What to expect when you file a car insurance claim
Last updated: July 2023
Even the safest drivers can be involved in a car accident. At the scene of an accident, you should take a few key steps, such as making sure everyone is OK, calling the police and exchanging information with any other drivers involved.
When it's time to file a car insurance claim after an accident, it's also helpful to know what information you may need to provide and to understand how your insurance coverage works. Knowing what to expect may help the claims process go more smoothly and help ensure that funds to repair your vehicle are received in a timely manner. You may also want to ask your insurer if they require you to report a claim within a certain amount of time.
Keep in mind that every insurance company handles its claims process a bit differently, but many of the steps are similar. Here's an idea of what to expect during the insurance claims process.
1. Provide information about the accident to your insurer
When you file a claim with your insurer, the Insurance Information Institute (III) says you'll be asked to supply information and documentation related to the accident. According to the III, some information you may want to collect includes:
- Names, contact, insurance and vehicle information for anyone involved in the accident
- Location, time of day and weather conditions
- Photos of vehicle damage
- Names and badge numbers of any officers that responded to the incident
- A copy of the accident report
2. Ask questions about your insurance coverage
Another important part of the claims process is understanding your auto insurance policy and what it covers. Here are some things to know or ask about when filing a car insurance claim:
When you purchased car insurance, you selected deductibles for certain coverages, such as collision or comprehensive coverage. Make sure you know how much your deductible is — it's the amount you'll have to pay out of pocket toward repairs to your vehicle before insurance coverage kicks in.
For example, say you have a $500 collision coverage deductible and the damage to your vehicle totals $1,500. Your deductible will be subtracted from your covered claim, and your insurance company would pay $1,000 for repairs.
Transportation expense coverage.
If your car insurance policy includes transportation expense coverage (sometimes known as rental reimbursement coverage), it may help pay for a rental car or other forms of transportation while your car is being repaired. Ask your insurer for details on how you'll be reimbursed, especially before you drive a rental car off the lot. You should also confirm your policy's coverage limits (for example, your insurer may provide up to $30 per day for a rental car for a certain amount of time).
How long you have to submit a claim.
It's a good idea to ask your insurer about time limits that may be in place for submitting a claim, the III says. That's because if you don't submit the claim and necessary documents within your insurer's time limit, you may not be eligible to receive any money to help with things like vehicle repairs or medical bills. You should also keep in mind that deadlines for filing a claim may vary depending on the type of claim you're filing. For example, the timeline for filing claims for vehicle damage may be different than filing claims for personal injuries. Time frames for filing a claim may vary by insurer and are determined in compliance with any state laws that exist, says Thomson Reuter's FindLaw.
3. Get an estimate and work with the insurance adjuster
Your insurance company will typically send an insurance adjuster to check your car and see what was damaged during the accident and investigate the losses. This helps the adjuster determine who is at fault for the accident. They will also provide an initial estimate of how much repairs will cost (both parts and labor), says the III.
Some insurance companies may require you to get an estimate for repair costs. The repair shop you go to will typically inspect the damage and send a report to the insurance company. The III says the insurance company will then take the repair shop's estimate into account when determining how much they'll pay toward your vehicle's repairs.
4. Get your car repaired
According to the III, you have the right to choose the repair shop that makes your vehicle's repairs. You are also entitled to ask the body shop to use original equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts to repair your car instead of less expensive "after-market" parts. However, keep in mind that the OEM parts the shop uses could be new or recycled, depending on how your insurer wrote the policy. Some insurers may also write auto insurance policies to not include OEM parts at all. In this case, if you want OEM parts, you may be responsible for the difference in cost between the parts in the adjuster's estimate and the OEM parts.
When it comes to paying for vehicle repairs, your insurance company might pay the repair shop directly or pay you and let you handle the bill.
If your vehicle is totaled in a covered accident, and you have comprehensive or collision coverage, your insurer will pay you the actual cash value of your vehicle (minus your deductible). Actual cash value is the depreciated value of your vehicle. You would then use this money toward the purchase of a new vehicle. If you owe more money on your car than it's worth, gap insurance may help pay off your auto loan.
After an accident, you'll likely want your car insurance claim to go as smoothly as possible so you can get your vehicle repaired and back on the road.