Can I Repair My Own Car After Filing a Claim?

A car owners making private repairs on a family car.

Getty Images / Albert Mollon

If you’re in a large or particularly destructive car accident, the aftermath will probably involve lots of rounds with insurance agents, claims adjusters, and auto-body shops. If you’re in a small fender-bender, you might not even bother filing a claim with you or the other party’s insurance—especially if it really did just bend your fender. But what about the accidents that fall in between that range?

There seems to be no end to the questions that come up once you have had an accident and need to file a claim on your insurance. That is because no matter how ordinary your accident may seem, there is always a wrinkle or two that makes it unique or some aspect of the claims process that simply didn't occur to you—until your particular set of circumstances happens.

Here is something you may have never considered. Imagine the following situation happens: You've gotten into a small accident resulting in a relatively minimal amount of damage to your car. Depending on who is at fault, either your insurer or the other driver's provider is going to be on the hook for paying for the repair. An estimate has been made and the insurer suggests a local reputable shop to do the work. The plan is for the shop to repair your car and the insurance company to pay them directly for the job.

The thing is, you are pretty good at doing minor repairs and would prefer to do the work yourself, which raises the question: Can I repair my own car after filing a claim?

Is There a Lien on Your Vehicle?

If there is a lien on your vehicle, then you most likely will not be able to repair the car yourself. Check your loan agreement. You're bound to find language in there on the subject and it's going to tell you that you must have your vehicle repaired by a certified shop that guarantees its work. The agreement may even require that repairs be made at a shop that is approved by the lender. If you can’t find specific language in your contract, call your financial services institution. Trust me; you are not the first person to have this idea.

Bottom line: Unless you are personally an approved mechanic, you will probably have to forego fixing your car yourself.

What If You Own Your Vehicle Outright?

The situation is different if there's no lien on your vehicle. In most cases, you should be able to do whatever you want with the payout, and that includes having your vehicle repaired at a shop, fixing it yourself, or not fixing it at all. This may not be true all the time, though, and you need to read the language of your policy carefully.

Will Fixing My Own Vehicle Affect My Coverage?

It might. Here's the problem: Even if you own your car outright and are not required to use an approved shop (one that guarantees its work) to fix your vehicle with the payout proceeds, your insurer is still going to be wary of the repairs you do yourself. Without the guarantee, how will they know that the repair work is any good? They don't really, and that's a problem for a company whose business is to insure the integrity of your vehicle. As a result, you may find your insurer unwilling to continue to provide you with comprehensive or collision coverage.

Sometimes you can get by if you provide photos of the repairs. At the very least, if additional damage is discovered that had not been found earlier, your insurer will likely not pay for its repair. Also, if you get into another accident in the future, your insurer is likely to refuse to pay for any damage done to the part of your car that you previously repaired yourself.

Additional Considerations

If you decide to repair your car yourself, it's a very good idea to have an adjuster look at the damage and provide an estimate before you do any of the work. In fact, your insurance provider will likely insist on it. This is important as it provides both you and your insurer with a solid idea what a reasonable settlement of the damages will be, thus avoiding any subsequent misunderstanding. And one other important point, if you screw up the work, the costs of any additional or remedial repairs are going to come straight out of your wallet, not your insurer’s or any repair shop.

So, if you are not absolutely sure about your ability to do the job right, be smart and have the work done by an approved mechanic or body shop the first time. Sometimes, saving a few bucks in the short term is not worth the hassle and possible expense in the long-term.