How to File a Car Insurance Claim

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Young woman is on the phone as she looks at her damaged car.

If you want your insurance company to pay to repair or replace your car after an accident, you’ll need to file an insurance claim. The claim process varies depending on the insurer, the incident, and your coverage. Typically, it involves you notifying the insurer, providing documentation, helping with the insurer’s investigation, and receiving a settlement.

Understanding your coverage is important, since you can only file a claim for incidents your policy will cover. This article details every step in filing a car insurance claim, plus what to do if an insurer denies your claim.

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4 Steps for Filing a Car Insurance Claim

Two men exchanging info after an accident

You should file an auto insurance claim immediately after an incident. But if it’s a minor incident — you back your car into a pole, for example — it might not be worth it to file a claim. It’s a good idea to avoid filing small claims since your deductible can eat up the payout and it could lead to a potential rate increase later.

Once you’re ready to file a claim, follow these steps:

1. Gather accident details and contact info

First, ensure everyone is in a safe location (if possible) and find out if any injuries require immediate medical attention. Assuming everyone is safe, it’s time to gather information about the accident.

You need the following details:

  • Location of the incident
  • A detailed summary of what happened
  • Names and contact information of others involved in the accident
  • Names and contact information of any witnesses
  • Photos of the damage, license plates, and other relevant details
  • Police report, including the officer’s contact details and badge number

Check out your insurer’s website for information on filing your claim correctly. This ensures you don’t miss something crucial while still at the accident.

Exchange information with the other parties, but don’t admit fault (or blame someone else). The insurance company will decide who’s responsible later. It’s also a good idea to review your policy documents for insurance coverage and deductible details.

2. Notify your insurance company

Most insurance companies give you several options for filing your claim form: online, through a mobile app, over the phone, or in person.

No matter how you file, your insurer will request certain information, including the following:

  • When and where the incident occurred
  • The cause of the damage
  • If any other parties are involved
  • The condition of your vehicle before the incident
  • If there are any witnesses to the incident
  • If you filed a police report
  • If there are any injuries and the type of medical treatment received
  • Any relevant documentation you can provide

You should also follow up with your insurer to review your coverage and for additional information, such as:

  • Who will support you through the claims process
  • If you’ve provided all the necessary information
  • When the adjuster will contact you
  • How long the process should take
  • Where and when you can get your vehicle repaired
  • Where to get your rental vehicle
  • Potential effects on your policy or rates

3. Work with your auto insurance adjuster

The claims adjuster — also called a desk adjuster, field adjuster, or general adjuster, depending on the company — is the person who investigates your insurance claim. Here are the steps adjusters take when investigating a claim:

  • Assess the damage
  • Interview the parties involved and any witnesses
  • Review the hospital records, police reports, and photographs
  • Determine who’s at fault for the repair costs

Again, the claims process varies by insurance company. Sometimes, your claims adjuster will be your main point of contact during your claims process. And other times, the insurance company will assign a claims agent to your case, and theyll connect you to the adjuster.

Once your team is assigned, the adjuster will contact you to schedule a time to evaluate the damage. They’ll document their process and decide the settlement amount. Afterward, the adjuster or claims agent will help you finalize the process and receive payment.

4. Receive your claim settlement and payouts

Your adjuster determines who’s at fault for the damages, and the at-fault driver’s insurance company will handle the claim. Once they’ve finished their investigation, you’ll receive a claim settlement. This outlines the settlement terms, the value of your damages, and the claim payout process.

If applicable, the insurer will send you a payout, minus your deductible, or pay the repair shop directly. You can choose your own repair shop or go with the insurer’s recommended repair shop. If your car is totaled (declared a “total loss”), you’ll get a check for the actual cash value (ACV) of your vehicle.

If you’re not happy with the insurance company’s initial offer, you have the right to negotiate your claim. You can provide additional evidence or quotes to support your claim for a higher payout — another reason why it’s so important to document the incident thoroughly. Be sure to review your insurance policy terms for additional relevant information. You can also higher a lawyer to handle the settlement negotiation for you.

What to Do if Your Insurer Denies Your Car Insurance Claim

Young woman on the phone in a car

Claim denials aren’t the end of the matter. Here are the steps you can take to dispute your auto claim denial.

  • Review the denial letter: This document explains why the claim was denied and may highlight any policy exclusions.
  • Review your policy: Check your policy to verify your coverage and determine if the denial is justified.
  • Gather evidence: Collect relevant documentation, such as photos, repair estimates, or witness statements, to support your claim.
  • Appeal the denial: Follow your insurer’s process for appealing claim denials. You can typically initiate this process yourself, but hiring an insurance law attorney may be worthwhile.
  • Follow up: Stay in touch with your insurer throughout the appeals process and provide any requested information ASAP.
  • Document everything: Create a communications log and include all of your contact attempts.

Contact your state’s department of insurance for additional guidance.

Common Reasons Why Auto Insurers Deny Claims

Woman on the phone with her insurance company after an accident

Here are some of the most common reasons insurers deny claims.

  • Policy exclusions: You file a claim for something not covered under your policy. For instance, your insurer doesn’t cover drivers not listed on your policy or catastrophic events like sinkhole damage.
  • Lack of coverage: You didn’t purchase the type of coverage required for the claim. For instance, your insurer won’t pay for storm damage if you don’t have comprehensive coverage.
  • Not enough coverage: Your accident damages or medical expenses exceed your coverage limits.
  • Incorrect or incomplete claim documentation: You didn’t provide enough information or it was inaccurate.
  • Driver behavior: Illegal driving behaviors — such as driving without a license — can void your insurance agreement.

Denied claims are often because of a technicality. Understanding the reason behind the denial is important to determine your next steps.

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Car Insurance Claim FAQs

Getting into an accident and filing a car insurance claim can be stressful and confusing. Here are some answers to common questions about the claims process.

Will your insurance increase after a claim?

It depends. Insurance rates will almost certainly increase after an at-fault claim. Whether your rate will increase due to an accident you didn’t cause depends on your insurer — but if there’s a rate increase, it should be moderate.

If your rates increase, you can look for ways to lower your rate or seek cheaper car insurance elsewhere.

Can your insurance company deny your auto claim?

Yes. Your insurer has the right to deny your auto claim if you don’t have enough or proper coverage. Your policy documents will outline what is and isn’t covered, plus if there are circumstances where your actions void the agreement (e.g., you intentionally caused an auto accident).

How long do you have to file a car insurance claim?

It depends. How long you have to file an auto insurance claim varies on the rules in your state. Most states give you a time limit of two to three years, but some have shorter limits, and others have longer ones. Check the rules in your state.

In any case, it’s typically better to report your claim as soon as possible.

How long can a car insurance claim stay open?

It depends. The length of time an insurance claim can stay open is determined by state law. Some states have deadlines; for example, Texas requires insurers to accept or deny your claim within 15 days (up to 45 if extended).

If approved, insurers have five days to pay you. Other states have more general guidelines. In Massachusetts, claims must be settled and paid within a “prompt and reasonable” time.

Who pays for your rental car after an accident?

It depends. That’s determined by your car insurance policy.

If you have rental car reimbursement coverage, your insurer should cover all or part of your rental (or other transportation) costs. Policies typically limit the number of days you’re covered per claim and the amount of coverage per day (e.g., $30 a day for five days per claim).


Data scientists at analyzed more than 50 million real-time auto insurance rates from more than 75 partner insurance providers to compile the quotes and statistics seen in this article.’s auto insurance data includes coverage analysis and details on drivers’ vehicles, driving records, insurance histories, and demographic information. All the quotes listed in this article have been gathered from a combination of real quotes and external insurance rate data gathered in collaboration with Quadrant Information Services. uses these observations to provide drivers with insight into how auto insurance companies determine their premiums.


  1. Insurance Information Institute, “Facts + Statistics: Auto insurance,” Accessed February 26, 2024.
  2. Insurance Business Magazine, “State Farm, Progressive, GEICO – the results are in for Q1 2023,” Accessed February 26, 2024.
  3. Texas Department of Insurance, “Consumer Bill of Rights – Superseded by Commissioner’s Order No. 12-0862,” Accessed February 26, 2024.
  4., “FAQs about Auto Insurance Claims,” Accessed February 26, 2024.

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