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How does a car accident insurance claim work?

Does my car insurance claim expire?
Here's what you need to know...
  • Contact your insurance company as soon as possible to file your claim.
  • Be prepared for the claims process to take a while.
  • Cooperate with your insurance company to give them the information they need
  • Your car insurance company will let you know if your car can be repaired or if it is a total loss.
  • Gap insurance can be a good idea to have if you currently lease or have a loan on your vehicle.
No matter the reason, having to file a claim with your car insurance company can be confusing and overwhelming. Not only are you dealing with the stress of whatever the situation is, you may also be worried about the claims process and if you will need to argue with your insurance company to get them to cover your claim.

However, you don’t need to worry about paying too much for car insurance when you use an online price comparison calculator. These tools make it easy for you to shop around and compare various policies and rates and ensure that you will pay the best price possible. Use our FREE tool above to compare car insurance rates now!

Filing a Claim

The majority of insurance companies require that their drivers report an accident or another event that has caused loss or damage to the insured vehicle as soon as possible. Many also have time limitations for reporting the incident. Here are the general steps in filing a claim and reporting your accident:

  • No matter who is responsible or how minor it may see, you need to call your insurance company and report the incident.
  • You will likely be asked several questions about what has happened, including information about other parties involved, where the incident took place, and how it happened.
  • Find out what you need to do in order to pursue your claim. You may need to file a proof of claim form, and obtain a copy of the police report if one exists. Some car insurance companies now make this process easier by allowing you to file a claim online and follow its progress.
  • Keep good records. Any bills, whether they be medical, or otherwise should be kept and submitted to your car insurance company. Keep a log of people you talk to and record their names and phone numbers for future reference.
  • It is in your best interest to cooperate with your insurance company. Answer their questions to the best of your ability and provide whatever documentation that they request. Most of all, be patient. Although it can be difficult to wait, some claims can take months or even years to be processed, depending on the specifics and the severity of the claim.
  • Realize that every state has their own laws regarding the claims process. Each car insurance company has their own set of procedures to follow when a claim has been filed.

Questions for Your Claims Representative


When you call to report your accident, you may want to ask your claims representative some or all of the following questions:

  • What is the time limit to report claims?
  • What is the time limit to submit bills on this claim?
  • Is there a time limit to disputing a claim?
  • What is the next step?
  • When will I hear from my claims adjustor?
  • Do I need to get an estimate for repairs on my own?
  • Do I have rental car coverage on my car insurance policy? If so, how much will it cover?

What Happens After I Have Filed My Claim?

Although what happens next can vary from one car insurance company to the next, there are some general things you can expect. Your damaged car will need to be taken to a pre-approved auto repair shop near you. You can find out where to take your vehicle and how the process will work by talking to your claims adjuster.

You are allowed to seek private estimates of your own.

Some car insurance companies will have the insurance adjustor come to your car to estimate how much the repairs might cost. Depending upon how busy your insurance company or auto body shop is, this part of the process can take several days.

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The Fate of Your Vehicle: Repaired or Replaced?

You will likely need to wait a few days to find out if your car is a total loss. This happens if it costs more to repair your vehicle than to replace it. If you have more than just liability coverage, it makes more financial sense for your car insurance company to pay you the current market value of your vehicle than to pay a higher bill to repair it.

Many car insurance companies will call your car a complete loss if the repairs will cost 75 percent or more of the cash value of the car. The way a total vehicle loss is handled and calculated can vary between states and insurance companies.

What if My Vehicle is a Total Loss?


You will be notified by your claims representative as to whether your car will be repaired or if the car insurance company will total it.

As a consumer, you have the right to ask them how they arrived at their decision and to dispute it if you do not agree.

If your vehicle is a total loss, your car insurance company will issue you a check for the amount that they determine it is worth. If you do not agree with this amount, you also have the right to dispute it. Let your car insurance company know if you had made any upgrades to your vehicle or recently had new tires put on.

These types of investments can increase your chances of receiving a larger amount for your vehicle. With most car insurance companies, your deductible will be subtracted from the amount of the check they issue you for your car.

If you prefer, you still have the right to keep your vehicle. If you decide to go this route, your car insurance company will usually subtract the salvage value of your car from the total amount they were going to give you for your vehicle. Then you would get your car back and be able to decide what you wanted to do with it.

What about My Lease or Loan?

If your totaled vehicle is still being paid off or still has a current lease, you will be responsible for paying your loan or lease off with the monies you get from the insurance company, and possibly out of your own pocket. This is why it is a good idea to have gap insurance in case you are caught in this situation.

Unfortunately, if you still owe on your vehicle, you may end up paying over the amount that your insurance company owes you.

You can save money on your car insurance by using an online car insurance rate comparison calculator. Making sure you have the right insurance coverage for your budget and your lifestyle can give you peace of mind that you are covered in the event something should happen. Enter your zip code in our FREE tool below to compare car insurance rates instantly!

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