4 Steps to Filing a Car Insurance Claim After an Accident

INSURANCE
Learn how to file an insurance claim in four simple steps so you can be prepared in case of a car accident.
Updated April 3, 2023
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You can easily start a car insurance claim by simply contacting your provider. However, you may want to add a few more steps to the process to increase your chances of getting your claim accepted.

This can include contacting the police after an accident, collecting as much information as possible, and submitting everything your insurance company asks for.

We’ll walk you through the insurance claim process by showing you how to file a claim, what to expect after you submit one, and what to do if your claim is denied.

What is an insurance claim?

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An insurance claim is basically when you ask your insurance company for money to cover a loss. In the case of a car accident, this often involves asking for compensation to help cover car repairs.

Whether your provider offers compensation for your claim typically comes down to the following two factors (with a large degree of variability depending on the situation).

Is it covered?

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Your insurance company determines what a covered loss is according to the terms and conditions of your auto insurance policy. It’s a good idea to read over your policy documents to understand the type of coverage you have.

For the most part, car insurance is often self-explanatory. For example, if you have collision coverage and you’re involved in a collision you will likely be covered in an accident.

Did you follow the correct procedures?

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It’s often simple to submit a car insurance claim, but you have to follow your insurance provider’s guidelines if you don’t want your claim to be denied.

This means filling out claim forms correctly and sending required information — typically photos and a police report — within the provided time frames.

How to file an insurance claim

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Use these step-by-step instructions to file an insurance claim:

Call the police

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If you’re involved in a car accident and you’re planning to file an insurance claim, it pays to get the police involved. This is because a police report contains important information regarding the accident your insurer may need.

This information often includes the date, time, and location of the incident, and possibly a statement from a police officer about who was at fault.

Having this information available could help speed up the claims process because your insurance provider will likely want to know specific details about the accident.

Contact your insurance provider

JC_STOCKER/Adobe car insurance agent take pictures of accident-damaged vehicles

You can’t submit a claim without contacting your insurance provider first. Try and complete this step as quickly as you can after an accident occurs, even from the scene of the accident if possible.

Of course, always make sure everyone is safe and taken care of before making an insurance claim. As soon as you are able, call your insurance company or start the claims process through a mobile app.

Collect information

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After you’ve initiated the claim process, you should have a better idea of what information your insurance company is going to need. This could include filling out a claim form with a description of the incident, as well as sending photos of the damage.

Most insurance companies want as much information as possible. Not providing certain information — an estimated cost of repairs for instance — could lead to your insurer denying your claim.

If you’re safe and everyone else involved is safe, start recording information as soon as you’re able to after an accident happens. Here are a few things you should collect:

  • Date, time, and location of the accident
  • Weather, road, and any other conditions at the time of the accident
  • Names, phone numbers, and driver’s license numbers of every driver involved
  • Insurance information of every driver involved (you can usually find policy numbers on insurance cards)
  • Contact information of any witnesses
  • License plate and vehicle identification numbers of involved vehicles
  • A police report, including the names and badge numbers of reporting police officers
  • Photos of the damage and accident scene

Submit information

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After you’ve reviewed your insurance provider’s claim process and requirements, it’s time to submit your claim. Make sure you’ve included all the necessary information and verify that it’s all correct — then submit your claim.

You can often submit car insurance claims through an online account with your insurance company. This might mean signing into your account through the company’s website or mobile app.

When to file an insurance claim

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Should you always file an insurance claim after a car accident? From a purely financial perspective, likely not. This is primarily because of how car insurance works.

Many types of car insurance coverage come with a deductible, which is the required amount of money you have to pay toward a claim. It’s common for your deductible to be subtracted from your compensation amount on a successful claim. 

For example, a claim payout of $5,000 would actually net you $4,500 if you have a $500 deductible ($5,000 - $500 = $4,500).

You might not want to submit a car insurance claim if you expect your car repairs to cost less than your deductible. You could actually save money by not submitting a claim and paying for the repairs yourself.

Another important thing to consider with car insurance is how claims can affect your insurance premiums — the amount you pay for insurance each month. In general, submitting a claim increases the chances that your insurance premiums will go up.

When you should file an insurance claim

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  • You’re involved in a major accident that’s going to require extensive repairs or replacement due to a total loss of your vehicle
  • You damage another vehicle
  • There are injuries involved which could result in medical bills and other medical expenses

When you might not want to file an insurance claim

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  • You cause a small amount of vehicle damage to your own car or a small amount of property damage
  • The repairs will cost the same or less than your deductible
  • The cost of increased premiums will be more than repair costs at a repair shop

What to expect after you file a claim

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It’s a bit of a waiting game after you file a claim to see whether the claim is approved or denied. In general, a typical claim process takes between 30 to 45 days. 

You shouldn’t have to do anything on your end other than be available if your insurance company reaches out for more information.

For example, you might have an insurance adjuster or insurance agent assigned to your case to determine whether your claim warrants compensation. If it does, how much compensation your claim warrants. 

You’ll want to make sure the claims adjuster has all the information they need to give a fair appraisal.

Keep an eye out for phone calls or emails from your insurance company and respond as quickly as you can, especially if they’re asking for more information.

What to do if your claim is denied

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It’s not necessarily the end of the claim process if your claim is denied. You can typically appeal the decision, especially if you feel your adjuster got something wrong.

Here are a few steps to keep in mind if you want to continue the claim process:

  1. Understand why your claim was denied. This should have already been spelled out in a claim denial letter from your insurance company, but it doesn’t hurt to request more details if you feel like the letter didn’t provide enough information.
  2. Request information about appeals. If you want to appeal a claim denial, request additional information from your insurance provider about the process.
  3. Review the evidence. If the information you’ve collected about the situation goes against what your insurance provider is saying, use that evidence in your appeal. Mistakes can happen, even from insurance companies, but it’s hard to argue with facts.

FAQs

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What are the four steps when filing an insurance claim?

The four steps when filing an insurance claim include:

  1. Calling the police and getting a police report if you’ve been in a car accident
  2. Contacting your insurance provider to report the accident and start the claims process
  3. Collecting information about the accident, including photos of the damage and road conditions
  4. Submitting information to your insurance provider in a timely manner

How does an insurance claim work?

An insurance claim works when you, the policyholder, initiate a claims process with your insurance company. Your claim is your way of asking your insurance company to provide compensation for a covered loss.

The insurance provider then reviews the claim and either offers you a payout or denies your claim.

Is it worth it to file an insurance claim?

Yes, it’s worth it to file an insurance claim if the repairs will cost significantly more than your deductible.

However, it may not be worth filing a claim if the repairs will cost close to or less than your deductible. This is because filing an insurance claim could raise your monthly premiums and end up costing you more money over time.

How long after an accident can you file a claim?

How long you have to file a claim after an accident typically depends on where you live and the policies of your car insurance company.

Different states have different statutes of limitations for insurance claims that determine how long you have to file a claim. Your insurance provider may also have guidelines in place for time frames on claim submissions.

Bottom line

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You can file an auto insurance claim in four simple steps, though the exact process and details likely depend on each situation and insurance provider.

For example, even though some insurance companies might not require a police report to submit a claim, it’s often best to have more information available to improve your chances of getting your claim approved.

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Author Details

Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI® Ben Walker, CEPF, CFEI®, is credit cards specialist. For over a decade, he's leveraged credit card points and miles to travel the world. His expertise extends to other areas of personal finance — including loans, insurance, investing, and real estate — and you can find his insights on The Washington Post, Debt.com, Yahoo! Finance, and Fox Business.

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