Car insurance claims

How to make a successful car insurance claim and get repairs covered fast.

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Being involved in a car accident or having your car stolen can be a stressful time, so knowing how the claims process works can make the ordeal easier to deal with. Prepare for your car insurance claim and follow the right steps to make sure your claim is paid out and your car is repaired as quickly as possible.

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Being prepared before a claim

The first step, before you even take out a policy, is to familiarise yourself with its benefits, terms and conditions. This is all in the policy document 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-claims discount. It’s important to thoroughly read the terms of any car insurance policy before buying.

Exchanging details

To be prepared for the worst, it’s a good idea to know what information you’ll need to exchange with any other people involved in an incident. There are a lot of details to exchange in the event of an accident, and knowing what these are could make it considerably easier. You could enter these into your phone and refer to them in the event of an incident.

  • Name
  • Time, date and location of the incident
  • Contact number
  • Address
  • Vehicle registration number
  • Details of the third party’s insurer and policy details
  • 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 needed to successfully process your claim.

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 claim forms and submit them online through 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 time you have to file a claim is usually set by your insurance company. Most insurers prefer that you report the accident immediately and begin the claims process at the time of the accident. While some insurers will specify that claims should be made within 24 hours after an incident, others will allow up to 48 hours.

Failing to lodge your claim within your insurer’s specified time limit could delay your claim or possibly even result in a rejected claim.

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 insurance purposes, you will need to provide 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.

How does the insurance adjustment process work?

Your claim is typically assigned to an insurance claims representative, who will handle your claim, collect details and set up any payment. The process a claims representative typically follows looks something like this:

  1. Read the policy details to understand what’s covered with your policy.
  2. Ask for details from the people involved in the accident.
  3. Get repair estimates for damages.
  4. Advise you of your total costs, coverage, excess and timelines.
  5. Submit your reimbursement or arrange for your repairer to be paid.
  6. Act as the intermediary for any disputes from you or the insurer to make sure everyone is happy with the final claim amount.

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 labour rate charge by the repair shop or the estimated timeline for the repairs.

Repair shops and insurance providers work together regularly and generally resolve 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?

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 excess 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 excess, 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, 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 claim 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. You get your car back and think something’s still not quite right? If you’re not satisfied with the way the garage 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. Third party cover, which is the legal minimum in the UK, can help to pay for property damage or injuries you cause while driving. It can also take care of legal defence 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 cheque 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 excess, 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 minimise your responsibility. In other words, it’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 your insurer from the scene of the accident if it’s safe to do so, or as soon as possible after that. This allows your insurer to join the investigation from the beginning, start contacting repair shops and organise 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 specific.
  • Exclusions. These are conditions where the policy will not pay out. Exclusions will typically apply for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, and otherwise being reckless behind the wheel. But there may be more specific exclusions such as accidents that occur within a certain distance of your home or incidents 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.
  • 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 and regularly check the air pressure in the tyres and the oil level.
  • 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.
  • 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 for in an accident.
  • Driving outside the UK. Your policy may cover you whilst driving in Europe but it’s always best to check that you won’t just have the bare minimum such as the equivalent to third party. If you require a higher level of cover, you may need to get this added to your policy.

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, vehicle registration number, 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.

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 premiums
  • Loss of no-claims discount
  • The addition of your accident on your claims history, 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 excess, 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 bring the price down. Raising your excess, reducing your limits or dropping extras can lower the price while letting you keep essential cover.
  • Maximise discounts. Your no-claims discount might be 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 advanced driving and road safety training courses that are recognised by insurance companies.

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

If you have to make a claim with 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. 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. Make a complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS). If your insurer rejects your complaint or fails to resolve your complaint within eight weeks, you can get in touch with the FOS. You could be awarded compensation.

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 your complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service.

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 sooner.

Talk to your insurance provider about your cover 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 cover, an easier claims process and better customer service.

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