Car Insurance Claims Process: What to Expect and How to File a Claim

Updated March 21, 2023

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Insurance claims are formal requests for benefits from a policyholder’s insurance coverage. With proper coverage, an insurance claim will help fix a damaged vehicle. Insurance helps with medical fees as well. Car insurance also covers the policyholder if they cause an accident. 

Overall, car insurance protects the driver and the car. Insurance claims procedures involve a car insurance adjuster determining whether the insured driver caused an accident, and whether the accident qualifies for reimbursement under the policy coverage. There’s no universal deadline for filing an insurance claim, but most insurance companies ask that you report accidents immediately. 

The process for filing a car insurance claim depends on the type of insurance policy. Insurance policy claims types include:

  • Own damage claim

  • Excess injury

  • Death claim

  • TPL claim (third-party liability)

  • Third-party property damage claim

  • Theft claim

  • Acts of nature claim

  • Riot, strike, or civil commotion claim

  • Towing reimbursement claim 

The insurance company requirement for filing a claim varies for different companies. 

When you file a claim, it’s important to ensure that the required documents are attached with the claim, including some images of the damage or accident scene. A representative is able to file a claim on behalf of the insured, especially if they’re badly injured or deceased. If a policyholder dies, the insurance company will need many documents, like police reports, the policyholder’s driver’s license, medical certificate, death certificate, and the notice of claim for the insurance party or third party. 

Insurance companies process insurance claims in two ways: reimbursement or cashless methods. 

Most insurance companies partner with numerous repair shops, depending on the vehicle’s location. Partnered repair shop transactions are cashless, and there’s no need to provide a progress update for the repairs, as the shop will give it to the insurance company. 

Reimbursement is done when the location doesn’t have a partnered shop nearby that’s accredited by the insurance company. The insurance will pay the repair shop directly based on the progress of the repairs or after the repair is done. Reimbursement is done once the shop provides the statement of charges. 

When the policyholder and the insurance company disagree on a settlement amount, the policyholder may file an insurance dispute. Sometimes the insurance company denies claims they believe didn’t qualify according to the policy. Sometimes the claimant demands more for the damages, or there’s a delay in payout by the insurance company. 

Once a car accident occurs that happens to be the other party’s fault, if there are injuries, the first thing to do is call emergency services. Then call the police to make a report, as this is a critical part of the insurance claim requirements. 

Next, exchange identification information with the other driver involved in the collision or accident, including their insurance information. Take photos of the accident scene, including the other car, if the other driver allows it. Lastly, try to remain as calm as possible while waiting for the police to arrive. It’s best to let the authorities and the insurance company handle the situation as much as possible.

How to file a car insurance accident claim

Here are instructions on how to file a car insurance accident claim.

  • Communicate with the insurance company after a car accident.

  • Prepare the required documents and evidence of car damage and the accident scene.

  • Learn the time limits for resolving insurance claim disputes.

  • File the car insurance claim with the necessary phone numbers, official information, and evidence.

  • Find out whether your car insurance pays for a rental car or not.

1. Communicate with the insurance company after a car accident

Always let the insurance company know about the incident, no matter the circumstances. It’s best to call them after calling the emergency hotline and the police. Communicating with the insurance company enables the policyholder to know all the requirements, making it easy to process the claim later. 

Ensure that the police have made a report regarding the accident and obtain the insurance information of the owner of the other car involved in the collision. If you can’t obtain this information directly, the police will provide it to you. 

Insurance companies log incidents after the policyholder calls or reports them. Not informing the car insurance company immediately means it will take longer to process the insurance claim. Not providing the insurance company with other important details, such as the other party’s insurance company, could delay the claim. 

It will take time for the insurance agency to go through the details in the police report. Providing the necessary information up front reduces the days it takes the insurance agency and car insurance adjuster to process a claim.

2. Prepare the required documents and evidence of car damage and accident scene

When you purchase a policy, the insurance company will give you a list of the documents it will need in case you file a claim.  This information is typically listed in the brochure or policy documents. 

You should provide hard evidence of your claim, such as photos of both cars involved in the accident, even if you’re a direct witness of the incident and not at fault. If possible, provide a dash camera recording. This evidence will make it easier for the police to file a report and for the insurance to process the claim.

Interesting Information

Dash cam prices vary widely, from as little as $50 to several hundred dollars. While dash cam footage can be a big help if you’re ever in an accident and have to file a claim, it’s important to research your options and compare prices before buying one.

3. Learn the time limits for resolving insurance claim disputes

Before filing your claim, learn the time limits for resolving insurance claim disputes. If you think the adjuster hasn’t settled your claim correctly, you may be able to increase your settlement amount by presenting a reasonable argument as to why you should be compensated at a different rate. For example, if the cost to replace your vehicle is higher than the adjuster’s quote, providing the adjuster with information to support your dispute may convince them to offer you more compensation.

If you can’t resolve a dispute with the adjuster, an insurance company may provide arbitration, or you may seek out your own independent arbitrator experienced in insurance resolutions to handle it. Another option is a governmental agency. Each state has its own set of rules and regulations governing insurance. If you have a valid reason for your dispute, you may be able to file a complaint seeking a resolution with the agency responsible for insurance in your state.    

4. File the car insurance claim with the necessary phone numbers, official information, and evidence

Filing a car insurance claim with the necessary phone numbers, including the other driver’s number, official information from the police report, and evidence (like pictures of the accident scene) helps to make the claims process as smooth as possible. 

It’s best to stay calm after an accident. Gather information like the insurance company name and policy number, the other driver’s name, and their address and phone number. Ask the police how to get a copy of the report, as this is a required attachment for the insurance claim. 

Providing all necessary documentation as soon as possible speeds up the process and claim approval. The goal of the process is to get the insurance claim submitted and repair the vehicle damages as quickly as possible.

5. Learn whether car insurance pays for a rental car

When you buy a policy, you’ll have the option to add rental car coverage. This means if you file a claim with this coverage, your insurance company will pay all or part of the cost of a rental car while yours is being repaired. 

It’s also a good idea to confirm with your insurance company that your policy will cover a rental car while you’re driving it. An insurance policy that carries comprehensive and liability coverage on your personal car usually also applies to a rental car. Always ask the insurance agent if your policy covers rental cars before you sign the policy, as it is the policyholder’s responsibility to ask about coverage options.

What to expect from a car insurance claim

Listed below are the things to expect from a car insurance claim.

  • Expect to have a rental car provided while the damaged car is being repaired. Many car insurance policies provide a rental car or a loaner car, but it depends on the car insurance coverage. If the policyholder who’s at fault in the accident has coverage for providing a rental car, it will benefit the driver who’s not at fault. It’s up to the car insurance agent or adjuster to demand that the other insurance company provides a rental vehicle while the car is being repaired. 

  • Expect a possible increase in your insurance premium after a claim. Insurance claim history still appears in the policyholder’s record, even if the driver wasn’t at fault. The claim history will appear as a “No Fault Claim.” A “No Fault Claim” is usually still considered a claim, but would not affect the premium as much as “At Fault Claims.” The cost of the insurance premium may still rise, but not as much.

  • Expect to lose the “No Claim Bonus.” The “No Claim Bonus” is a benefit given to policyholders that maintain several consecutive years without making any claims. 

  • Expect the reimbursement to take longer if there are no partnered repair shops in your area. The vehicle owner will shoulder the repair expenses and get a refund after the shop completes the work. The receipts and the car shop invoice will be the basis of the car insurance reimbursement. This will take longer, as they process the approval and then analyze the scope of work to match any discrepancies that the insurance adjuster recommends versus the car repair shops’ completed repairs.

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What are the requirements for the car insurance claim process?

The car insurance claim process requirement is the same for different car insurance claim types, whether a third-party claim, personal damage claim, or theft claim. The process involves several steps. 

Listed below are the requirements for the car insurance claim process.

  • Inform the insurer. Let the insurance company know about the accident. Give them initial details about what happened. Ask for some information on what to do next. The initial report with the insurance company lets them prepare to process the insurance claim for the policyholder. 

  • File a formal report. Typically, the police will provide the report that will be the primary document needed for the insurance claim.

  • Take pictures of the accident scene. Taking pictures of the scene enables the insurer to visualize what occurred without being at the scene. The insurance adjuster will use these photos and the police report as the basis of their investigation. 

  • Ask for assessment and evaluation. Asking for an assessment and evaluation enables the insurer to let the car insurance adjuster investigate further. The evaluation determines whether the policyholder will qualify under their policy or the other party’s insurance will be required to cover damages. 

  • Submit the required documents to the insurance company. Submit required documents such as the police report, photographs of the incident, driver’s license, car registration certificate, and a copy of the insurance policy. 

  • Start the car repair process. Starting the car repair process depends on the partnered garages or car repair shops. A list of accredited partnered shops, provided by the insurer, enables the car owner to repair the damage without involvement. If there’s no partnered repair shop near you, you can choose which repair shop will repair the vehicle or car. However, you should check with your insurance company to find out their requirements. For example, do you have to choose an accredited automotive repair shop?

    Keep in Mind

    If your repair costs are less than your deductible, it may not be worth it to file a car insurance claim.

Is the accident scene important for a car insurance claim?

Yes, an accident scene is the starting point for a car insurance claim. Any images or video is significant evidence in any legal case, especially in accidents. Photos and videos are valid proof that will assist in the process of a comprehensive evaluation. The images of the accident scene enable the car insurance company to validate the claim that the policyholder is making. 

Are car accident and damage photographs important for a car insurance claim?

Yes, car accident and damage photographs are important for car insurance claims. The photographs of the damaged vehicle enable the insurance adjuster to estimate the cost of the damage and the severity of the accident. The car insurance company is able to compare the car shop estimate versus the visual images of the damage to make sure there are no discrepancies. 

Is a copy of an accident report needed for a car insurance claim?

Yes, a copy of the accident report is needed for the car insurance claim in most states. The police investigate the accident scene and file a report. You may have to get the accident report or police report notarized before attaching it to the insurance claim. The accident report is a credible document made by the appropriate authorities investigating the accident scene. The insurance company uses it, along with the images of the scene, to determine what occurred even without being present at the accident scene. 

Does location and weather change the car insurance claim process?

Yes, location and weather may change the car insurance claims process. If a severe weather event occurs, processing your claim may take more time than usual. Depending on your location, if numerous other individuals also experienced damages, expect your insurance company to take additional time to handle the backlog of claims.

How does a car insurance claim work?

Car insurance claims work to protect the accident's victim and the vehicle's owner. The accident victim is insured for medical and vehicle repair with the proper coverage. Insurance also helps the policyholder if they cause an accident, as third-party liability is applied. 

Failure of all drivers to maintain minimum coverage violates the law in most states, and would make the insurance claims process impossible. For example, Nevada’s state law NRS 485.185 states, “every owner of a motor vehicle that is registered or required to be registered in this State shall continuously provide, while the motor vehicle is present or registered in this State, insurance provided by an insurance company licensed by the Division of Insurance of the Department of Business and Industry and approved to do business in this State.”[1]

Can insurance companies reject a car insurance claim?

Yes, insurance companies can reject a car insurance claim. The rejection is often based on a legitimate reason, though sometimes it’s not. Possible reasons for rejecting an insurance claim are:

  • An expired policy

  • Fraud claims

  • Violating motor vehicle laws

  • Not disclosing modifications

  • Non-compliance with the claims process

These items, in particular, are the most likely reasons that cause a claim to be rejected.

What can the Insurance Information Institute tell us about insurance claims?

The Insurance Information Institute (III) is an organization committed to helping each member of the public better understand the purpose of insurance. Its role is to educate the public on the importance of insurance, how it works, and how people benefit from it. 

The basic function of car insurance is to provide financial protection in case of an accident. The majority of the states in the U.S. require car insurance. Car insurance claims aren’t limited to car-to-car damage only, but also for medical and property damage.

Important Information

The three main coverage areas of car insurance are property damage, liability, and medical.

Another person, aside from the policyholder, is covered by the car insurance as long as there is consent and they’re legally eligible under the policy to operate the vehicle. Check with your agent as to who is eligible, as many car insurance policies won’t cover drivers under the age of 25 if they aren’t a household member. Standard car insurance covers only the person driving and doesn’t cover a vehicle used for commercial transportation purposes. 

The III also provides helpful information about all types of insurance products and the insurance claims process. Educational information and empowerment for all insurance consumers is the sole purpose of the Insurance Information Institute

Why is a deductible important for a car insurance claim?

Policyholders choose car insurance claim deductible amounts based on their personal financial capability or needs. Deductibles are the amount a policyholder pays if they file a claim, while the car insurance company covers the rest. Policyholders who choose lower deductibles will pay higher premiums.

What is the deadline for submitting a car insurance claim?

The deadline for submitting a car insurance claim may range from one to six years, beginning from the incident date. However, it’s best to file it as soon as possible while the evidence and supporting documents are still new. Most car insurance companies ask that you report an accident as soon as possible.

Keep in Mind

The longer you take to file a car insurance claim, the lower the value of the vehicle, as most vehicles rapidly depreciate over time.

What does the insurance adjuster do after a car insurance claim?

The insurance adjuster will conduct a formal investigation once the policyholder files an insurance claim. The insurance adjuster will determine the estimated repair cost and how much the company must pay based on the policy. 

The insurance adjuster will provide an evaluation and assessment regarding the accident, and recommend and advise you where you can take the vehicle for repair.

What does the insurance company pay if the insured car is totaled?

The car insurance company will pay for the totaled car’s actual value, less the deductible. To ensure payment for a totaled vehicle, you may need to file a claim against the other driver’s property damage insurance policy or property damage liability insurance. To do so, the police report must identify the other driver as negligent. 

The insurance adjuster determines whether the car is a total loss or not. The adjuster weighs if the cost of repairs exceeds the cost of replacing the car. This determines if the vehicle is a totaled car

When to use gap insurance

Gap insurance is used when the totaled car value exceeds the policyholders’ insurance coverage. A supplemental insurance policy used for a car loan, gap insurance will make up the difference between the outstanding loan balance and the total vehicle damages.

GAP insurance is the abbreviation of “Guaranteed Auto Protection” and is applicable only for the period of time when the value of the car loan is greater than the overall value of the car. Using gap insurance will help you recover any losses that would have resulted from having to pay back the car loan.

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  1. Nevada State Legislature. "CHAPTER 485 - MOTOR VEHICLES: INSURANCE AND FINANCIAL RESPONSIBILITY." Accessed January 26, 2023
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