When and How to File a Car Insurance Claim

Updated September 20, 2021

Woman after car crash discussing how to file a car insurance claim (1)

You return to your parked car to discover someone dented your rear bumper. There’s no note on your windshield, and the offending driver is gone. You’re left wondering, “should I file a car insurance claim?”

There’s no one size fits all answer to that question; however, this guide will help you determine the right choice for you.

What Is an Insurance Claim?

Insurance is unique in that you purchase it for your protection, but hope you never need to use it. However, most people must file one at some point.

An insurance claim is a request to your insurance company to pay for something covered under your policy. In this case, to cover costs associated with an accident such as medical bills and vehicle damages.

7 Questions to Ask Yourself Before Filing a Car Insurance Claim

Whether you should file a car insurance claim or not is a tough call. While it stings to pay for damage someone else caused, your premiums may go up if you file.

Here are seven questions to ask yourself when determining whether it’s worth it to file a car insurance claim.

But first, here are a few caveats: You should report all accidents involving other drivers to the police and your insurer, even if you don’t file a claim.

However, you shouldn’t 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 the accident could involve injuries. If you don’t report the accident immediately, 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 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 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 12 months 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?

Some insurers offer accident forgiveness, which means they won’t raise your rates because you’ve had an accident, even if you’re at fault. You can file a car insurance claim without worrying about a rate increase if you have this benefit.

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 severe 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 only to file a claim if the damage exceeds $1,000.

When You Shouldn’t File an Auto Insurance Claim

It might seem that filing an insurance claim is required for any automobile accident, but that isn’t true. There are several cases where you may not want to file. However, make sure you consider all of your options and determine which solution is right for your needs.

If the accident only involved you and your vehicle, you likely don’t need to file an insurance claim. For instance, if you have liability insurance and chose not to purchase collision coverage, your policy won’t cover any damage to your car.

However, if there is collision insurance available, it will pay for your damages. But you should decide whether you want to file an insurance claim or pay for the repairs on your own. Doing so involves checking on repair estimates and seeing if the amount is less than your deductible. If it is, filing a claim may be unnecessary.

If the costs for the repair are more than the collision deductible, consider whether the payout from the insurance company is worth the possibility that your rate will increase. Your rate increase depends on several factors, including your state, insurance guidelines, and your previous history of claims.

Surcharges are typically in place for three to five years before decreasing. The best way to determine whether your rates will increase is to talk to an agent or ask to see the surcharge schedule.

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 vehicles? Try and get to a safe place before you do anything else.
  • Call 911: Orient yourself so you can describe your specific location. If there are injuries or suspicion of injuries, don’t hesitate to call 911. If you’re calling to report the accident, that’s also fine, but know the police may not respond, especially if you’re in a parking lot or on other private property where they may argue they don’t have jurisdiction. Just know 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. Also, photograph any skid marks, property damage, 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 with an untrained eye, so inform your insurance company as soon as possible with details of what happened. A seemingly benign dent may be much more serious than it appears, and a car that seems to be totaled may be unexpectedly repairable. 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 readily 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. Doing so isn’t a critical 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 companies regarding an insurance claim; be sure to talk with your 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 that may have occurred and ensure you get a check for the right amount. You want to be extra nice: they hold the power!
  • Appeal if necessary:  If you disagree with an adjuster’s value to your damage, you can appeal the claim. Follow up with the insurance company processing the claim and explain why you think it’s worth more.

Questions to Ask Your Insurance Agent When Filing a Claim

If you’re filing an insurance claim with your auto insurance company, there are several essential questions to ask. Getting answers to these questions will ensure you have all the information you need to make a knowledgeable decision.

Am I covered for these losses?

This is the ultimate question and should be the first you ask. The insurance company is the only source of determining whether your policy is active and if it covers the costs associated with your accident.

What is my deductible?

Your deductible refers to the amount you need to pay before the insurance company covers the rest of the expenses. You should know this number since you must pay it.

How long will it take to process my claim?

Find out how long the claim takes to process, so you know your options. If it’s going to take a while, you may need to find another form of transportation for the time being.

Does my policy have a time limit on filing a claim?

If there’s a time limit and you are brushing up against it, you must file an insurance claim immediately. When you file too late, you may no longer receive compensation for the accident.

Is there a time limit during which your insurance company must resolve a claim?

This is another time to know. If you must have the claim resolved in a certain period, that means you need to start the process quickly. You don’t want to end up in a bad position if the process takes longer than expected.

What are those time limits?

If there are time limits on resolving or filing an insurance claim, make sure you know how long you have. This will give you the chance to get things done before that claim isn’t possible to file or resolve.

What to do After Filing an Insurance Claim

Vehicle accidents are stressful for everyone involved. It can make you feel anxious and unsure of what steps to take. Of course, filing an insurance claim is an excellent place to start, but there are other tasks you should complete as well.

Schedule a Vehicle Inspection

Whether you or the other party is at fault in an accident, it’s essential to have a vehicle inspection. If you caused the accident and have collision coverage, the insurance company will require a vehicle inspection. You can have the inspection at any authorized repair shop.

When the other person is at fault, their liability insurance will pay for the needed repairs. An inspection helps determine what repair costs will be.

See If You Can Get a Rental Car

In some cases, your insurance will cover extras such as towing and labor, essential services, or rental car reimbursement. Talk to the insurance company to determine whether this is possible in your situation. It will cut down on expenses while you wait for repairs.

Know Your Deductible

You should be sure you know your insurance policy deductible amounts. Review the policy coverage information to determine the cause. This information makes it easier to calculate all of the out-of-pocket costs you must cover.

Keep in mind that you might have several coverage types with different deductibles. Make sure to read through everything thoroughly and ask questions if you aren’t sure about something.

Arrange for Repairs

Now that you’ve gone through the other steps, it’s time to get your vehicle repaired. If the accident was with a non-animal object or a car, collision coverage would handle the repair costs regardless of who was at fault. Those who have car loans will typically be required to have this coverage to protect the vehicle.

You’ll be in charge of paying for out-of-pocket expenses up to the amount of the deductible. For instance, if you have a $250 deductible, you’ll need to pay $250 before insurance handles the rest of the repair.

What To Do If Your Vehicle Is Totaled

In most cases, a vehicle is totaled when the needed repair costs are more than the car’s value. In some states, a specific dollar amount indicates whether it’s totaled.

If you are in a car accident and the vehicle is totaled, talk to your insurance agent to file an insurance claim. Next, the insurance company will decide whether the repair costs constitute a total loss of the vehicle. If so, the insurance company will provide you with the car’s cash value minus the deductible on your collision or comprehensive coverage.

Filing a claim is not a one-size-fits-all process. Depending on where you live, who’s at fault, and several other factors, your claims procedure may look quite different. By following this guide, you’ll be on the road to getting back on the road following an accident.

How to File a Car Insurance Claim FAQs

How Do Car Insurance Claims Work?

Filing a car insurance claim starts the process of being reimbursed for the damage. The claim process involves several steps, such as paying the deductible, getting repairs, and working with an insurance adjuster.

How Do I Make an Auto Insurance Claim?

Call your insurance provider quickly to let them know about the accident. Find out what documents you need to send in and make sure you understand the deadlines for filing an insurance claim.

What Happens After You File a Claim With Car Insurance?

Your insurance company will collect information about the accident. You may have to see a repair shop. Depending on the accident, you may be reimbursed for expenses or given a check for the vehicle’s value.

Will My Insurance Go Up If Someone Hits Me?

It depends on the insurance you have. In some locations, insurance cannot become more expensive when you’re not at fault. Research your insurance provider to find out the steps they follow after an accident.

Can an Insurance Company Refuse to Pay a Claim?

Yes, in some cases, they can choose to do so. For example, they may say our policy doesn’t cover the claim. Call the insurer to determine why the claim is denied and make necessary adjustments to any errors if suitable.

Can I Claim Insurance if I Damage My Own Car?

Yes, you can; however, whether you should or not is more complicated. In some cases, it may not be worth filing an insurance claim, and in others, it might not be worth your while.

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