5 Steps to Filing Your Auto Insurance Claim

A Simple Guide to Follow

Help filing your car insurance claim after an accident
Need help figuring out how to file your car insurance claim? Here's what to expect and how. Hero Images / Getty Images

A claim is when you ask the insurance company to compensate you for damages you have sustained after a car accident, or when you ask the insurance company to represent you or intervene on your behalf when you are liable for damages.

You pay a lot of money for your car insurance, so it makes sense that if you are involved in an accident, you will want to make a claim. Depending on whether the accident is responsible, or not responsible, and the type of damage, your insurance company will be able to provide coverage based on the kind of car insurance coverage you have.

Claims can be paid from the comprehensive coverage, collision coverage, or any of the minimum car insurance requirement sections, such as liability. Claims may also be paid from multiple sections of your policy depending on the circumstances of your car crash. 

Your Claims Process May Be Different Depending on the Type of Claim

Was it a vandalism, fire, Ththeft? Or maybe a hit and run? Hopefully in all these cases, especially if you were involved in a collision with another car, by using these steps you will be ready to get your claim settled quickly and get the help you deserve from your insurance company. Here are the 5 basic steps in filing a car insurance claim.  

There are many reasons a person might want to file a claim with their car insurance company. As soon as you have a collision or other kind of damage, you should get in touch with your car insurance company so they can help you take the necessary steps to get the claim filed.

 

What Does the Insurance Company Do to Help You In a Claim?

The insurance company is your advocate, they are contracted to protect you. Sometimes people want to handle things on their own, or do not want their insurance company to know about the claim so they try and handle things themselves. This is not advisable when there is another party involved.

The reason is because you do not know what you are getting involved with, and if you start a process and then realize things are getting out of hand, or are too difficult for you to manage on your own, then you might have a problem bringing your insurance company in the middle of negotiations that went wrong, or surprise personal injury claims. Contact your agent right away and let them help you, your insurance contract requires you to get them involved at the start.

You will want to file the claim as soon as possible with your insurance company. Even if it is not your fault, your insurance company will handle the claim process as your advocate. This is a step by step of what you need to do from when you have a car accident to making the claim and getting paid your settlement.

5 Steps to File Your Car Insurance Claim

Step 1: Contact the Police 

It is always best to have another person take down the details of the accident or incident in the police report. You will probably be shaken up after a car accident and may not be in the best position to assess what's happened. In a worst case scenario, if the other party turns difficult, the police will be there to make sure you are safe. The police will also make sure ambulances or emergency service people are there to help handle injuries or dangerous damage like leaking fuel or oil.

After the fact, you will have a police report, this will help you with your claim.

Contact the DMV to File Your Accident Report

Many states have laws regarding reporting accidents to the DMV or the police. Make sure you understand your legal responsibilities and follow what needs to be done. If you are not sure, ask your insurance agent, or contact your state insurance commissioner's office

Step 2: Collect Information You Need About Your Car Accident

Having your car accident information list ready will help you keep track of the information you will need to file your auto insurance claim. It is important to document the details of the accident and be ready to provide them to the insurance company. More>>

Step 3: Call Your Insurance Company Right Away 

Call your insurance company from the scene of the accident if you can while you wait for the police, or after you are safe.

They will help walk you through the next steps and tell you what you need to send them.

If your car is not drivable they will let you know what to do with the car and if you have towing service, they can help arrange that as well as your rental car when you have that coverage on your policy. If you do not call them, you won't know how they can help and you may end up spending money that you do not need to. 

Once you have called your insurance company, they will open the claims file and you can expect the following steps in the claim process:

Step 4: A Claims Specialist Gets Assigned to You to Settle the Claim

Once your claim is reported to your car insurance company, they will assign a claims professional, like an adjuster to work on your car insurance claim.

Your Claim Adjuster's Role In Filing Your Claim

The adjuster will take over any discussions with third parties, and their insurance company, or any other people involved. They will investigate the circumstances and work for you to get the claim settled and your vehicle repaired.

  • You will likely meet with your claims adjuster or have a discussion on the phone. If your car is at a garage to be repaired, the claims adjuster will contact the garage and may inspect your car and review the estimate of repairs.
  • Your claims adjuster may also recommend the garage you can get your car repaired at. Sometimes insurance companies have specific garages you get repairs done at, or they may offer guarantees on work. Make sure you understand how your company will work in regard to choice of garage and repair guarantees.
  • If you need a rental vehicle while your vehicle is being repaired, and you have the endorsement for rental vehicles when your vehicle is damaged due to an accident, then your claims adjuster will help you arrange this.
  • The claims professional assigned to your case will also review any potential personal injury claims and handle any payments that need to be made as well as approve costs of repair.
  • Always provide the claims person assigned to your case with any information they require to make sure the claim goes quickly. The more information they have the better they will be able to help you and avoid delays.
  • The claims professional assigned to you is there to answer any questions you have, so don't be afraid to ask your questions, including about when your payment will be made and what to expect.

Important Factor for a Partial Loss: File a Diminished Value Claim

  • A partial loss is when the vehicle can be repaired. You may want to look into making a Diminished Value Claim since once your car is in an accident, aside from the normal expected repairs, you may suffer a greater financial loss and be eligible for additional compensation, depending on the situation and the state you live in. Your adjuster should be able to discuss diminished value claims with you. 

Filing a Total Loss Claim and Gap Insurance Coverage

  • If you are worried about a total loss, which means that the vehicle damage will exceed the vehicle value, therefore be considered a total loss, and you have a newer vehicle, you may want to ask your adjuster how the gap insurance part of the claim will work if you decided to purchase gap insurance coverage when you bought your car insurance. Gap insurance is an endorsement added to your policy, so not every person has it, but if you do, this is a good time to find out how this will work for your claim. You will also want to know how they will determine if it is a total loss, and how long they think this will take to settle. Understanding realistic timelines helps you manage expectations in a claim and avoids frustration.

Step 5: Getting Your Car Fixed and Claim Payment

Once the adjuster has done all their research you should have an estimate of the cost to repair your vehicle, as well as whether you have a deductible to pay, and how the claim will play out. Your estimate would normally outline the work to be done, as well as if the insurance company will use aftermarket or generic parts. Once you and the adjuster agree, the work can be done and you can get your car back after the repairs.

BEWARE: If Your Insurance Company Does Not Approve Repairs, You May Not Get Paid

As part of your insurance contract, you have to work with the insurance company in allowing them to assess damage and work on agreed settlements.

Never accept, offer or approve anything until your insurance company has had a chance to weigh in.

You could end up in a very bad situation if you try and work something out on your own. When you want an insurance company to pay damages, part of the agreement is you hand over the control of the situation to them, and you do not make any commitments on their behalf. Always be sure not to make repairs before you are approved, because these may not be reimbursed.

How to Make Sure Your Car Claim Goes Smoothly

Your insurance company is there to represent you and deliver on the promise in the contract to cover your damages. You should not need to coordinate all the details when you have a claims adjuster on your side. If you have problems communicating with your claims adjuster or don't understand something, then speak to your agent. Your claims adjuster should leave you feeling taken care of, and make you feel like they are on your side.

If your claims experience is difficult, have your agent or broker help you. You could also see if the insurance company has an ombudsman or claims service supervisor. Usually, if you run into trouble during a claim and you speak up things can usually get resolved.

If at the end of your claim, you weren't happy with the claims service, you might want to speak to a broker about changing insurance company to an insurance company with high service ratings for claims

If at any time you feel like things are out of hand, or taking too long, you can always contact your state commissioners office to find out what you can do. Calling your state commissioners office before you have to hire a lawyer may save you money and get things on track. You can even have them help you file a complaint if that's where you feel things have to go next. The insurance company is supposed to be there to help you, and as a consumer, you have a right to a fair and expedient claims settlement and customer service.