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Filing a Car Insurance Claim

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If you’ve been in an accident, you might feel shaken-up or concerned. You might be dealing with injuries or feel concerned about the financial impact of the accident. In these kinds of stressful and frightening incidents, it’s important to keep a cool head and make the right decisions so you can move on from the incident.

What do you do next, and how do you handle all the after-the-accident tasks that will enable you to get past this and back on the road again? Learn how to file an auto insurance claim and what other steps you should take after an accident.

When to file an insurance claim

When you get into a car accident, you may not immediately think about whether you should file a claim or not. Depending on the state you live in, you may be able to file a claim after some time following an accident. Every state differs in its rules, however, it is generally advised to contact your insurance company as soon as possible following an accident to file a claim. Following an accident, you should always contact your insurance agent and file a claim, even if the other driver tries to reach an agreement without getting your insurer involved.

Filing a claim can protect you in many ways and will prevent the other driver from suing you for damages later on. Your insurance company can also help you by paying up to your policy limits on any property damages or injuries you caused while driving. It can also help you pay for any legal costs if you are taken to court.

How to file an auto insurance claim

The process of filing an auto insurance claim starts at the scene of the accident. Here are the steps you should take immediately after the accident up until you get your insurance claim completed.

1. Gather the necessary information to help you file your claim

Before you leave the scene of the accident, you need to gather essential information like the other driver’s vehicle information, the insurance information of everyone involved, contact information of the witnesses and anything else relevant to the accident. While you gather information, be careful not to blame the other driver or admit fault yourself. Let the insurance providers and police make those distinctions.

To help make sure you get all the information you need, you could fill out an accident checklist for your records. It’s a good idea to keep a copy in your glove compartment at all times so you’re ready if the worst happens.

Having this information available when you call your insurance company will be helpful and can supplement the information from the police report. If you’re able to, it’s also a good idea to take photos of the damage to both cars with your cell phone camera. Do not, however, allow anyone else to take a photo of your driver’s license, which could leave you open to identity theft.

Lastly, find out from the police or check with your Department of Motor Vehicles to see if you are required to report the accident to the DMV. The police may handle it for you, but it’s your responsibility to find out.

2. Call your auto insurance company

If you can, call your insurer before you leave the scene of the accident, but don’t call until you are safe and have talked to the police and exchanged information with the other driver. Many insurance companies allow you to file a claim online or via a mobile app, but you may prefer to call and talk to a live person so you can be sure you’re doing everything they need you to do.

If your car is not driveable, your provider may call a tow truck if the police haven’t already. If you have rental car coverage, they will start the process of getting you in another car immediately.

3. Speak with a claims specialist

After ascertaining that you’re okay and taking down the details of the accident, the insurance agent will assign your case to a claims specialist or adjuster. This person will work with you through the process of filing your claim and getting paid for the damage done to your car.

A good claims specialist will answer any questions you have about the process and will take the lead in ensuring that you’re getting all the money you are owed. If the other driver is at fault, the adjuster will represent you in dealings with that driver’s insurance company.

Your claims specialist will probably go see your car to assess and photograph the damage. If your coverage includes a rental car and you didn’t take care of it in your initial call to the company, he or she will help you to reserve a rental car for your use. If you filled out your own accident form at the site, you’ll want to give a copy of that to the specialist.

4. Assess the damage

Your claims specialist is the one who will determine if your car is totaled. You may be surprised at how little damage it takes to make your car not worth fixing, especially if it’s an older car.

There are several insurance amendments, or add-ons, that may affect this part of the process. If you have a newer car, for example, and have new car replacement coverage, your insurer will pay to put you in a new car if your current vehicle is totaled. Because depreciation starts the moment you drive off the lot, this coverage could save you thousands of dollars over what you might get for the Kelly’s Blue Book value of your totaled car. Your claims specialist can tell you how that works. Gap insurance is another amendment that may also help you if this is the case.

You may also be eligible for diminished claims value, which is the difference in value of your car before and after the accident. For example, if you go to sell the car that was in the accident, you may get less for it from a buyer simply because it was in an accident, even though it’s been repaired. Your claims specialist can tell you if you’re eligible for this coverage or not.

5. Obtain a repair estimate

After your claims specialist has looked at your car and determined that it’s not totaled, you’ll receive an estimate for repairing your vehicle from your insurer. Some insurers have vendors that they work with for repairs, and others let you choose your preferred vendor.

Do not approve of any repairs until you have the company’s estimate in hand. You want to be sure that repairs can be paid for out of the amount that has been approved by your insurer.

6. Follow up on your claim and troubleshoot any problems

If you have a reliable insurance company and an experienced claims specialist, the process should go smoothly. If it doesn’t, your company should act as your advocate throughout the process, especially if you’re dealing with the other person’s insurer as well.

If you run into problems, your first course of action is to call your company and find out if there is a customer care representative or ombudsman who is charged with handling complaints. Hopefully they will be able to work out a satisfactory solution for you.

If not, or if the amount you receive does not seem to you to be fair or in keeping with what you have been paying for, there is an ultimate authority who can step in to help: your state’s Department of Insurance. You should be able to file a complaint with this agency — many states feature online complaint forms — if you feel that justice has not been served. Search for your state’s name and “Department of Insurance” to find their website.

What happens after the claim is filed?

Once you have filed a claim with your insurance company, the provider will send an adjuster to review the vehicle and property damages. The adjuster will ask for other important documents such as the police report, witnesses, photos of the damage and any estimates for repairs. The adjuster will then give payouts to the other driver involved in the accident.

The adjuster will also look at the damages done and determine whether you need repairs or whether the damages result in a total loss. Then you’ll know whether you will receive a settlement for repairs or a reimbursement for loss.

If you’re entitled to settlements for repairs, you will be able to choose a repair shop of your choice. If you’re entitled to a reimbursement for total loss, the adjuster will write you a check based on the value of your car, which can be calculated by dividing your vehicle’s repair cost by its actual cash value.

Frequently asked questions

Should I file an insurance claim?

Filing a claim is up to you. If your accident only resulted in minor damage to your car — especially if it was your fault — you may want to pass on filing a claim because it’s likely that your premium costs will rise after the claim.
Learn more: The cheapest car insurance companies

If the accident is not your fault, the other person’s insurance should pay the claim, so there will be no change to your . If that’s the case, then you’re probably better off filing the claim.

How do you start an insurance claim?

Filing an insurance claim involves contacting your insurer. Many insurers, especially larger companies like State Farm and Allstate, have made it simple to file a claim online or by way of a mobile app. You may even be able to file your claim before you leave the site of the accident.

If you are unsure of the process, though, or have questions you want answered, your best bet is to call your company and speak to an agent or customer service representative.

Should I call my insurance if it wasn’t my fault?

Yes. If there are any injuries or property damage, you need to call your insurer, even if you know you will not be making a claim. Even if it’s not your fault, it’s good to let your company know, and it may be helpful to you because they can help negotiate a settlement for you with the other driver’s insurer.

It’s best to let the professionals who are used to handling claims work on it on your behalf. Your company can also help cover your expenses if the other driver’s company is not moving quickly enough. Your company can negotiate with the other driver’s company to be paid back at a later time.

Written by
Grace Kim
Insurance Contributor
Grace Kim has two years of experience in writing for finance and insurance domains such as The Cheapest Car Insurance Companies in New Jersey at Bankrate and She has written about auto, homeowners, renters and life insurance. She has spent most of her professional experience writing about finance and tech topics.