Do I Have to Repair My Car After an Insurance Claim Accident?

This illustration describes when to get repairs after an accident including "If your car is still being paid off on a loan, you will need to make repairs," "Your insurance company will require repairs if you want to continue your collision and comprehensive coverage," and "If you can fix the damage on your own time, you can opt to not file a claim."

Julie Bang @ The Balance 2020 

If you have gotten into a major accident and need to continue driving your vehicle, you often have no choice but to get it repaired. But if you have only been in a minor fender bender, you may be reluctant to part with the check your insurance company sends you. Do you really have to use the money to fix your vehicle, or can you pocket it and be on your slightly dented way?

Whether or not you are required to repair your car after an accident and the ensuing insurance claim depends on a couple of important factors. Sometimes you do not want to go through the repair process, maybe because you can't be without a car for any amount of time.

Or, you might still have a loan on the vehicle, in which case your lender will require the repairs. If you own the vehicle and the damage isn't all that bad—you might be tempted to keep the money.

Can I Repair My Car Myself After an Accident?

The answer depends on who holds the title. If there's a lien on your vehicle, then you likely won't be permitted to repair the car yourself, and your lender may even require you to use an approved repair shop or at least one that guarantees its work.

If you own your car outright, you may be able to fix the car yourself—but check your insurance policy or ask your agent just to be sure that doing your own repairs won't affect your coverage.

Receiving a Car Insurance Check With a Loan

If you have a loan on your vehicle, it means that you should get the car repaired—typically by a mechanic that has been pre-approved by your car insurance company. Your lender will want their collateral—the car—to be fully functional and want you to repair any damages.

If you are still making payments on the loan, you do not own the car free and clear; as a partial owner, it is your responsibility to get the vehicle repaired in a timely fashion. Many lenders require that they are listed on your auto policy as a loss payee to ensure you have full coverage listed on the car at all times.

It is good to know upfront whether the repair of your vehicle is required. Insurance companies all use the same basic guidelines when it comes to repairs; however, it can still vary per insurance carrier.

If you own your vehicle outright, you'll have more flexibility when it comes to repairing your car or not. An insurance company will often give you the option to repair, total the car out, or buy it back—which is the option of giving you the car back, plus the cash value of the car, minus the auction price the company believes they would have received from a salvage yard.

Car Insurance Check if You Want to Keep Insurance

The insurance company will require the vehicle to be repaired if you want to continue your comprehensive or collision coverages. It only makes sense: the insurance company does not want to continue to insure a vehicle for future physical damage if the vehicle has already been damaged and not repaired.

A second accident would compound the existing damage—if the insurance company paid you once for the pre-existing damage, they rightly would not want to pay you more for the compounded damage.

It's a standard procedure for the insurance company to require you to drop physical damage coverage from a vehicle that was not repaired. Proof of the repair is usually handled by making a claim check out to both you and the body shop doing the repairs.

Photos and receipts can also be submitted for proof of repairs if you do want to continue with comprehensive and collision coverage.

When it comes to buying your totaled vehicle back, any major safety concerns will need to be repaired—states may also differ in criteria for getting the vehicle back on the road. For instance, New Jersey requires a salvage certificate in this circumstance for vehicles over eight years old and then requires a special inspection to be road-worthy. Insuring this vehicle, in this case, is dependant upon the inspection results and may not be worth the expense.

Frame or other structural damage could be the reason for an insurance company to deny coverage. You should always check with your claim adjuster when it comes to insuring a previously totaled car. 

Not Claiming an Accident

It is actually common for a driver to opt to not report a claim to their insurance company to avoid a rise in premiums. Often this could be a single-car accident (your fault), which many policies may not cover. The benefit of doing this is that your car insurance rate will not go up because you didn't file an at-fault accident claim.

If you can afford the repair and can handle the repair on your own time, you may not want to report the claim. If another vehicle is involved and you are required to file a claim, you may not have the choice to not file.

In some cases, you are able to leave the car damaged and keep the insurance check, but it is a good idea to get guidance from your car insurance claim adjuster so that you are not held liable for insurance fraud.

It is tempting to use insurance claim money on other things rather than repairing your damaged car. This can be especially true when the damage is only cosmetic and you could use the cash. Remember, you are paying for the physical damage coverage for a reason. It is a good idea to get the damage repaired to keep your car’s value up since you might want to sell it later.

If you really need the cash, you can always have the repairs done at a later date. Just let your insurance agent know when the work is complete if you want to add physical damage coverage back onto the vehicle.