Getting into a car wreck is nobody’s idea of fun. Whether it’s a really bad accident resulting in serious injury or just a minor fender-bender, a car wreck is a sure-fire way to ruin your day.
But what do you do after all the dust and debris from the accident have settled? Assuming no one was seriously hurt, your first priority will probably be to file an insurance claim. But how exactly do you go about doing this? If you’ve never filed a car insurance claim before, you might be wondering how this process works.
While insurance regulations vary from one state to the next, the basic steps for filing a car insurance claim are fairly uniform. The first step is to contact your insurance company as quickly as possible. The sooner you report the accident to your insurer, the faster your claim can be resolved. Many insurance companies offer 24-7 claim filing services, so you can even call from the scene to report the accident if you want to. Your insurance ID card will list a claims phone number.
When you call, be ready to provide your insurance policy number; the date and exact location of the accident; the name, address, license plate number and insurance information for the other driver; and a police report number (if you have one).
Depending on who was at fault for the accident and whether or not you carry collision coverage on your car, you may also need to contact the other driver’s insurance company. For example, if the other driver is at fault and you don’t have collision coverage, you’ll file with his or her insurer in order to get your car repaired. You can also file a claim with the other driver’s insurer for costs that your insurer does not pay, including your collision deductible.
If you file a claim with the other driver’s insurer, you may get a call from them at some point asking you to describe the accident from your perspective. So it’s a good idea to write this down ahead of time so you’re prepared with all the details and the exact sequence of events if they call you.
The next step is for a claims adjuster to assess the damage to your vehicle and make an estimate of how much repairs will cost. The insurer will then pay you this amount, less your collision deductible. Or the insurer could refer you to one of their authorized repair shops for the estimate. In this case, payment (less your collision deductible, which you’re responsible for) is made directly to the repair shop.
Or, the adjuster could determine that your car is “totaled” — or in other words, the cost to repair it is more than the car is worth. In this case, the insurer will base your payment on the current market value of your car before the accident – not what you paid for it. If your coverage includes replacement cost value, your payment will be based on the value of a similar new car.
What if you think the insurer’s estimate of damages (or of your car’s value if it’s totaled) is too low? You might be able to dispute the estimate via arbitration, which can generally take from two to six weeks. In most instances, you’ll receive payment in the amount of the original estimate without having to wait until arbitration is complete — if the dispute is ruled in your favor, you’ll then receive the balance.
It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the specific procedures for filing a car insurance claim in your state, and with your insurer, before you get into an accident. This way, you won’t waste valuable time after an accident trying to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to do.