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car crash claims

Car insurance claims

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How to prepare for a car insurance claim

When you take out a new car insurance policy, it’s important to familiarize yourself with the claims process so you know how to go about using your policy if needed. Being involved in a car accident or having your car stolen can be a stressful time, so knowing how the claims process works beforehand can make the ordeal easier to deal with.

This review will explore how to prepare for your car insurance claim and the steps to take immediately following the event to ensure the claims process runs as smoothly as possible.

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Being prepared before a claim

The first step, before you even take out a policy, is to familiarize yourself with its benefits, terms and conditions. This is all in the terms and conditions that accompanies insurance policies. This document lays out what you can claim and the conditions for appropriate claims.

Once you have a policy and clear benefits and limitations, you should have a good idea of when you can make a claim and what you are entitled to, in addition to how it will affect your future premiums and no-claim discount. It’s important to thoroughly read the terms of any car insurance policy before buying.

Carry driver info forms

To be prepared for the worst, it could be a good idea to carry some forms requesting driver info in your car wherever you go. There are a lot of details to exchange in the event of an accident, and having these handy makes it considerably easier. Try printing out forms you can give to other drivers, and witnesses, for them to quickly fill in.

  • Name
  • Time, date and location of the incident
  • Contact number
  • Address
  • Vehicle registration
  • License number
  • Details of their insurer and policy
  • A brief description of what happened

This can be supplemented by picture and video evidence, taken with your phone at the scene, to make sure both insurers have everything they need to successfully process your claim.

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How to make a car insurance claim

Depending on your insurer, there may be different ways that you can make a car insurance claim.

  • Online. Insurers will often let you fill out claims forms and submit them online at their websites. Some might specify claims team email addresses for you to get in touch with.
  • By phone. You can call your insurer to make a claim, or to inform them that something has happened and you will be making a claim. Sometimes you may be able to provide the relevant information, such as the name of the other driver and their registration number, over the phone, while material like photos will need another method.
  • Using an app. Some insurers offer claims apps that can help you automatically navigate the procedure. These can be particularly useful by letting you upload photos or videos to your insurer through the app.
  • In the mail or in person. If you think you’ll want to do this, it may be worth specifically looking for such providers, as not all insurers will offer this option. You will generally still need to provide the same information.

How long do I have to file a claim?

The amount of time you have to file a claim is set by your state’s laws. It usually ranges from one to 10 years, and varies depending on the type of claim. However, most insurers prefer that you report the accident immediately and begin the claims process at the time of the accident.

The amount of time you have to report the accident differs from the amount of time you have to file a claim. This, too, is determined by your state’s laws. It ranges from immediately to six months.

How do insurers process claims?

All the information you provide to your insurer is important, and often you cannot make a successful claim without it. For their purposes, however, insurers may be particularly interested in the details of the incident and the details of the other driver and their insurer.

This is because insurers will typically attempt to recover costs from the at-fault party’s insurer, when applicable, including the cost of damage, rental car expenses following an accident and other expenses. This, along with making sure that you and your car are getting all the benefits your policy entitles you to, such as free repairs, free towing, emergency glass replacements and similar, are a significant part of what an insurer does.

The steps taken by insurers when processing claims can include:

  • Recovery actions on your behalf. For example, if you’ve been injured in a car accident and the other driver was at fault, then your insurer can get in touch with the other driver’s insurance company on your behalf.
  • Contacting the other drivers and witnesses. Insurers will often take investigative actions to confirm the details of what happened and help establish who was at fault, if anyone.
  • Providing services. If you are eligible for emergency accommodation or a rental car under the terms of your policy, for example, part of your insurer’s claims process might be to cover the cost of a rental car. The same goes for car repairs, towing and other services.

Insurers vs. repair shops

After an accident, the insurance provider and repair shop will often disagree about the cost of repairs and the process. For example, the insurer might insist that a less-expensive, after-market part be used instead of a costlier original manufacturer’s part. Or the insurer might not agree to the hourly labor rate charge by the repair shop or the estimated timeline for the repairs.

Repair shops and insurance providers work together regularly and generally resolves any issues, but it’s a good idea to stay informed about this process and speak up if you don’t agree with how your car is being repaired.

How do I get paid for my claim?

In some states, insurance companies are required to pay out your claim within 30 days after it has been settled. In other locations, insurers simply need to pay within a reasonable time, with no hard time limit set.

Some insurers will pay the repair shop directly instead of reimbursing you, especially if it’s a preferred or recommended shop. This is convenient, because you won’t be paying out of pocket for repairs and can let your insurer take care of repair approvals and billing. You’ll still need to pay your deductible out of pocket, though.

If you’re not at fault for the accident, your insurance company should work with the other party’s insurance company to reimburse you for your deductible, since it’ll have to be paid before your car can be worked on. In this case, you may have to contact this insurance company to keep tabs on your check, although your insurance company should also be able to help you communicate with them if it seems like it’s taking a long time to receive your money.

How can I make sure my claim is paid quickly?

It’s really up to your insurer and how quickly you can gather and submit your claims information. Some things that could delay your claim include:

  • Poor communication. If you don’t answer the phone when your insurance company calls, it’s going to take longer to get your claim settled. But if you haven’t heard from your insurance company in a while and think it’s about time you’ve received payment, don’t hesitate to pick up the phone yourself.
  • You’re unhappy with the repair job. Get your car back and think something’s still off? If you’re not satisfied with the way the shop fixed your car, the claims process could be delayed. However, it’s not worth accepting a sub-par fix just to get your money faster. Work with your garage and insurance company to make sure all damages are fixed.
  • Natural disaster. Was your car damaged in a major storm? If so, there are probably lots of other people vying for the insurance company’s time, so it could take longer to see your cash.

Should I make a claim or pay out of pocket?

Your answer will depend on who and what was involved and the cost of damages. If you’re involved in a collision, it’s best to contact your insurance company. Liability coverage, which is a legal requirement in most states, can help to pay for property damage or injuries you cause while driving. It can also take care of legal defense costs if you’re sued by someone involved in the accident.

If your situation isn’t so straightforward, consider a few common scenarios when it’s a good or bad idea to make a claim.

When to reconsider making a claim

1. If your vehicle is the only thing that’s damaged

car breakdown

If you cause an accident and your car is the only thing damaged, it often makes sense to pay for everything yourself. Let’s say you cause $1,800 worth of damage and your excess is $1,000 if you claim through insurance. Your insurer’s $800 check might seem helpful now, but since the accident was your fault, your insurer raises your rates by more than $800 over the next few years. Is it worth it in the end?

2. If the damage to someone else’s property is minor

car parking

Thump. That was the sound of your car door ever-so-slightly bumping the car next to you in the car park. You’d probably ignore a scratch like that if you’d done it to your own car, but this time it’s someone else’s. Before you leave a note with all your details, consider including that you’d rather pay privately than go through insurance. Modest damage like this will often cost less than your deductible, so you’ll be paying for it anyway.

3. An unknown person causes minor damages to your car

minor car damage

Even if it is not your fault, it’s not always a good idea to claim through insurance. In most cases, your insurer won’t hold it against you, but if it happens often, your insurer may conclude that you commonly visit high risk areas. Or if you have a bigger claim down the road where you’re at fault, these smaller claims can be used to paint a negative claims history. Both of these are reasons to increase your premiums.

When to consider making a claim

There are times when claiming through your insurance makes total sense.

1. If there are injuries

car injury

When you injure others in an accident, your liability coverage takes care of the injuries. It’s not smart to take care of it yourself because it’s hard to know just how high the medical bills can climb. Plus, if the bills do balloon higher than you can afford, it may be too late to claim because your insurer will want a say in the matter from the very beginning.

2. If it’s unclear who’s at fault

car crash

Don’t agree to pay if there’s a chance the other person is at fault or at least partially to blame. When it’s unclear who’s at fault, your insurer will represent you as they negotiate with the other person’s insurer and try to minimize your responsibility. In other words, they’ll be trying to get you and themselves off the hook for as much of the costs as they can.

3. If the damage is significant

accident

If you cause an accident and you can’t afford to pay for the damages yourself, you should agree to file a claim with your insurer. Contact them from the scene of the accident if you can, or as soon as possible after that. This allows them to join the investigation from the beginning, start contacting repair shops and organize temporary transportation for you and the other driver, depending on the details of your policy.

How do I make sure my claim won’t be rejected?

If you do not follow the terms and conditions of your insurance policy, then insurers may reject your claims. Watch out for:

  • Benefits. A common trap is to assume that a policy covers something when it doesn’t. For example, you will probably need a comprehensive car insurance policy if you want to claim certain types of damage. Don’t just assume that you are covered for anything in specific.
  • Exclusions. These are conditions where the policy will not pay out. Exclusions will typically apply for driving under the influence and otherwise being reckless behind the wheel, but there may be more specific ones such as exclusions for accidents that occur within a certain distance of your home, or beyond a certain amount.
  • Your obligations. Getting approved repairs and waiting to settle damage with other parties are two common obligations you will encounter in car insurance policies. Not following these can be used as grounds to deny a claim.

In all cases, reading your contract is an effective first step to making sure you know your responsibilities and exclusions. Contacting your insurance provider as soon as you are able to might also be a good idea because it can let you ask specific questions and get some assistance on the scene.

What are some common claims exclusions?

To avoid any rejected claims, take the time to read up on the exclusions that apply to your policy, which may include:

  • Unapproved drivers. Some policies only protect your list of nominated drivers — not everybody who gets behind the wheel.
  • Unapproved use. Unless you’ve purchased commercial insurance, you can assume that your policy is only valid for personal use of the car. If you’re an Uber or Lyft driver, Allstate does offer specific ridesharing insurance.
  • Overloaded vehicle. If there are more people in the car than seatbelts, your insurance likely won’t cover you in an accident.
  • Improper maintenance. To ensure your car is roadworthy at all times, get it serviced regularly.
  • Unapproved modifications. If you’re planning on modifying your car like adding a stereo system or tinted windows, get permission from your insurer first.
  • Wear and tear depreciation. Typically, insurance covers damage to your vehicle. But if that damage was caused by natural wear and tear, you can’t expect your insurer to pay for it. The same goes for the loss of value caused by depreciation.
  • Mechanical, structural, electrical, electronic or other breakdowns. Many policies won’t cover breakdowns. This is because car insurance covers damages, not failures. For example, if your power windows suddenly stop working, that’s classified as a breakdown. If they stop working after a hit-and-run, that would probably count as damage covered by insurance.
  • Personal belongings. While some policies cover personal items, limits and special conditions apply. Check the fine print to find out what kind of belongings you can claim in an accident.
  • Driving outside the US. Your policy most likely protects you when you drive into Canada and Mexico, but confirm those details with your agent first.

How can I make sure my claim gets paid?

Here are a few things to remember to help make your claims process go more smoothly:

  • Be honest. You may think that withholding any negative marks on your record will help you save on your car insurance. But car insurance companies share information and will find out about any past claims and your driving record. Failure to disclose relevant details could lead to your claims being reduced or rejected, even if you’ve paid your premiums.
  • Keep a record. When you’re involved in any incident that may lead to a claim, keep as many records of the incident as you can. Obtain the details (name, contact information, driver’s license number, registration, insurance policy details) of all other drivers involved in the incident, and make sure to get details from witnesses as well. Take photos of the accident scene if it’s safe to do so, and record information about the make, model and damage of the other vehicles involved.
  • Don’t admit guilt. Don’t attempt to settle a claim on the roadside by yourself, and do not admit any fault. Provide as much information as you can, and let the insurance companies work out who is to blame.
  • Contact your insurer. If you’ve been involved in an accident, report it to your insurer as soon as you can. Once everyone is safe and you’ve contacted the police or ambulance, contact your insurer.

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What to expect after your claim is completed

After you file a claim, get your car fixed and get reimbursed, you might notice some changes to your premium payment, such as:

  • Higher monthly payment
  • Loss of no-claims discount
  • Loss of accident forgiveness perk
  • The addition of your accident on your driving record, which can affect new insurance quotes in the future

How do I make my insurance affordable after a claim?

If you’ve had an accident and made a claim, your premiums are likely to increase. To keep this from getting out of hand in the future, here are some things to consider:

  • Decide if you really need to make a claim.
    You might want to get quotes from mechanics before calling the insurance company. If it can be fixed for less than the deductible, making a claim might not be worth it. And even if making a claim saves you money in the short term, it can be worth holding off to avoid higher long-term premiums later on.
  • You might have to adjust your coverage.
    If you’ve had a car accident and your new premiums are breaking the bank, there are a few quick ways to potentially bump the price down. Raising your deductible, reducing your limits or dropping extras can lower the price while letting you keep essential coverage.
  • Maximize discounts.
    Your no-claims discount is gone for now, but there are still plenty of other car insurance discounts you could qualify for. Look for low-mileage discounts if you aren’t on the road much, multi-policy discounts, membership discounts or defensive driving and road safety training courses that are recognized by insurance companies.

Compare comprehensive policies from top brands

Name Product Roadside assistance New car protection Available states
Allstate
Included free
Yes, cars under 2 years old
All 50 states
Enjoy having your own dedicated agent to help you get the best discounts and coverage.
Liberty Mutual
Optional
Yes, cars under 1 year old & 15,000 miles
All 50 states
Car insurance through Liberty Mutual will give coverage options for almost any situation.
Root
Optional
No
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Root offers simple, affordable insurance that’s ideal for good drivers. Try the Root app for 2 weeks and see how much you could save. Available in 20 states.
Esurance
Optional
Yes, cars under 1 year old & 15,000 miles
All states except AK, DE, HI, MT, NH, VT, WY
Esurance offers a modern online and mobile experience that helps you take your insurance on the go. Available in 42 states.
Metromile
Optional
Yes, cars under 1 year old & 15,000 miles
CA, IL, NJ, OR, PA, VA, WA
Drive less than 30 miles a day? Save on the coverage you need with pay-per-mile insurance from Metromile. Get a low monthly rate then pay just a few cents per mile. Available in CA, IL, NJ, OR, PA, VA and WA.
USAA
Optional
No
All 50 states
USAA offers affordable car insurance with highly rated customer service to millions of military members and their families. Only available to military members, veterans and affiliated military members.

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What can I do if I’m not satisfied with my claim?

If you have to make a claim to your insurance company, you expect to be compensated. But in the event that you’re not, you can dispute a claim to try to get what you deserve. Always document all communication you’ve made with the insurance company and pay attention to timelines. Being prepared is key to getting what you need. It’s also important to become familiar with the state laws and get an independent appraisal. To dispute your claim, do the following:

  1. Contact the insurer. Talk to your insurer about your concerns and try to work out a solution you’re both happy with. If an agent doesn’t resolve your issue, speak with a supervisor. It’s also a good idea to follow up with a letter, restating your concerns.
  2. Provide supporting documentation. Maybe you have previous repair bills that could help your case. And getting everything in writing can be helpful any time you need to make an insurance claim.
  3. Hire an independent adjuster. This will be an added expense that comes out of your own pocket, so only do this if you feel you’re owed significantly more money than the insurance company is willing to pay.
  4. Make a complaint to the state. When you’re unhappy with the way an insurance company has handled a situation, you can go over their heads by contacting the Department of the Treasury. The process varies by state, but you should always respond quickly when they ask you to provide information.
  5. Mediation. Before you decide on taking the insurance company to court, they may want to try getting a mediator — a third party who will help both of you decide on a fair solution.
  6. Get a lawyer. It may be a good idea to talk to a lawyer about your claim to get some legal advice. They can help you bring the case to small-claims court and bring a “bad faith” claim against an insurance company.

Who to contact if you are not satisfied with your claim

If you are not happy with how your insurer has handled your claim, you can escalate your claim. Start by following up again with your insurance provider before taking on extra costs from arbitration with a third party appraiser, mediator or lawyer. Going to small claims court should be your last resort.

  • Insurer customer support
  • Independent appraiser
  • State Treasury Department
  • Attorney

Bottom line

Making an insurance claim after an accident can seem scary and overwhelming. Being prepared will help make the process seem less daunting, by understanding your coverage and knowing the best steps to take after an accident. Your insurer will work with you to make sure your claim is paid out so you can get back on the road.

Talk to your insurance provider about your coverage and the best way to make a car insurance claim. Learn more about car insurance coverage and compare insurance providers that can offer you more comprehensive coverage, an easier claims process and better customer service.

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Andrew Munro

Andrew writes for finder.com, comparing products, writing guides and looking for new ways to help people make smart decisions. He's a fan of insurance, business news and cryptocurrency.

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