Filing a car insurance claim for vehicle repairs is not fun, but it can go a long way toward getting your car and your life back to normal. Here’s a look at how to file a car insurance claim, as well as key things to consider before you do.
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How does the car insurance claims process work?
When it comes to fixing your vehicle, a car insurance claim usually begins when you report the damage to the insurance company and ends with your vehicle being restored to its pre-accident condition.
In between, your insurance company will investigate the accident to determine who is responsible and how much to pay. You’ll also need to decide whether to take your car to your own repair shop or to one in the insurance company’s network.
Most insurance companies allow you to file a claim by phone, online or mobile app.
Here’s a brief overview of how to file a car insurance claim and how the claims process works:
- Contact your insurance company to open your claim.
- Provide the information and documents the insurance company requests.
- Let the insurance company investigate the accident and assess the damage.
- Decide whether to use the insurance company’s repair shop or your own.
- Review the repair estimate and settlement details, and let your insurance company know of any inaccuracies.
- Get your car fixed.
Which documents do I need to file a car insurance claim?
The best thing you can do to move the claims process forward is to provide the following documents and information to your insurance company:
- Other driver’s name and contact information.
- Other driver’s insurance company and policy number (from their insurance ID card).
- Date, time and location of the accident.
- Brief description of the accident.
- If you reported the accident to law enforcement, a copy of the police report or a case number.
- Vehicle damage photos.
- Contact information for any witnesses.
What happens after I file my claim?
Your insurance company will contact the other driver to obtain his or her statement about the accident, and the other driver’s insurance company will probably do the same with you.
The insurance company will either send an adjuster out to inspect the damage or have you take your vehicle to an auto shop in its repair network. The adjuster or shop will provide a repair estimate.
If your own shop makes the repairs, you might have to pay for any costs exceeding the adjuster’s estimate. Similarly, if the insurance company’s shop recommends after-market parts, you might need to pay more for manufacturer’s parts.
Settling a claim can take a few hours or a few days, but the process can stretch out longer for complex or severe accidents. After the claim is settled, the insurance company will either pay the shop directly or send you a check.
If your own insurance policy includes rental car reimbursement, your insurance company can arrange a rental car for you to drive while your own car is in the shop. If the other driver was at fault, his or her insurance should cover your rental car costs, within limits, though you might have to front this cost.
What are the different types of car insurance claims?
Auto repair claims are typically paid through either your own collision and comprehensive coverage or the other driver’s property damage liability. Your insurance company will know which coverage to apply to your claim, but it’s good for you to know how each one works as well.
Collision covers the costs of repairing damage you cause to your car, after you pay your deductible. However, insurance companies sometimes apply your collision coverage to repairs and then file a liability claim against the other driver’s insurance company to recoup their costs. If the other driver is found at fault, your insurance company usually gets its money back and waives your deductible.
Uninsured/underinsured motorist property damage
Things get complicated if an at-fault driver’s liability limits are not high enough to cover the entire cost of repairing or replacing your vehicle, or if the at-fault driver is uninsured. This is when the property damage portion of uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) coverage would kick in, if you have it. Otherwise, your collision coverage would fund the remaining repair costs.
The bodily injury portion of UM/UIM is required in some states and optional in most others. The property damage portion of UM/UIM is usually optional. Where available, UM/UIM property damage also covers hit-and-run damage.
If your car is stolen or damaged in a collision with an animal or by most other causes, including flood, fire or a falling object, you’ll need to file a comprehensive claim. After you pay your deductible, the insurance company covers the rest.
Like collision coverage, comprehensive is optional but usually required by a lender. Comprehensive coverage typically also covers glass damage and windshield repairs.
Property damage liability
Required in most states, property damage liability covers the cost of repairing damage you cause to another vehicle or other property, such as a toll booth or a fence. If your policy’s limits are not high enough to cover the entire costs, the other party or their insurance company can seek a judgement against you and, in many states, seize assets or garnish wages.
Bodily injury liability, medical payments and personal injury protection
Injury claims are considerably more complicated and take longer to resolve than car repair claims. In general, medical treatment is covered by the other driver’s bodily injury liability or your own medical payments coverage or personal injury protection. The payout depends on who is at fault, the severity of the injuries, and whether your state has no-fault or partial-fault insurance laws.
When should I file a car insurance claim?
Since a claim may increase your car insurance rates, particularly if you caused the damage, there are times when paying for repairs yourself makes more sense than filing a claim.
For example, if you caused the damage, you’ll probably have to pay your deductible before your collision coverage kicks in. If the cost of repairing damage is less than your deductible, or even a little more, you might be better off footing the bill yourself.
On the other hand, if you’re looking at several thousands of dollars in repair costs, you will probably come out ahead by filing a claim, even after a rate increase.
You can usually ask your insurance agent about your coverage and deductibles before you decide to proceed with a claim. If you do, make sure to let them know you are only making an inquiry. Otherwise, an open claim could show up in your records, even if you don’t intend to pursue it.
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