When your vehicle is damaged, auto insurance can cover the cost of repairing or replacing your car. When you file an insurance claim, your company will investigate the damage and offer you a settlement.
If your car is in an accident caused by another driver, you’d make a third-party claim with their insurance company. But depending on the details of the accident, or if your car has been stolen or damaged by something like weather or falling objects, you may need to file a claim with your own car insurance.
Step-by-step guide to filing an insurance claim
The claims process can start quickly after an accident. Insurance policies usually state that drivers have to make a claim as “promptly as possible” after any damage.
Knowing what’s in store for you after your car is damaged can help you more easily navigate the auto insurance claims process.
1. Collect information at the scene
You should document as much information as possible right after your car is damaged. Before you start, make sure you’re safe and that you and all your passengers are getting care for any injuries.
When you’re sure you’re safe, start collecting information at the scene. Be sure to:
Write down what led up to the damage: You should document the timeline of the accident, including conditions (if they were a factor), how the damage happened, and anything else you think is important. You’ll need this information when you file a police report and talk with your insurance company.
Take photographs of the scene: Get pictures of any damage, along with the location of the accident. All of this information will help you keep the details of the event straight and will make your entire claim go more smoothly.
Get the other driver’s information: If you were involved in a crash you should get the other driver’s phone number, insurance policy number, and name. If there were any witnesses, you should ask them for their contact information too.
Make sure you call the authorities, too. They will be able to help you gather information if you’re not comfortable doing so (and ensure everyone gets medical attention). Your insurance company will require you to include a police report on any claim dealing with serious damage.
2. Let your insurance company know about the damage
Be sure to contact your insurance company as soon as you can after your car is damaged — this is how you start the claims process. Most insurance companies make it easy to start a claim over the phone, online, or through a mobile app.
In fact most car insurance companies have a claims feature through their mobile apps that will let you upload photos right from the scene, along with the rest of the relevant information you’ve been collecting.
Before you file a claim, you should also know your policy number, and be prepared to ask about the following if you’re unsure:
Your policy’s deductible
How long you have to submit a claim
Whether your policy covers a rental car
3. Work with your company’s insurance adjuster
When you start your claim, your insurance company will assign you an adjuster. An insurance adjuster is a person who works with your company to investigate claims, evaluate the damage, and determine a settlement based on what they find.
The claims adjuster might ask for details about the crash, so it will be helpful to have the information that you collected on hand. During this stage of the claims process, you may have to give your description of the incident again.
The adjuster who’s assigned to your case will be able to tell you whether you have the right car insurance to cover your vehicle’s damage. Assuming you’re covered, the claims adjuster may get an estimate for what it will cost to repair or replace your vehicle from a repair shop.
If you have more questions about filing a car insurance claim, you can ask your adjuster. They can make sure you’re following your company’s claims process correctly. Whenever you speak with the adjuster, make sure to take notes on the conversation in as much detail as you can. It’s always better to document as much of the claims process as possible in case you need to dispute or renegotiate a claim later.
4. Keep track of all of information related to your claim
While in the claims process, be sure to keep everything in one place, like:
All of the relevant notes you’ve taken
Documents from your insurance company
Deadlines for filing or providing additional details
The contact information of other people involved in the claim
Estimates for potential repairs
Anything else you’ve gotten during the claim process
Keeping track of all of the information that’s related to your claim makes resolving car insurance claims easier. If your insurance company contacts you with requests for more information, you’ll have it ready and can move the process forward.
Also, it’s the best way to make sure you follow up with your insurance company about any outstanding issues and upcoming deadlines. Auto insurance policies have guidelines for how the claims process is supposed to work, including when you’re responsible for submitting certain information.
By keeping track of all of this information, you give yourself the best chance of receiving a quick settlement offer and returning to the road — most car insurance companies make it easy to check your claim’s status online, over the phone, or through a mobile app.
5. Accept your claim settlement (or negotiate)
Your claim can end when the insurance company makes a decision about how much you’re owed for the damage. Remember, you’ll have a choice about whether to accept or reject the settlement offer.
If you accept, the claims settlement check might not go straight to you. Instead, your car insurance company may send the check straight to a repair shop or to your car’s lienholder (if you’re still paying off a loan).
But if the insurance check goes straight to you (and your policy allows it) it’s up to you how and when to spend the money on repairs.
On the other hand, you don’t have to accept your settlement right away if you’re not happy with it. You can dispute or negotiate the settlement by following your company’s rules for claims disputes.
If you decide to dispute your settlement, you can contact your state’s insurance department if you think you’re being treated unfairly or if your company is moving too slowly. Your state can start a formal complaint process as a way to resolve a conflict more quickly.
How to file an insurance claim against another driver
If you’re in an accident that’s someone else’s fault, you can file a claim with the other driver’s car insurance company and their liability coverage should cover the damage.
You can still do this through your own insurance company, just tell them about the accident and, once it’s clear that the other driver was at fault, they can help you navigate getting the claim paid.
This is called making a third-party claim. In this situation, the other driver’s insurance would cover your vehicle's damage and the cost of your injuries. The other driver’s company may also cover a rental car while you’re not able to use your vehicle. You can even track the status of the claim online, just like you would with your own insurance company.
Filing a claim with your own insurance when someone else is at-fault
Even if your car was damaged by someone else, you may still have to file a claim with your own auto insurance company
A hit-and-run is one scenario in which you’d still have to file a claim with your own insurance. Since the other driver left the scene without leaving any information , you might have to use your own uninsured motorist or collision coverage to pay for the damage.
You may also need to file a claim with your own insurance company if the other driver doesn’t have enough insurance to cover the damage they caused, or if it’s not immediately clear who was at fault.
In these situations, you would just follow your insurance company’s claims process and receive a payoutYour insurance company can then pursue subrogation with the driver who was at fault — which basically just means they would go after the other driver and their insurance company for the cost of your claim.
Should you always file an insurance claim after an accident?
It depends — if you’re in an accident involving another driver, you should always alert your insurance, even if the damage seems minor.
Agreeing to pay each other out of pocket and not involve insurance could open you up to major issues later on if it turns out there was more damage than it seemed at the time, or if either of you realize later that you’re injured.
But if there was no one else involved in the incident and the cost of the damage is close to — or more than — your deductible amount, it may not be worth filing a claim. That's because insurance companies check your claims history in order to set rates, and drivers with more claims pay more for insurance.
Say you scrape the side of your car in a parking garage. Repairing the paint would cost $600, and you have a $500 deductible on your collision coverage, which means your insurance would only pay out $100. That probably means it may not be worth it to file a claim and risk raising your rates.
Still, be sure to let your insurance company know if you get your car repaired by paying out of pocket after damage. It’s a good idea to keep your insurance provider in the know about any large modifications or repairs that happen to your car.
How much does a car insurance claim affect your rates?
Filing a claim usually means your car insurance rates will go up. Even a minor claim can increase your car insurance rates, so if the damage is minimal and no one else was involved, it may be cheaper to pay for the damage yourself.
How long is the car insurance claim process?
Although there are limits on how long a car insurance claim can take, it’s not certain that your claim will be resolved during this time period. Usually, states have rules that require insurance companies to accept or deny your claim within 30 days.
But if a company needs more time, they can appeal to your state for longer. This isn’t uncommon. Depending on the extent of your car’s damage, the number of different people involved in the incident, and the type of claim you make, it could take longer.
Many car insurance claims are resolved quickly, even within days, but after a serious accident, claims may take weeks or even months to resolve.
Insurance claims phone numbers
Below are the claims center phone numbers for some of the largest companies in the country. If you don’t want to speak to your insurance provider on the phone after an accident, you can usually start a claim using your company’s mobile app.
Claims phone number