car insurance is one of those things you might not think much about, until you need to use it.
A variety of events may require you to turn to your insurance. The most common include accidents involving another party, windshield damage, damage to a parked vehicle, theft or hail damage, according to Hartford.
To get your insurance benefits, you will need to file an auto insurance claim. here’s what you need to know and the steps you’ll need to take to get back on the road as soon as possible.
Reading: How to claim auto insurance
- get to safety
- gather information
- contact your insurance company
- get back on the road
1. stay safe
If there has been some kind of incident causing damage, the first thing you should do is take care of yourself and everyone around you. make sure the scene is safe.
then if you’ve been in an accident, or your car has been broken into, vandalized or stolen, call the police. they can help with safety and call for emergency services if needed. In some states, you must call the police after an accident, so make sure you know the law in your area.
Your insurance company will likely ask for the police accident report on the incident. The police report can serve as a record of what happened and helps ensure that the insurance company gets accurate information. You can contact the police to get a copy of the report, in many cases within a day or two of filing it.
2. collect information
When something happens to your car, it’s normal to feel surprised, but it’s essential to stay focused on gathering accurate and complete information to file your auto insurance claim.
- take photos of any property damage. Photographs provide a record of what happened to your car and any other vehicle(s) involved. note where and when the incident occurred and get photos of the scene as well, if possible. you will need as much detail as possible for your claim. If there has been a natural disaster, remember that even after a storm, fire or earthquake, the situation can be dangerous. be careful and wait until conditions are safe to document the damage.
- talk to the responding officials. get information from the police officer responding to the incident. A license plate number and phone number will help you if you need to follow up and get more information later in the claims process. If your car has been stolen, provide the police with a full description of your car and license plate number. Share your vehicle identification number and registration number if you have them on hand.
- Save all receipts. If you need towing, roadside assistance, or any other service due to the incident, save all receipts. the insurance company may reimburse you, depending on your coverage.
- do not admit (or accuse) fault. You have probably been told not to admit fault at the scene of a traffic accident. that’s good advice, and it works both ways. leave the determination of fault to the arbitrators, whether you believe you are at fault or someone else. the police and your insurance company can figure this out. Depending on the legal framework in your state, the insurance company can determine how much fault, if any, each driver may have.
- write down the other person’s information. write down the other driver’s contact information, insurance company and policy number, car make and model, and license plate number and the state. if possible, also get the names of other passengers involved. if there were other witnesses, write down their names and contact information as well.
- Comprehensive coverage: coverage for repair or replacement after theft, vandalism, natural disaster, or damage caused by hitting an animal or falling objects (for example, a rock hits and breaks his windshield)
- collision coverage: coverage to repair or replace your car in a single-vehicle accident if your car rolls over or hits another car or object
3. contact your insurance company
Contact your auto insurance company as soon as possible once you are safe. Call the company’s claims number, usually found on your insurance card (you should also be able to find it online). many major companies allow you to file a claim online or through a smartphone app.
When you contact your insurer, explain what happened in as much detail as possible. this is where the information and documentation you took on the scene comes in handy.
If you are reporting an accident, your insurance company will attempt to determine who is at fault, based on inspections of the vehicles and property involved, information provided by those involved, and any other available documentation, such as photos or police reports.
If the other driver is found to be at fault, your liability coverage will likely pay for your car damage or medical bills up to the policy limit. But if you’re found to be at fault, your collision coverage can help pay for repairs to your vehicle. If you have medical payment coverage or personal injury protection, your medical bills may be covered up to your limit.
theft, natural disasters and other problems related to a single vehicle
If you’re not in a multi-car accident, one of two types of insurance coverage may pay for car repairs or replacement, depending on the scenario.
Check with your insurance company to confirm if you have comprehensive or collision coverage and ask about your deductible. both are optional, but your auto loan lender may require this type of coverage if you lease or finance your car.
If you’ve had a carjacking or theft, let the claims representative know about any personal property inside the vehicle as well. ask if those losses will be covered by your auto insurance policy. otherwise, they may be covered by your renters or homeowners insurance.
Also, be sure to report the theft to your finance or leasing company, since you technically own the vehicle.
Throughout the claim process, stay in communication with the insurance company. can keep you updated on the progress of your claim.
Should I file a claim with my auto insurance?
Depending on the incident, you may decide not to file a claim and pay out of pocket to avoid a possible increase in your insurance premium. this might make sense if you were involved in a single-car incident and you don’t have collision coverage, no one was injured, no one else’s property was damaged, and the cost of the damage is less than your policy’s deductible – the amount you you will have to pay out of pocket.
4. get back on the road
After providing the details of the incident to your insurance company, the next step is a vehicle inspection, if necessary. An insurance claims adjuster or appraiser will assess the damage to your car and determine if it can be repaired.
Scenario #1: Repairs
If the car is repairable, the adjuster will provide you with an estimate of repair costs and a list of nearby body shops. If you have an auto body or auto repair shop that you prefer to use, the insurance company can honor that request.
From there, the body shop will determine how long the repair will take.
The insurance company may pay the repair shop directly or pay you to handle the repair bill yourself.
scenario #2: replacement
If the damage to the vehicle is extensive, the insurance adjuster may determine that the car is a total loss. this means that the cost to repair your car is greater than the value of the car itself, or that the vehicle cannot be repaired safely. In this case, the insurance company may compensate you (or your finance company, if you finance or lease your car) for the actual cash value – the market value of the car at the time of the accident.
With a theft, your comprehensive coverage can work similarly. You or your finance company may be compensated for actual cash value or replacement cost value, depending on the policy you have. With a replacement cost value policy, the insurer may pay you the cost of a new car that is the same make and model as your totaled car.
With some policies, an insurance company may cover a rental car while your claim is processed and repairs are made. check if your policy includes rental reimbursement.
After your car has been repaired or replaced, check with your insurance company to finalize any paperwork needed to close the claim.
The process for filing an auto insurance claim can be similar across all insurance companies. but who pays for the damage, how much is covered, and whether you’re covered varies by state and insurance policy details.
That’s why it’s important to contact your auto insurance company as soon as possible after an incident. they can help you better understand the claims process and your coverage.
It’s also a good idea to periodically review your auto insurance policy documents so you understand what’s covered in certain events. You can also benefit from shopping around to make sure you have the best policy and rates for your needs.