Car Insurance Claims: the Moment of Truth

If you or a loved one has been injured or your car is totaled, trusting that your insurance company will handle your car insurance claims properly and efficiently can make a world of difference.

Danielle R.

Published November 9, 2020.

Nobody plans to have a car accident. When it does happen, though, it is crucial to be prepared. The service you receive from your auto insurance company can make or break your claim experience.

Key Takeaways

Safety First

First, in the event of a serious accident, make sure to get to a safe place, alert the necessary authorities like police or firefighters, and exchange information with any other drivers involved. 

You should also take pictures of the vehicle involved and the surrounding scene, and get witnesses’ contact details. Only then should you call your insurance company. Since this is sometimes a generic claim number with wait-times, it is often better to wait before submitting a claim to ensure you have the time to execute your call correctly.

Each insurance company handles claims in its own different ways, but the car insurance claim process is usually similar. The very first step is to inform your car insurance company. Here’s how:

Contact You Car Insurance Company

Call your insurance’s claim number

Almost every company offers a dial-in service for car insurance claims. The number can be found on your insurance card or on the company website. 

Be aware that your claim’s timeliness can be affected by the volume of calls, availability of technicians, and individual company policies. For this reason, many insureds prefer specialized claims processes for ease-of-use and personal preferences.

Contact your local agent

If you go through a local agency rather than a call center or centralized headquarters office, the agency staff will be able to help you through the entire process or even submit a claim for you so you can focus on more important things. These employees are specially trained to help with smooth claim processing. This service can be a huge advantage for customers less familiar with digital claim procedures.

Companies that use an agency model are State Farm, Farmers, and Allstate, to name a few. Their offices are smaller and offer personalized services for claims, giving them high customer satisfaction rates. All three of these companies have customers reporting they are happy with their claims, but not always with the value. Make sure to consider how important personalized service is to you and consider all your other options.

File Your Car Insurance Claim Online

Top car insurance companies often offer mobile apps or digital platforms to fast track the claim process. These usually allow taking and uploading photos of your car’s damage and surroundings, logging detailed information, and messaging with a claim representative. Sometimes, your claim will even be paid entirely out through the app.

If you are already familiar with your insurance app, car insurance claims are easy to handle. Companies like USAA, Geico, and Progressive have already integrated this technology into their systems for seamless claims. Even though USAA is only for military members and their families, all three companies have high customer satisfaction overall for both claims and value. App services are not for everybody, but they can be extremely helpful for some.

What to Expect When Filing Your Claim

1. Gather information

Your insurer will ask you questions about the accident. Make sure to provide as much details as possible: this will help the speed the claim process. Some information you should collect includes:

  • Time and location of the accident

  • Names, contact details, vehicle and insurance information for anyone involved in the accident

  • Photos of the vehicles and scene of the accident

  • Any relevant information about the surroundings, for example weather conditions

  • Contact information for witnesses

  • A copy of the accident report, and if possible, the names and details of any officers that responded to the incident

2. Check your insurance claim process

Your insurer might have specific time limits for submitting a claim, and the timeline might be different for vehicle damage than for personal injuries. It is important to be aware of these deadlines: if you fail to submit the claim or provide required documents in the specified timeframe, you might not be eligible for vehicle repair or medical bill reimbursement.

Your car insurance policy might also include transportation expenses coverage, which can cover for the costs of car rental while your car is being fixed. You should confirm your policy’s coverage and limits, whether per day or for a certain period of time.

3. Work with your insurance to get an estimate

Your insurance company will usually send an appraiser or claims adjuster to check your car, assess damages, and provide an initial estimate of repair costs. 

You will also be asked to get an estimate from a repair shop: if needed, your car insurance company will be able to refer you to a preferred collision repair shop. The repair shop’s report and estimate will be taken into account to calculate how much your insurance will pay toward your car’s repairs.

4. Get your car fixed

According to the Insurance Information Institute, you are not required to have repairs done at a specific shop. You can also get more than one estimate for your vehicle’s repairs, especially if you think the estimate received is too high.

If you have comprehensive or collision coverage and your vehicle was totaled during the accident, your insurance will pay the actual value of your vehicle, minus deductible if any. If you leased your car and you owe more money than it’s currently worth, gap insurance will help pay off your loan.

After an accident, you’ll likely want your car insurance claim to go as smoothly as possible so you can get your vehicle repaired and back on the road. If you have any questions about the claims process or would like to review your auto insurance coverage, give your local insurance agent a call.