuries or the suspicion of injuries, don’t hesitate to call 911. If you’re calling to report the accident, that’s also fine, but just know that the police may not respond, especially if you’re in a parking lot or other private property where they may argue that they don’t have jurisdiction. Just know that your insurance company may instruct you to call 911 regardless of the accident particulars.
  • Meet the other drivers: Unless you hit a telephone pole or another stationary object, you’ll need to meet the other drivers involved and exchange information. Get their license plate, insurance details and contact information.
  • Capture the scene: Take pictures, look for witnesses and record a video if needed. Get photos of the front, side and back of your car as well as any skid marks, damage to property and positioning of the vehicles. Even images of the sun glare or poorly positioned road signs can help to corroborate your side of the story.
  • Contact the insurance company: Damage to a vehicle is often difficult to judge to the untrained eye, so inform your insurance company as soon as you can with details of what happened. A seemingly benign dent may be much more serious than it appears and a car that appears to be totaled may be repaired for much less than first expected. Finally, be sure to know all the ways to contact your insurance company or agent – phone, email or via an app – and have that info easily accessible. Keep your insurance details in your glove box for these ‘just in case’ situations.
  • File a police report: This is another step that some consider optional. If the police arrive at the accident, you’ll likely have a report. If not, you’ll have to swing by the station. This isn’t a compulsory step, but if you don’t file a report and other impacted drivers do, it’s their word vs. yours – and they likely have the upper hand for having reported the accident.
  • Make a plan with your insurer: You may receive a call from other drivers’ insurance company regarding an insurance claim; be sure to talk with your own insurer to decide the best way to handle any questions.
  • Meet the adjuster: An insurance adjuster may meet you to review your vehicle, assign a value to any damage you may have occurred and ensure you get a check for the right amount. You want to be extra nice: they hold the purse strings!
  • You can appeal: If you disagree with the value that an adjuster assigns to your damage, you can appeal the claim. Follow up with the insurance company is processing the claim and explain why you think it’s worth more.

Filing a claim is not a one-size-fits all process. Depending on where you live, who’s at fault, and a number of other factors, your claims procedure may look quite different. By following this template and using it as a guide, you’ll be on the road to getting back on the road. Click the links below to share with friends and family so that you’re all prepared for whatever happens on the road.

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