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Learn How to File an Auto Insurance Claim

auto insurance claim

When you buy a product you typically intend to use it. But that’s not the case with auto insurance. However, if you have a car accident, your car is stolen, or an unforeseen act damages your car, you’ll be happy to have discover you actually have good insurance. An auto insurance claim is the fastest way to test the quality of your car insurance.

Simply put, an auto insurance claim is a request to your auto insurance to provide financial consideration for damages to you or a party you’ve damaged. It’s a fairly common process, but not one that each of us are very familiar. if you understand how the claims process works can make filing a claim less stressful and a bit more efficient. There are specific steps that are common between insurance companies that are good to understand. You should know how to report an accident, work with an insurance adjuster, and get your car repaired.

Steps for filing a car insurance claim

An auto accident can be a traumatic event and the beginning of an involved process. The first thing for you to focus on is making sure you and your passengers are OK, then you need to move yourself to a safe place. It is fine if you cannot move the car yet. Now that you and your passengers are safe, you need to keep your wits and remember to stay calm and call the police or sheriff, take photos, and exchange information with the other party when or if possible.

While car accidents can be traumatizing, your claim process should not be. Below are the general steps you need to take to file an auto insurance claim:

1 | Contact your insurance company immediately to inform them of the accident:

When you report your your car insurance claim you will need certain information. This information will be the same if you file the claim by phone, online, in a mobile app, or with your insurance agent. Here is the list of details the claims representatives are most likely to need:

    • Location, date, and time of accident
    • Name, address, phone number, and policy number for all involved in the accident
    • Weather condition at the time of accident
    • Photo(s) of the damaged vehicle(s) and scene if possible
    • Copies of the police and/or accident reports, if applicable. At the time of reporting you may only have the report number provided by the on-scene officer.
2 | Review your policy’s declarations to confirm your coverages and deductible selections:

This exercise should actually be done annually and with your insurance agent, but getting up-to-speed on your coverage at the on-set of your new claim can help set expectations for your claims benefits. For example, you may have forgotten you have rental car reimbursement coverage or what its available daily limit is, knowing this can help you plan for a temporary replacement vehicle during repairs. You will also be able to confirm your policy’s deductible amount and begin to plan for your out of pocket costs to repair your vehicle. Additionally, you may have loan/lease payoff coverage (also known as “gap insurance”), you can update yourself on the coverage benefits to be prepared for working with your adjuster if your concerned your car is a total loss, and you still owe more on the vehicle than it’s worth.

3 | Begin working with your insurance adjuster:

After you report your claim, your insurance company will assign an adjuster. Some companies us a pool approach, so you may get more than one adjuster. It is very common that you will be provided the primary contact information directly after you report the claim. While nearly all insurance companies establish a 24-hour contact standard, it is not uncommon for it to take a few days before you make initial contact with your adjuster. The adjuster will be responsible to investigate your claim, arrange an inspection of all damages, assess the damage to your car, and/or addresses any personal injury claims. Additionally, an adjuster could analyze police reports and interview witnesses to the accident.

When your repairs are small your adjuster, allow you to get an estimate for the cost of your vehicle’s repairs and the repair shop will share that figure with your insurance company. The repair sheet will still be reviewed for accuracy by a vehicle specialist in the insurance company’s claims department, but if the estimate it accurate based on information from your adjuster and the repair shop, it can be resolved.

4 | Get your car repaired:

You have the freedom to choose the repair shop that fixes your car’s damage. In fact, some states have regulations protecting your right to select the repair shop. However, if you are OK with the shop recommended by the insurance company, you may get benefits like guaranteed repairs if you use a shop in their network.

When you your claim is approved, your adjuster should issue a payment to you or the repair shop, minus your deductible. If your car is damaged beyond repair and is a total loss, your adjuster makes payment to you and/or your lender in the amount of the vehicle’s value, minus your deductible. If you have loan/lease payoff, you can get payment for the balance you may owe over the present value of the car.

Frequently asked questions about the auto insurance claims process

What if I’m at fault for the car accident?

Being the at-fault party in an auto accident is a real bummer. It’s no picnic to be responsible for another person’s damaged property and/or injuries. On top of that, you have your own property or potential injuries to deal with. The good news is, your auto insurance policy is designed to protect you financially, so you will have some support through this process. Regardless of fault, you still want to follow the steps above, especially item one (1). Don’t depend on the other party to report the claim to your insurance company. You need to report the accident to your insurance company or agent directly and immediately. If you are, in fact, liable for injuries sustained in a covered accident, your insurance company works for you and will deal with the injured parties, their attorney if their is a lawsuit, and all the repair shops.

And if the car accident wasn’t my fault?

If you have a car accident and the other person is at fault, the process is pretty much the same as listed above. You still need to collect contact, identification and policy information from the other driver. You will also want to get photos to document the scene. While a person should always report an accident immediately to their insurance company, don’t expect the at-fault driver to contact their insurance company — take the initiative and you report the accident to the other driver’s insurance company.

You also need to inform your insurance company about the accident. This is important because you may later learn that you need to file a claim against your policy because the at-fault driver was uninsured, underinsured, or the other party get’s their claim denied. If there will be a lengthy investigation, it is also sometimes much faster to have your car repaired under your collision coverage, and let your insurance company collect payment from the at-fault driver. If you have a deductible, you insurance company will pay you back after collection, or may even waive it if they have already established liability on the other party.

What is insurance subrogation?

If your insurance company has paid damage claims to repair your car, they frequently have rights to collect that money back in recovery. In certain situations, your insurance company has a legal right to “subrogate,” which means they can seek reimbursement for an insurance loss from the at-fault party.


Another person hits your car and is at fault for the accident. Your insured car is presently worth $30,000. After the adjuster reviews the damages it’s determined the car is a total loss. However, but the other party’s insurance company is disputing fault, so you file a collision claim against your own insurance policy because in order to get your car repaired immediately. Your insurer pays you $29,000 — the actual cash value of your vehicle, less your $1,000 deductible. Your insurance adjuster contends the other party is at fault and through subrogation, seeks recovery for the payment directly from the insurer that originally denied fault. If your insurance company is successful in their subrogation claim, and collects $30,000, then you will likely get reimbursed for the $1,000 deductible you paid toward the claim. There are some nuances to this process from state-to-state, and you may be entitled to your deductible even if the insurance company collects less than the total $30,000.

What happens in a “no-fault” accident?

If the other driver is at fault in an accident, the process for submitting a claim varies by state.

In states were fault is established:

In states where fault is used to determine who is responsible we typical these “tort” states. It’s called this because these states rely on the civil courts and the state’s torts system to ultimately determine fault should litigation be required. In these states, the driver at fault in the accident bears the financial responsibility for the injuries and damages they cause. Keep in mind, a police officers may determine fault in their accident report, but this is only one of the items of evidence used to establish fault. It can be a difficult and time-consuming task to prove to an insurance company that their insured driver caused the accident. If an insurance company determines their driver is not at fault for your injuries and damages, your policy may cover you for related medical bills up to specified limits. You may also then have to consult with an attorney to see if you have legal remedies.

In “no-fault” states:

In states that have established “no-fault” regulations and laws, your insurance company actually pays for a portion of your medical bills, including lost wages if you’re unable to work because of injuries caused from the accident. With regard to property damage, it is common for no-fault states to still rely on a fault based system to determine where fault resides and who is responsible for damages.

What should I do for a minor incident with no damage?

Minor incidents can sometimes turn into larger claims. Therefore, even a small incidents where it appears there is no damage, you should still exchange information with the other driver, and even report the accident to your insurance company. You don’t need to file a claim, you can simply put them on notice. It’s also a good idea to take photos of the vehicles and the scene — if the other driver has a change of heart or becomes unscrupulous you may need documentation to round out the insurance claim investigation.

How long do you have to file an auto insurance claim?

Frankly, you have a duty to report a claim to your insurance company in a timely manner. So you should call the claim in right away. However, deadlines for filing a claim can varies by insurer, state, and type of claim. While you do have a duty to notify your insurance carrier, state regulations provides you more than a reasonable amount of time, so you shouldn’t be too concerned if circumstances prevented you from calling it in right away.

How will I get a car repair estimate?

In most cases, your insurance company will want to inspect your vehicle. Typically, the adjuster will make inspections available to you in a number of convenient ways. A popular way is to have the inspection occur at the shop you would like to do the repairs. However, you can also have it done virtual or in-person at your home. You can even establish a convenient meeting place like your place of employment. If it makes you comfortable, you can also get estimates from any garage or repair shop you like. This can be a good idea because it helps you scope the work that will be involved to repair your vehicle, as well as the general cost. Estimates for repair may differ from shop-to-shop and from your adjuster’s sheet for many reasons. The estimate is determined based on applied labor rates, parts costs, general prices, and the estimated amount of time to perform the repairs.

How long do I have to repair my car after an accident?

When you receive your claims payment, it’s really your decision on how and when you spend the funds. It’s true, the payment was meant to compensate your for repair costs. You, actually, are not compelled by insurance policy to repair the car. If you finance or lease your car, however, that agreement may require you to repair the car.

Who pays for my rental car after an accident?

This kind of follows the same “fault” determination as the property damage claim. If you’re not at fault, then the other party or their insurance company pays for your rental car during repairs. If you purchased rental car reimbursement coverage, you have the option in fault states to use this coverage and in no-fault states it may be the only way to get a temporary rental paid for. If you’re uncertain about your limits or if you should use your rental reimbursement coverage, contact your adjuster.

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