A Step-By-Step Guide to Filing a Car Insurance Claim

Quick Answer

You can file a car insurance claim by following these five steps:

  1. Call 911 if necessary
  2. Call the police
  3. Exchange information with the other driver
  4. Gather evidence
  5. Contact your insurance company
Woman examining a scratch on her car while on the phone to her insurance provider.

Being involved in a car accident is always a stressful situation. If there are injuries to drivers or passengers, or damage to one or more vehicles, you may not be sure of what action to take in the aftermath. Whether you are at fault or are the victim of someone else's mistake on the road, it's important to follow certain steps.

First, call 911 if necessary, contact the police, exchange information with the other driver, gather evidence and contact your insurance company. Filing a claim with the insurance company as soon as possible is the best way to start the process and even minimize expenses. Follow these five steps if you are in a car accident.

1. Call 911 if Necessary

When you are involved in an accident, health and safety should be your top priority. If the circumstances allow it, move your vehicle to a safe spot and avoid standing in a busy road. If the cars involved are in the middle of a highway and can't be moved or it appears that there are injuries, call 911 to request help. Even injuries that appear minor at first glance can turn out to be serious after a professional medical examination.

2. Call the Police

Once you make sure any urgent health concerns are addressed and everyone is safe, contact the police, especially if there has been an injury or property damage as a result of the accident. If you decide to file a claim with your insurance company, they will most likely need a police report to process the claim.

Once they arrive, make sure to get the officer's name and badge number to know who has been taking care of your report. Provide as much information as you can about what occurred. Retrieve a copy of the police report as soon as it's filed.

3. Exchange Information With the Other Driver

Accidents are stressful situations, but try to keep calm. Exchange information with the other drivers involved while you're waiting for the police to arrive. This may help calm down any party involved and help them file a claim if they so choose as well.

Information to exchange includes:

  • Proof of car insurance
  • Driver's license
  • License plate and vehicle ID number
  • Phone number

4. Gather Evidence

Living in a digital age has many advantages. Your cellphone's camera is a great tool when filing a claim. Make sure you take pictures of anything on the scene which might be crucial during the claim investigation. Important evidence includes:

  • Damage to any vehicles, whether it's yours or theirs. Be sure to capture the license plates in the frame of the photo where possible. Clearly show the position of the vehicles from different angles.
  • Photos of the other driver's ID cards, as noted above. It's best to get photos of their insurance card as well as their driver's license.
  • Names, addresses and phone numbers of any additional passengers or witnesses to the accident.
  • Nearby road signs or crossroads. This is especially important if you believe the other party contributed in any way to the accident.
  • Ice, water, oil leaks or any other road conditions which might have caused the situation to occur.

5. Contact Your Insurance Company

Before filing a claim, it's important to understand fault. Many states are so-called no-fault states, meaning that you contact your own insurance company regardless of who is responsible for the accident. Be sure to know if your state is a no-fault state. In other states, it's important to contact the correct insurer. If you were at fault for the incident, contact your insurance company, whereas if the other party was responsible, be sure to contact theirs.

Not sure you need to file a claim? In the following situations it may not be necessary:

  • Only your vehicle was involved and the accident was minor. Minor accidents, like a scrape on the curb or backing into your second vehicle, which leave only minor cosmetic damage, often don't need to be reported to your insurance company. It's important to remember that if the cost of repairing the damage is lower than your deductible, or even slightly higher, you might want to reconsider filing a claim. The increase in your premium might not be worth it in the long run.
  • You're not at fault and the damage is minor. If you suffered only a minor inconvenience at the hand of another driver, they might want to settle the matter without including the insurance company or authorities. If you are determined to file a claim regardless, and are living in a no-fault state, be sure to file a claim with their insurance company directly. Your insurance company can only react and raise your premium if they are made aware of the claim, either by yourself, the other driver or the police.

Many insurance companies give around 30 days to file a claim, but this may differ depending on the company. Generally, when it comes to filing a claim following an accident, the sooner, the better. If you take too long filing a claim, the insurance company might view it as suspicious and even deny the claim.

How Can a Car Accident Impact Your Car Insurance Rates?

A common misconception is that only at-fault accidents raise your insurance premium. Of course it all comes down to severity, but many insurance companies can raise your premium even if you are not at fault. Thankfully, this increase is only a fraction of what it would be if you caused the accident.

Insurance companies work mostly on statistics and calculations of chance when determining whether a price increase will occur. Even if you were not responsible for the accident, a better reflex, a different car or a different ZIP code with a lower population density may have helped avoid the situation. Some of the factors that go into a premium increase, often at renewal after a claim, are out of your control.

Depending on the claim type, your premium might increase by over 40% if the accident was major and caused a significant loss, especially if you were at fault. A claim, depending on the state, can stay on your record for three to five years. But usually, as time passes, your premium will gradually decrease until it drops off your record. The biggest impact on your premium can, therefore, be expected during the first renewal after filing a claim.

The Bottom Line

Filing an insurance claim will likely raise your premium. This can be irritating, but can be the perfect opportunity to review your coverages and check your options. Some insurance companies are more accepting of customers with a not-so-clean record. If you feel like your premium jumped disproportionally to the severity of your claim, shop around with other companies to find some extra savings as you wait for the accident to fall off your record.

Shopping for insurance can be repetitive and time-consuming if you do it yourself, as you'll need to provide the same details over and over with different companies to get your quote. With Experian's car insurance comparison tool, however, it only takes a few minutes to get quotes from more than 40 top insurance companies, all in one place. You only need to provide the details once to compare your savings with multiple companies and see which is best for you.