Auto Insurance Claims

What You Should Know About:

Filing a Claim Under Your Auto Insurance Policy

Collision wreck your ride? Here are a few simple tips on filing an auto insurance claim

Knowing what your insurance policy covers and doesn’t cover is important, so review your policies at least once each year with your insurance agent or company.

Also, knowing how to file an auto insurance claim if you get into an accident can help take some stress out of a scary situation.

First, if you’re in a collision, make sure you and everyone involved in the accident is safe and out of the flow of traffic. Once everyone is safe, here’s how to start the claims process:

  1. Contact law enforcement. If the collision is major and/or there are injuries involved, first responders will help you. However, if the damage is limited to a fender-bender, law enforcement may not respond to the scene. Most states have laws requiring motorists to move lightly-damaged vehicles out of the flow of traffic before trading insurance information, taking photos and contacting insurers. Moving your lightly-damaged but drivable vehicle should not interfere with your claim, so if law enforcement is choosing not to respond, go ahead with next steps.
  2. Call your agent or company. As soon as it is safe to do so, call your insurance agent or company (see your proof of insurance card or smart phone app provided with your auto insurance policy for contact information).
  3. Take photos. Again, if you are able to safely do so, use your mobile device or camera to take photos of the damage and the accident scene. You may also take photos of insurance cards of others involved in the accident and/or to record contact information from witnesses.
  4. Fill out forms. Find out what documents you need to support your claim and fill out all claims forms carefully. You may also need to submit a copy of the police report.
  5. (Maybe) there’s an app for that. Some insurance companies offer mobile apps to help jumpstart the claims process. These apps often include features that allow you to file a claim on your smart phone, upload photos, schedule an appraisal and request reimbursements. Check with your agent or company and download available apps before you travel, just in case.
  6. Keep records and receipts. Keep thorough and organized records of anything related to the claim, including the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak with at your insurance agency or company and copies of any receipts or invoices related to the accident. Check to see if your insurer has a feature on its website that allows you to track the progress of your claim.
  7. Check those deadlines. Make sure you understand the timing of your claim to avoid missing any critical deadlines.
  8. Got rental coverage?  Find out if your policy pays for a rental car – and for how long -  if your vehicle needs to be in the shop for repairs, or if you’re searching for a new vehicle in the event yours was declared a total loss.

After filing a claim your insurer will decide whether to pay for repairing your vehicle or declare it a “total loss”. If your vehicle is declared a total loss, your insurer will pay you what is known as Actual Cash Value (ACV). The ACV is based on the market value of your vehicle. Most standard auto policies will not pay to repair a vehicle if the repairs cost more than the cash value assigned to the vehicle or if the vehicle cannot be repaired to a safe condition.

To get a settlement higher than the book value of your vehicle’s make and model, you will need to submit evidence such as mileage records, service history and affidavits from mechanics to show that your car was worth more before the loss than the average market value for your vehicle. You are entitled to the market price of the car you just lost.

Some information provided by the Insurance Information Institute

Auto Insurance Claims