How to File Car Insurance Claims

Understanding Car Insurance Claims is Important for Every Driver

Man using phone to call his insurance agent after traffic accident with a background of the crashed car. How to file Car Insurance Claims.

Car insurance claims can be tricky, and knowing the how, what, when, where, who, and why can sometimes be more overwhelming than the accident or theft itself. 

That’s why we’ve put together a simple list of what to do before, during, and after the incident occurs so you can get back on the road again. 

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What Is a Car Insurance Claim?

A car insurance claim is a written or spoken request from an insured (i.e., the policyholder) to the insurance company for monetary compensation for covered damage, theft, or destruction to a piece of property, etc. In the case of car insurance, a claim may be filed if a vehicle gets damaged in a traffic accident, stolen, or damaged by a natural event like hail. You may also wonder how soon you can file a claim after getting insurance. This will depend on your specific policy and when your coverage kicks in, so be sure to review it with your independent insurance agent

Steps for Filing a Car Insurance Claim

Whether you were just in an accident, had your car stolen, or just want to be prepared in case one of these disasters happens, read on. Here are six steps to help you handle the first few minutes and days after an incident occurs. This list can easily be printed and stored in a glove box for future reference.

Step 1: Check the health of everyone involved. 

See if there were any injuries, whether it was an accident or a carjacking.

Step 2: Call for help.

Make sure you’re somewhere safe. In any accident more serious than a minor fender bender, call 911. 

Step 3: Evaluate the damage. 

Inspect your vehicle and the other vehicles involved.

Step 4: Document the details. 

Get as much detail as you can about the other driver and any witnesses, including their insurance information. Also, make sure to take pictures and videos of the crash scene and damage.

Step 5: Get your car off the road.

Even if it’s completely wrecked, get your car out of the way of moving traffic. If it’s not obstructing traffic, leave it where it is.

Step 6: Contact your independent insurance agent. 

Let your independent insurance agent know you’ve been in an accident, and they’ll help guide you through the next steps.


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Understanding Fault and How Fault Impacts Car Insurance Claims

Who's officially found to be at fault for a car accident or other incident can affect your ability to receive compensation after filing a claim. The at-fault driver's insurance company is responsible for paying out compensation after a car accident. Insurance companies investigate fault after each car insurance claim is filed to ensure that the right carrier compensates for the damage. Some states even consider shared fault to be an option, meaning that each driver could be assigned a percentage of the fault for an accident, and in turn, their insurance companies would be responsible for their portion of the fault. Research your state's car insurance negligence laws to gain a better understanding of how fault can impact any claims you file.

Bodily Injury Claim

Your health, and the health of everyone involved in a car accident, should always be the top priority. Though you might be tempted to ignore what seems like a minor injury right afterward, don't, since these can sometimes lead to serious long-term health complications down the road. So, what is a car insurance claim for bodily injury? It's the type of claim you'd file if any injuries resulted from an auto accident you were involved in, ranging from minor to severe, and even death. The at-fault driver's auto insurance should provide compensation for the medical treatment of injuries resulting from the accident. Compensation can also sometimes include funeral expenses in the event of a death and missed work and rehabilitation costs in the case of serious injuries. 

Property Damage Claim

A property damage claim is the type of car insurance claim you'd file if there was physical damage to your vehicle or another piece of property you own caused by a vehicle, such as if someone ran into your fence. Insurance companies also investigate these claims for fault, and sometimes a policyholder may decide to seek a decision outside of the insurance claim (e.g., from an attorney) regarding property damage if they're unhappy with their carrier's ruling. You also might be wondering, "Should I get an estimate before filing a claim?" Typically, yes, you'll always want an estimate before filing a property damage car insurance claim. However, your independent insurance agent can further advise you on whether you should secure an estimate in each unique claim circumstance.

When to File a Car Insurance Claim

Before it ever comes time to file a claim, you should ideally review your car insurance policy in depth and become familiar with precisely what it covers and what it doesn't. This can help ensure you'll have a successful claim in the future, should you need to file. Learn your deductible amount or the amount of money you'll have to pay out of pocket each time you file a claim before you begin to receive compensation from your carrier. 

If you had to file a car insurance claim for a total of $1,000 in damage to your vehicle after an accident, but you had a deductible of $250, you'd pay the $250 yourself and receive a maximum compensation of $750 from your insurance company. The car insurance claims process can vary by insurer and local laws, but typically you'll have somewhere between 30 days and up to a few years, depending on the state you live in. Find out more about how long you have to file a car insurance claim here.

Statistically speaking, car insurance claims have been increasing every year. In 2022, car insurance collision claims increased by 9% in severity from 2021. 

Car Collision Claims Frequency and Severity

However, filing a claim may not always be the wisest course of action, depending on the circumstances of each incident. Unofficially, there’s an “ideal claim zone” where the benefits will outweigh the costs of filing a claim. The goal is to find this zone. The easiest way to do that is to calculate potential expenses and decide if it’s worth filing a claim.


Say you’re in an accident and the cost of repairing the damage is $505. If your deductible is $500, filing a claim would definitely not be worth the risk of your premium going up for a difference of $5.

But here are a few scenarios in which you'd most likely want to file a claim:

  • If you’re in an accident where you can be held responsible.
  • If the damage done to your car is significantly more than your deductible.
  • If an uninsured or underinsured motorist hits you and doesn’t have uninsured motorist coverage.
  • If you or anyone else involved has serious injuries.

If you decide you are going to file a claim, you'll want to do it as soon as possible after the accident. Waiting can cause the insurance company to deny your claim.

Tips on Filling Out an Auto Insurance Claim

There are specific timelines for filing car insurance claims, and the time you have to file your claim will vary by carrier. After an accident, proper and extensive documentation of the details is critical for both your personal records and your best chance of filing a successful claim. 

Still asking, "How do auto insurance claims work?" Well, here are a few tips for filling out car insurance claims accurately and efficiently:

  • Call your independent insurance agent and have them file your car insurance claim directly through your insurance company. This will ensure you report all the necessary information and have the best possible chance of getting reimbursed for your claim. Your agent can also keep you updated on every step of the claims process moving forward.
  • Be prepared for a visit from an insurance adjuster. After you file a car insurance claim, your carrier will schedule a visit by a claims adjuster to further evaluate your vehicle's damage. Keep in mind that if you have a car loan or lease your vehicle, your lender might need to be involved in the adjuster's evaluation.
  • Have money set aside to pay your deductible out of pocket. Always have enough money set aside in your savings to be able to pay your car insurance deductible when you have to file a claim. 

If you have any further questions about filing a car insurance claim, your independent insurance agent can help answer them for you and file your claim directly.


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What Happens After I File a Claim?

Most of your time after a claim will be spent waiting to hear from your insurer while they take care of things on their end. After you report your accident, your insurer will follow these steps:

  • Step 1: They’ll take down the information of anyone involved in the accident.
  • Step 2: Someone will call you to get your side of the story.
  • Step 3: They’ll send out a claims adjuster or send you to a shop to assess the damage.
  • Step 4: They’ll generate a report.
  • Step 5: There will be an adjustment period for repairs.
  • Step 6: They’ll deal with any medical bills. 
  • Step 7: They’ll direct you on where to get your car fixed and what will happen with your insurance.

In the long run, filing a claim could cause your car insurance premium to increase. Depending on the damage, your insurance could decide to total your car or pay for the damage. 

While filing a claim is never fun, your independent insurance agent can help guide you through the process and get you back on the road as soon as possible.

Car Insurance Claims Frequently Asked Questions

Uninsured motorist coverage varies from state to state. If you don't have uninsured/underinsured coverage and you get hit by someone whose policy limits won’t cover all of your expenses, you’ll want to assess the situation to determine if it’s worth filing a claim for the remaining balance.

If you have uninsured/underinsured coverage and get hit by someone who doesn’t have adequate coverage or has no insurance at all, you’ll definitely want to file a claim with your insurance.

Various factors determine whether your premium will be raised after a claim. Some insurance companies offer good driver discounts and other forgiveness packages. Your potential premium increase will depend on the severity of your accident, your insurance policy, and your driving record.

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