How Long Does an Insurance Claim Take?

Two drivers exchanging insurance details
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Filing a car insurance claim can be a daunting task. You might be especially uneasy if it's your first claim, and you don't know what to expect. A functioning car is a necessity for most of us, so it's essential to get your vehicle back in good repair as soon as possible. Whether your car is repaired quickly also plays a significant role in whether you are satisfied with your insurance carrier. So, how long should a car insurance claim take?

Key Takeaways

  • Insurance claims vary significantly in the time it takes to complete the process.
  • Because there are so many people involved, any delay by one person can slow down the entire claim.
  • The type of claim can also have an effect on how long the process takes.
  • The best thing you can do to speed up the claims process is to be sure you communicate promptly and thoroughly.

It Takes a Team

When it comes to how long an insurance claim takes, it might be longer than you think. This is because insurance claims aren't dependent on just one person. The process involves a team. You need to be available to answer questions. The claims adjusters need to do their job. The body shop needs to be available to work with both you and the claims adjuster. If one of the players isn't cooperating, the entire process can get delayed. Without proper teamwork, a claim can get dragged out.

When to File and When Not To

Before you worry about filing a claim, first determine if you should do so in the first place. If anyone was injured or if it's unclear whose fault the damage was, you should absolutely file an insurance claim. Some insurance policies also stipulate that you must notify them of potential claims.

However, if it's a single-vehicle accident involving you and your car, you should get a repair estimate before you file your claim or it could cost you in the long run. If the cost of the repair is less than your deductible, it may be easier to pay out-of-pocket than to file a claim. Additionally, some policies raise the rates for filing a claim, so make sure you know the specifics of your policy.

What You Should Do

An illustration of a car accident noting the steps to take at the scene before filing a claim.

The Balance

In the event that you need to file a claim, take these prudent steps to protect yourself.

Gather Evidence

Take photos of your vehicle, any injuries, and the scene of the accident. Head to a physician for a physical evaluation if you were injured. This evidence will help ensure that no one tries to distort the facts of the incident.

Know the Time Limit

Different states and policies have different deadlines for filing a claim after an accident or incident. Know yours, and make sure you file before the deadline.

File a Police Report

If another driver is involved, file a police report. If you don't, the other party might try to pin the blame onto you.

Don't Admit Guilt

Let the insurance company and police decide who is responsible. Your insurance company's representatives will act as your advocate, so let them do their job.

Know What Kind of Claim You Are Filing

The type of claim also impacts how long it takes for your claim to settle. Here's what to expect for the most common types of claims.

Roadside Assistance Claim

Many insurance carriers make towing claims easy to file. Some will take care of the claim without having you pay anything out-of-pocket. If you do need to be reimbursed, it can take two weeks or more to get a check in the mail once you turn in your receipt.

Glass Claim

Glass claims can also be handled quickly. Once the claim is filed, you can probably get scheduled for repair with a glass company the same day or within the week. If you require original equipment manufacturer (OEM) glass, it can take a little longer for the glass company to order and receive the glass. The actual insurance claim should be handled quickly, though.

Physical Damage

The time it takes to repair other physical damage to your vehicle depends on the complexity of the claim filed. It is standard to receive your first contact with the insurance adjuster within one to three days of filing the claim. If an adjuster needs to look at the damage, it can take a couple more days. Using an insurance carrier-approved body shop can speed up the process. Expect a cut-and-dried physical damage claim to take one to two weeks to get finalized. This includes coordinating with a body shop and getting scheduled for repairs. If your car is drivable, you can drive it until the date of repair.

Total-Loss Claim

Agreeing on a payout amount can sometimes be difficult. A lot of paperwork is involved in a total-loss claim. Getting the proper signatures in all the right places can also take time. It would not be shocking to see a total-loss claim take 30 days or more to finalize. States typically have limits as to how long an insurance company can take to resolve a claim.

Medical Claim

Injury claims usually take the longest to process. Once you fill out the initial paperwork, it should be out of your hands. The hospital and doctor's office should coordinate directly with your car insurance personal injury claims adjuster. If your health insurer paid the claim first, they'll typically file their own claim with the car insurance company of the at-fault driver to seek reimbursement.

Common Factors That Delay a Claim

In a perfect world, everything would go smoothly, and your claim would be paid swiftly. Of course, that's sometimes not the case. Here are some common reasons claims are delayed.

Poor Communication

Both you and the claims adjuster need to be available. Not answering the phone is a sure-fire way to delay a claim. It's a great idea to verify all of your contact information at the time of filing a claim. Double-check the mailing address, email address and phone number on file.

Misunderstandings About Coverage

Did you think you had OEM coverage? Does your policy say that you don't? Coverage discrepancies can extend the claims process.

Dissatisfaction With the Repair

Don't like the paint job on your repair? Does something not seem right? Rushing a repair to get your car back is not a good idea. If you aren't happy with your repair, it's best to point it out immediately to get it resolved.

Natural Disaster Claim

Did a hail storm just come through the area? Is everyone dealing with the aftermath of a flood? Natural disaster claims often take longer because the insurance company and the auto repair service providers are both going to be backed up.

Lack of Cash

You can't get your car insurance claim handled quickly when you don't have the cash to cover the deductible. Deductibles need to be paid at the time of repair. Plan on holding off on the repairs if you don't have the cash to cover your deductible.

Choosing a reputable insurance company with excellent ratings can help ensure you have a smooth claims process.

What to Do if It Is Taking Too Long

Sometimes, no matter what you do, the claims process takes longer than you would like. The best thing you can do is have a backup plan. Here are a couple of options.

Contact Your Agent

Lots of problems can occur during the claims process, slowing things down. If major delays arise, talk with your insurance agent (if you have one). Agents often don't deal directly with a claim, but they are a great resource if there is a problem. An agent can contact your claim representative, or even the body shop, on your behalf to help ensure that the process goes as smoothly as possible.

Get a Rental Car

It may not be ideal, but sometimes you have to get a rental car, so you can get to work and pick up the kids from school. Many insurers will cover the cost of a rental car after an accident, but check the terms of your policy to find out for certain.

Borrow a Car

The most cost-effective option is to borrow a friend's or family member's car. Their insurance coverage would be automatically extended to you, but remember that their deductibles will apply if you damage the vehicle. Paying for the deductible would be the right thing to do if a loss occurs while you are borrowing their vehicle.

Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)

How long after an accident can you file a claim?

The time limit for how long you have to file a claim after an accident varies by state. In some states, you have one year; in many others, it's two or three years or more. The time limit also varies depending on whether it's a bodily injury claim or a property damage claim.

What is an insurance adjuster?

An insurance adjuster is a professional who accesses insurance claims and determines how much the insurance company will pay. Also known as a claims adjuster, insurance adjusters typically do a thorough investigation, which might include reading police reports, talking to witnesses, and evaluating the damage first-hand.