How to File a Car Insurance Claim

A woman calling her insurance for roadside assistance.

Getting in a car accident can turn your life upside down, and the road back to normalcy can be somewhat long. It generally takes insurance companies roughly 30 days to process a car insurance claim, but being proactive can help make the process go more quickly.

To help you prepare for the experience, here's what you need to know about car insurance claims and the steps to file one.

What Is an Insurance Claim?

An insurance claim is a request for coverage from your insurer for a collision, vandalism, theft or other covered event. When filing an auto insurance claim, you're generally asking your insurance carrier to pay what it costs to repair or replace your vehicle.

Learn More >> What Is an Insurance Claim?

When Should You File an Insurance Claim?

Auto insurance policies provide specific coverages, so the events for which you can file a claim will depend on the types of coverage you have. Here are some situations where you may be able to submit a claim to your insurer:

  • You get in an accident. If you're at fault in an accident, you can file a claim for collision and liability coverage. Even if you're not at fault, it's a good idea to file a claim to cover your bases. In fact, if you live in a no-fault state, you may be required to file a claim with your insurer to use your personal injury protection for certain medical and other expenses you may incur.
  • Your vehicle was damaged in other ways. If your vehicle sustained damage due to forces outside of your control, such as a collision with an animal, fire, hail or vandalism, you can get coverage if you have comprehensive insurance.
  • The at-fault driver has insufficient coverage. If the other driver was at fault in an accident but doesn't have sufficient liability coverage, you can file a claim with your insurer and get coverage with uninsured motorist insurance.

It's important to note that auto insurance doesn't offer protection for your personal belongings inside your vehicle. However, your homeowners or renters insurance policy may provide coverage for stolen or damaged belongings.

How to File an Insurance Claim

It's crucial that you file an insurance claim as quickly as possible after a covered event. Here are some steps you can take to ensure a smooth process and avoid delays.

1. Gather All the Details

Before you contact your insurance company, it's important to gather all of the information and documents that you need. Depending on the situation, that may include:

  • Location, date and time of the accident
  • Your policy number
  • The other driver's name, phone number, insurance information and vehicle details
  • Photos of the damage to your vehicle and any other vehicle or property involved
  • Copy of the police report

If you've already incurred expenses, such as towing charges, make a copy of your receipts and submit them for reimbursement.

2. Contact Your Insurance Company

Depending on your provider, you may be able to file a claim online, over the phone or via your insurer's mobile app.

Provide as many details about the event as possible to give your insurer a full picture of what happened. The agent will tell you how to provide the documentation you've collected and give you some information about the next steps in the process. It's important to be truthful throughout the process—submitting a fraudulent claim can result in claim denial, fines or even jail time.

3. Ask About Coverage

During your conversation with a claims representative, ask for details about your policy's coverage and whether you'll need to pay for anything out of pocket, such as a collision or comprehensive deductible or the cost of a rental car while your vehicle is being repaired or a benefit is paid out to replace it.

4. Work With the Insurance Adjuster

After you submit your claim, an adjuster will be assigned to investigate. They'll arrange an inspection of the vehicle to evaluate the damage, get an estimate of the cost to repair or replace it, analyze the police report and interview witnesses. They may also help you get set up with a rental car.

The adjuster will typically contact you within a few days to discuss the process and obtain additional information and documentation from you. Be sure to respond quickly to avoid potential delays.

5. Repair or Replace Your Car

If the damage isn't enough to merit totaling the vehicle, you have the right to choose the repair shop—though it can be convenient to simply go with the one your insurance provider recommends.

Ask about the timeline for repairs, and stay in contact with the insurance adjuster and the repair shop to get regular updates. In some cases, the rental coverage may run out before the repairs are completed. In this case, reach out to the adjuster to discuss an extension.

If the damage is so severe that the cost to repair it exceeds the vehicle's value, the adjuster will declare the vehicle totaled, and the insurer will cut you or your lender a check based on the vehicle's value minus your deductible.

You can use whatever funds are disbursed to you to replace your car with a new one.

Frequently Asked Questions

  • Each state sets its own statute of limitations for filing a car insurance claim. Depending on where you live and the type of coverage—bodily injury or property damage—you may have anywhere from one to 10 years.

  • Yes, you can file a claim without a police report, and in minor accidents or situations involving only your vehicle, a report may not be required.

    For major accidents, however, a police report may be required to provide all of the details of the situation, verify your account of what happened and assign fault.

  • In general, auto insurance companies have about 30 days to investigate your claim and provide a resolution. But depending on where you live and the severity of the damage or personal injuries, it can take anywhere between a few days and several months.

The Bottom Line

Filing an auto insurance claim requires some legwork upfront, but once you've provided all of the details and documentation, the adjuster will investigate and keep you updated. Be patient with the process, but don't be afraid to reach out if it's taking longer than promised.

If you've had a bad claims experience with your current insurance provider or it's been a while since you've shopped around for coverage, Experian's car insurance comparison tool can provide you with quotes from several insurance companies, making it easy to compare your options all in one place to ensure you're getting the best deal.