Filing a Car Insurance Claim: What to Know

You must file a claim with your insurance company to get coverage for your property damages or bodily injuries. The process can take weeks to months, depending on the severity of the accident.

Alani Asis
Written byAlani Asis
Alani Asis
Alani Asis
  • 3 years of content writing

  • Bylines with leading financial publications

Alani is a freelance writer specializing in personal finance. She aims to make complex topics more approachable through fun, digestible content.

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Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

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Mark Friedlander
Reviewed byMark Friedlander
Mark Friedlander
Mark FriedlanderDirector, Corporate Communications
  • Corporate communications director for Insurance Information Institute

  • 20+ years in insurance and communications

As Director, Corporate Communications for Triple-I, Mark serves as the non-profit’s national spokesperson, sharing information and education on a wide array of insurance issues.

Updated August 9, 2023 at 5:00 PM PDT

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Car accidents can happen to the most seasoned drivers, and filing a claim is the first step to receiving coverage for vehicle repairs or medical bills. You can also file a claim for vehicle theft and vandalism. An auto claim is a request for reimbursement for damages and injuries after an incident. 

If your auto insurance policy includes coverage for the incident — whether it’s for your injuries or vehicle damages — here’s how you can file a claim with your insurer.

Quick Facts
  • If you were in a car accident, call the police and move to a safe location near the scene before you call your insurance company.[1]

  • In no-fault states, you file injury claims with your own insurance company, no matter who was at fault.[2]

  • To speed up the process, gather important information, like the date and time of the accident, your policy information, and photos or video of the damage, before you file a claim.

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How to file a car insurance claim

Filing a claim involves contacting your car insurance company for reimbursement for damages after an incident. You can typically file a claim by calling the insurance company’s claims phone number, going online, using a mobile app, or calling your agent.[3]

Knowing the ins and outs of the process and preparing the relevant information and documentation can help you get a settlement sooner.

1. Gather information about the incident

If you need to file a car insurance claim, preparation is key. You can streamline the process and prevent delays in your claim by preparing the necessary information and documents. Here’s what you’ll need to have on hand:

  • Your policy number

  • The date and time of the accident

  • A detailed description of the accident

  • Names and contact information of all drivers and witnesses involved

  • Photos and videos of the damage to your vehicle

2. File a police report

If you were in a serious car crash, call the police immediately, especially if someone is injured, and head to a safe location away from the vehicles and busy roads. When police officers arrive, they’ll record important details, like the accident’s date, time, and location. The report will also include thorough descriptions of the incident, which insurers use to verify the parties’ statements and assign fault.

Remember to grab a copy of the report number before you leave so you can give it to your insurance company when you file a claim. If you were in a fender bender in a parking lot, you may not need to call the police unless someone has a serious injury. Record the time and location of the fender bender, take videos and photos, and write down details about what happened.

Before leaving the scene of any accident — regardless of severity — exchange insurance information with the other parties involved.

Learn More: Is Accident Forgiveness Worth It?

Learn More: Is Accident Forgiveness Worth It?

3. Contact your insurance company and file a claim

If you’ve experienced a loss or vehicle damages, contact your insurance company promptly to file a claim. Most insurers allow you to start the claims process on a mobile app, online, or by calling an insurance company representative or your agent. Be prepared to provide your policy number, the incident’s date and time, and your recollection of the incident.

Insurers typically don’t specify how long you have to file a claim, but the auto policy may state that you must file a claim “promptly” or “within a reasonable time.”[4] But it’s best to file your claim as soon as possible to receive your compensation in a timely manner. Additionally, cars rapidly depreciate in value, so filing quickly is essential to receiving adequate compensation for your vehicle’s damage.

4. Review your claim

Once you start your car insurance claim, an insurance adjuster will work with you to investigate the extent of the damage and determine suitable compensation for repairs and injuries. During the process, your adjuster may request additional information, such as an estimate from an auto shop, to support your claim. After reviewing the findings, your claims adjuster will inform you of the settlement amount.

5. Accept payment and fix your vehicle

The timeliness of your claim payout will depend on the nature of the accident and the insurance company. While your insurance company may resolve less complex accidents quickly, multi-car accidents may take several months.

Additionally, different insurers pay claims differently. For instance, you may receive compensation to pay for repairs directly. Alternatively, you may pay your deductible directly to the body shop, and your insurer covers the rest.

If your insurer declares your vehicle a total loss, the company may pay you the actual cash value of your car before the incident.

6. Review your premium

After an accident, you may notice increased premiums, even for incidents where you weren’t at fault. A single at-fault accident may increase a driver’s premiums by 26% and may stay on their record for three to five years after the incident, according to Insurify data. Similarly, crashes where you’re not at fault result in an average 10% rise in premiums, although many states prohibit insurers from raising your rates following an accident that wasn't your fault.

Review your auto insurance policy at renewal and note any changes in your premium. If your premium surges after a collision or noncollision occurrence, you can compare car insurance quotes to find cheaper rates.

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How insurers determine fault in car insurance claims

By gathering statements from all parties and examining law enforcement reports, the insurance company works to assign responsibility for the accident.

No-fault laws

States with no-fault laws require drivers to maintain first-party benefits: personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payment coverage. This means that insurance companies pay for their policyholders’ medical expenses, regardless of fault.

No-fault laws expedite coverage for medical treatment since drivers don’t have to file claims with the at-fault party’s insurance company. Although PIP and medical payments insurance include medical cost coverage, you may only claim up to your coverage limit. Then, either your health insurance kicks in or you must pay out of pocket for any medical costs that exceed policy limits.

Types of car insurance coverages for claims

Depending on your situation, you can file a claim for several types of coverage after an incident.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/169fdfde11/liability-coverage.svg

    Liability coverage

    Liability insurance includes property damage liability coverage and bodily injury liability coverage. The former covers repair costs and damages to vehicles, while the latter covers medical bills and other costs related to injuries. If you injure another person or damage their property in an accident, this part of your auto insurance policy covers their expenses. If you’re not at fault in an accident, you must coordinate with the at-fault party’s insurer to receive compensation under their liability insurance.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/db598219e3/damage-from-aircraft.svg

    Collision coverage

    Collision coverage pays for your damages after a collision, whether with another vehicle or an object. You’ll receive compensation for this claim regardless of who’s at fault. However, this coverage usually comes with a deductible. After you pay the deductible, the collision coverage portion of your policy covers damages to your vehicle. If the cost of damages is lower than the deductible, filing a claim may not be worth the rate increase.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/665da91bf7/comprehensive-coverage.svg

    Comprehensive coverage

    Comprehensive coverage pays for damages after a non-collision loss, like vandalism, theft, or weather-related damages, up to policy limits. Again, you have to pay a deductible before this part of your policy will kick in and cover the remaining expenses. If the cost of damage is lower than the deductible, you may not want to file a claim.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/5285c4cd74/uninsured-or-underinsured-motorist-coverage.svg

    Uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage

    If you’re not at fault in an accident, and the other party doesn’t have insurance or doesn’t have enough, uninsured and underinsured motorist coverage covers the gaps. For example, if someone only has the state-minimum insurance limits of $5,000 for property damage liability and your car repairs cost $7,000, underinsured motorist coverage will kick in for the remaining $2,000 in repairs. You file this type of claim with your own insurance company. UM/UIM also covers damage from hit-and-run accidents.

  • illustration card https://a.storyblok.com/f/162273/x/4c9753bdbe/medical-payments.svg

    Personal injury protection (PIP) or medical payments coverage

    States with no-fault insurance laws typically require personal injury protection or medical payments coverage. These insurance types cover the cost of your and your passengers’ medical expenses after an accident. PIP offers more comprehensive protection than medical payments coverage, including lost wages, child care, and household expenses. First-party benefits coverage allows you to bypass filing a claim with the at-fault party’s insurer. Instead, you can obtain coverage from your insurer and immediately get the care you need.

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Common reasons why claims are denied

Insurers can deny your claim for several reasons. If this is the case, you may have to pay for repairs out of your pocket:

  • Lack of coverage: If your policy doesn’t cover the damage or loss you’re claiming, your insurer will likely deny your claim. For instance, if you get into an accident where you are at fault, you won’t receive coverage for vehicle repairs if you have a liability-only policy.

  • Failure to pay premiums: If you neglect to pay your premiums on time, your insurance company may terminate your policy, and you’ll no longer qualify for coverage. Luckily, most states require a grace period under which insurers must notify you before canceling your policy.

  • Late reporting: Most insurers set deadlines for filing claims, and if you wait too long, they may refuse to pay for the loss.

  • Exclusions: Insurance companies may refuse to cover damages from specific events your policy outlines. Some standard exclusions include losses resulting from war, terrorism, and nuclear hazards.

Learn More: Why Do Car Insurance Companies Deny Claims?

Learn More: Why Do Car Insurance Companies Deny Claims?

Car insurance claims FAQs

Starting a car insurance claim but need help figuring out where to begin? Here are answers to the most asked questions on the web to clear up any confusion.

  • Will filing a claim raise your car insurance rates?

    Probably. Claim history is a factor in determining your policy’s premiums. If you filed a claim in the past, even once, your premiums would likely be more than a policyholder who has never filed a claim.[5]

  • Can you negotiate a claim settlement?

    Yes. After your insurance company offers a claim settlement, you’ll have the opportunity to dispute the amount. You must provide a counteroffer and documentation to support your case. An independent arbitrator or personal injury attorney can help you review the case and determine if the offer is fair.[6]

  • How do insurance companies pay out claims?

    After you agree on a settlement, insurance companies pay out your claim via check or direct deposit. Some insurance companies require you to repair your vehicle with an auto shop in its network. In that case, your insurer will pay that repair shop directly.

  • Are car insurance claims filed even if there’s no damage?

    You can still file a car insurance claim without visible damage. For instance, if you’d like to have your vehicle inspected after an accident, you can file a claim for coverage. Remember that you may have to pay a deductible before qualifying for coverage under your collision or comprehensive coverage.

  • Should you file a claim with your auto insurance or theirs?

    Who to file a claim with depends on the type of coverage you’re filing for and who’s at fault during the accident. For instance, if you’re at fault and need vehicle repairs, you must file a claim for collision coverage with your insurer. If you’re not at fault, you must file a liability insurance claim with the other driver's insurer.

Sources

  1. III. "What to do at the scene of an accident." Accessed June 27, 2023
  2. III. "Background on: No-fault auto insurance." Accessed June 27, 2023
  3. III. "How to file an auto insurance claim." Accessed June 27, 2023
  4. Nolo. "How Long After an Accident Can I File an Insurance Claim?." Accessed June 27, 2023
  5. III. "Do auto insurance premiums go up after a claim?." Accessed June 27, 2023
  6. III. "What should I do if I am having trouble settling my claim?." Accessed June 27, 2023
Alani Asis
Alani Asis

Alani Asis is a personal finance freelance writer with nearly three years of experience in content creation. She has landed bylines with leading publications and brands like Insider, Fortune, LendingTree, and more. Alani aims to make personal finance approachable through fun, relatable, and digestible content.

Courtney Mikulski
Edited byCourtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
Courtney Mikulski
Courtney MikulskiSenior Editor, Auto
  • 3+ years producing insurance and personal finance content

  • Main architect of the Insurify Quality Score

Courtney’s deep personal finance knowledge extends beyond insurance to credit cards, consumer lending, and banking. She thrives on creating actionable content.

Featured in

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Mark Friedlander
Reviewed byMark FriedlanderDirector, Corporate Communications
Mark Friedlander
Mark FriedlanderDirector, Corporate Communications
  • Corporate communications director for Insurance Information Institute

  • 20+ years in insurance and communications

As Director, Corporate Communications for Triple-I, Mark serves as the non-profit’s national spokesperson, sharing information and education on a wide array of insurance issues.

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