How to file an insurance claim

When filing a car insurance claim, be sure to let your company know about the accident as soon as possible. Then follow these steps to make the car insurance claims process easier.

Andrew Hurst

By

Andrew Hurst

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

Updated|8 min read

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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.

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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.

How to file a car insurance claim in five steps

  1. Collect information at the scene

  2. Contact your insurance company

  3. Work with your company’s adjuster

  4. Keep track of the information related to your claim

  5. Accept or dispute your claim settlement

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

Do you have to tell your insurance company if your car is damaged?

Yes, you should contact your insurance company to let them know if your car was damaged even if you don’t want to make a claim. Even damage that looks like it’s not a big deal might lead to more serious problems later. You don’t want to give your provider any reason to reject a claim in the future.

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 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.

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.

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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. 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.

We found that car insurance rates increase by 54% after a claim. Even a comprehensive claim can lead to a rate increase at renewal.

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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.

Company

Claims phone number

State Farm

800-732-5246

GEICO

800-207-7847

Progressive

888-671-4405

Allstate

800-669-2214

USAA

800-531-8722

Liberty Mutual

800-225-2467

Farmers Insurance

800-435-7764

Nationwide

800-421-3535

American Family

800-692-6326

Travelers

800-252-4633

→ Learn more about how to contact your car insurance company

Filing and insurance claim: frequently asked questions

How do insurance claims work?

Insurance claims let your provider know that your vehicle was damaged and that you want to start the process of getting money for repairs or a replacement vehicle. It’s best to contact your provider right after your car is damaged. Your company will direct you through its claims process and offer you a settlement at the end, assuming you’re covered.

Are insurance claims worth it?

It depends on how badly your car was damaged and whether you can afford any out-of-pocket repairs. Your rates will go up after a claim, but if your car was seriously damaged and you can’t drive it, it’s best to make a claim for the damage. If you can afford to repair the damage yourself, you’ll avoid raised rates down the road.

Can you make a claim on someone else’s insurance?

Yes, you can make a third-party claim on someone else’s liability insurance if they were to blame for a crash that damaged your car. In this situation you’d still have to contact your provider after the crash, but your insurance company would handle the process of filing the claim with the other person’s provider.

What do you say when you make a car insurance claim?

When you speak with your insurance company to make a claim, you should be honest and report the facts of the incident. This is where the notes that you took right after the damage can be helpful. Don’t worry about assigning blame, since that’s the insurance company’s job to find out.

Author

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

Andrew Hurst

Senior Editor & Licensed Auto Insurance Expert

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Andrew Hurst is a senior editor and a licensed auto insurance expert at Policygenius. His work has also been featured in The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Forbes, USA Today, NPR, Mic, Insurance Business Magazine, ValuePenguin, and Property Casualty 360.

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