Even the most cautious and experienced drivers can find themselves shaken up on the side of the road, assessing damage after an accident. So if you ever have to file an auto insurance claim, it’s useful to understand how the process works.
Before you submit a claim, it’s good to know information about your auto insurance policy, such as the coverage types you have and your deductible amount. If you’ll be making a collision or comprehensive insurance claim, check whether you also have rental reimbursement coverage to cover the cost of a rental car during repairs.
The best car insurance companies combine good service, including a satisfactory claims experience, at a reasonable price.
While your claims experience can vary based on your accident, here are a few things to expect.
You’ll need to provide details about the accident. After an accident, your auto insurance company will likely want the names of those involved, insurance details for the other vehicles involved, the location, photos of the damage, a copy of the accident report and more. You may be able to file a virtual claimdirectly from your insurer’s mobile app.
Here’s more on what to do after a car accident.
Get repair estimates. Insurance companies will send out an adjuster to estimate the loss—unless you’re able to get a virtual estimate. The adjuster will assess who was at fault and give an estimate for repairs. You may want to get more than one repair quote.
Complete vehicle repairs. Insurance companies cannot require you to complete repairs at a specific shop. But if they feel the estimate for repairs at a designated shop is too high, they may request another estimate. Some insurance companies will pay the repair shop directly, while others will reimburse you.
If your car is totaled, your insurance company will pay the actual cash value of the vehicle (the depreciated value of the car). Cars are generally considered “totaled” when repair costs exceed a certain percentage of the car’s value, such as 75%. These thresholds vary by state.
Some of the most common types of auto insurance claims include.
If you weren’t at fault, you may be making a claim against someone else’s car insurance.
If you collected the insurance information from the at-fault driver, you could contact their insurance company directly to file your claim. Expenses the insurance company may be responsible for include:
Another solution is to sue the other driver over the accident. If they have insurance and you win the lawsuit, their insurer will pay your damages, up to the other driver’s policy limits.
If your car is a total loss, make sure to understand the vehicle’s value at the time of the accident. NADAguides, for example, provides vehicle value estimates. The other insurer may try to negotiate the amount of reimbursement. If you’re not happy with the final settlement offer and believe it’s less than the vehicle’s value, contact your state’s department of insurance for help or to file a complaint.
Some states have “comparative fault” laws that will reduce your reimbursement based on your share of the fault. For example, an insurance company might determine that their policyholder was 75% at fault for the accident, but you were 25% at fault. If the value of your claim was $2,000, your insurance check would be $1,500 and you’d be stuck paying the other $500 out of pocket.
Sometimes the auto insurance claims process proves to be very unsatisfying. Common denial reasons include:
Stating the facts is important after an accident. Don’t try to speculate about what happened if you’re not sure, or decide to accept fault at the scene. Also, the claims process isn’t the time to be chatty. Don’t overshare; too much information could impact the outcome of your claim.
If your auto insurance claim was denied, ask for the reason for denial in writing. You’ll want to understand the precise reason why the claim was denied and, if necessary, how to appeal the denial. It could be that they’re wrong, or it could be a legitimate denial—for example, because you didn’t carry the right coverage for the claim.
Review the current evidence and then submit a letter that describes how the evidence contradicts the insurance company’s decision. If you’re uncomfortable disputing the denial alone, you may want to consult with an attorney for legal advice.