Steps to Take When Filing an Auto Insurance Claim

by Scott Sery on December 31, 2012

Car AccidentGetting into a traffic accident is no fun.  The sights and sounds themselves are terrifying, and even a small fender bender can end up causing nightmares.  But there is a reason we are required to maintain insurance if we want to drive.  The insurance premium check is no fun to write each month, but when you need it, you will be very glad you have it.  When the time comes, knowing the proper steps to filing a road traffic accident claim is important to get your vehicle fixed and back on the road.

Soon after you are in the wreck, take a couple minutes to jot down some notes.  You will want to be able to recall what actually happened.  While it is not necessary to get law enforcement involved, if you are dealing with another irate motorist, you will want the officer’s official report to be turned in to the insurance company.  While still at the scene make sure to exchange insurance information with the other driver, get his or her phone number, address, make and model of vehicle, and license plate number as well.  After swapping information, call your insurance company.  While many people are hesitant to do this, insurance companies will not raise your rates if you are just calling to ask questions.  They can only raise rates based on the official notification (which can be a traffic citation or if they are sent a bill from the repair shop).

When filing the claim your insurance representative should walk you through what needs to be done.  It is important that although you can legally wait at least a few days (some states as long as 90 days), file the claim right away.  Even if you are not at fault, let your company know what is going on, they will become your advocate and fight on your behalf.  If the other motorist’s insurance company calls you for information, direct them to your company for answers.  You will start receiving mail about the claim, and you will have to sign affidavits attesting to what happened.

Insurance companies will then take one of two routes.  They may send an adjuster to come and look at your car and assess the damage, or they may send you to a pre-approved body shop.  If the damage is more than the value of your vehicle, you often have no choice but to take a cash settlement and start looking for a replacement.  There is an alternative to filing an insurance claim however.  If you have minimal damage to your vehicle, and there is little to no damage to the other, then you can just pay the repairs out of pocket.  This can be a reasonable alternative if the damage will cost less than your deductible, and it will help to prevent having your insurance rates go up.

Auto Insurance companies are in the business of collecting premiums, not paying claims.  So they will try to low-ball you and avoid paying claims.  You may have to call and talk to them quite a few times, each time asking to speak to someone higher up in the company.  If it comes down to it, and you are unsatisfied with the response, you can enlist the help of your state’s insurance auditor.

Even when you are not at fault, getting in a wreck sucks.  When it does happen, you will feel much more comfortable if you are well prepared.  Keeping a pen and paper next to your insurance information to write your notes on will make sure you have all the information.  A camera phone will help to capture the situation and the damage.  By being prepared you will be able to file your claim quickly and be back in your fixed car soon.


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Scott Sery

Scott Sery is a native to Billings, Montana. Within an hour in nearly any direction he can be found fishing, hunting, backpacking, caving, and rock or ice climbing. With an extensive knowledge of the finance and insurance world, Scott loves to write personal finance articles. When not talking money, he enjoys passing on his knowledge of the back country, or how to live sustainably. You can learn more about Scott on his website Sery Content Development
  • holly

    This is great information. I was rear ended with extensive damage in 2011 and it’s extremely important to document everything.

  • I’m with Holly – document absolutely everything, and don’t hesitate to get a lawyer, especially if you were injured and the other party is at fault.

  • Jason @ WorkSaveLive

    I haven’t been in an accident in over 10 years but I vaguely recall the process I had to go through. I think I just got an estimate for the damage, got it approved by my insurance company, and then got the work done.

  • AvgJoeMoney

    This is exactly why I stay away from cut-rate insurance companies. I’ve had several claims (unfortunately) and have never had a low-ball claim or a problem getting the appropriate work completed. I definitely don’t choose the most expensive insurance, but I’m happy sticking with companies I’ve heard of and that have a great service record.

  • Sharon Campbell

    And witnesses! Get their information since the other driver will probably start lying. Take pictures of the damage, too.

  • I would be taking photographs of every single detail on my phone. As they say – A picture is worth a thousand words

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