How to File a Car Insurance Claim

Black woman feeling sad after scratching her auto

If you're involved in a car accident, you can file a claim with your insurance company to receive compensation for vehicle damage or injuries. To file an insurance claim, you'll need to contact your insurance provider and make them aware of the incident. The representative will let you know the next steps, timelines, information and documentation they need to process your claim. Here's what you need to know about filing an insurance claim after an accident.

When Do You File a Car Insurance Claim?

You're not obligated to file a claim if you're involved in an auto accident. But before you decide to pay out of pocket for repairs or medical expenses, consider the following:

  • Did you damage the other party's vehicle?
  • Are you unable to cover the cost of the damages?
  • Did you or someone in the other party incur a total loss?
  • Can you operate your vehicle safely?
  • Do the cost of damages exceed your deductible?
  • Were injuries sustained in the accident?

It's worth filing a claim if you answered yes to any of these questions. Even if the accident was minor, paying out of pocket for repairs may not be the only costs involved. If you're at fault, the other party could seek further damages down the road.

Not at fault for the accident? You can file a claim with the other driver's auto insurance provider if you have their information. Contact the company right away, or start a claim online if the company offers this option.

The Steps to Filing a Car Insurance Claim

Take these steps to file a car insurance claim if you've been in an accident:

  • Contact your insurance company. Call from the scene (if you can) and notify your provider that you've been involved in an accident.
  • Contact the police. Depending on your insurance provider and where you live, a police report and/or a report with your state's motor vehicles office may be required depending on the type of accident. Your insurance company will also likely require a "proof of claim" form.
  • Use a mobile app to expedite the process. If your auto insurance provider offers this option, the mobile app can help facilitate reporting the incident and starting the claims process.
  • Gather supporting documents. Be sure to exchange insurance, ID and contact information with the other parties involved in the accident at the scene. Also, take pictures of the scene and of any property damage. Recording as many details as you can about the accident immediately after it occurs may help during the claims process.
  • Inquire about the timeline for the claim's process. Auto insurance claims have deadlines, which vary by insurance company. Ask your provider how much time you have to submit a claim and any required documentation.
  • Ask about a rental car. If your vehicle needs repairs or has been totaled, check your policy to see if it covers rental cars, or ask your provider if you're not sure.
  • File your claim. Once you've gathered all the information your insurance provider needs, submit it right away.

The claims process may differ slightly by provider. Reach out to your insurance company to clarify any questions or concerns you may have.

How Can a Car Accident Impact Your Car Insurance Rates?

There are instances when car accidents result in higher premiums. However, insurance providers don't view all accidents as equal, and your rates may not increase at all if you're involved in an accident.

When considering whether to increase premiums after an accident, auto insurance providers will assess the following:

  • Who's at fault: If you're responsible for the accident, your insurance company may view you as a risky driver and increase your rates. But not being at fault doesn't necessarily mean you're in the clear for rate hikes—it depends on your driving history and the number of accidents you've been in (if any) before this incident. Your rate could also increase if the at-fault driver doesn't have adequate coverage and your insurance company has to use your uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage to cover damages.
  • The claim amount: Hefty claim amounts often result in rate increases, regardless of who's at fault. An accident that causes vehicle damage alone may not have the same impact on your premiums as accidents that result in both property damage and bodily injuries.
  • Your driving record: Is your driving record squeaky clean, or does it include recent accidents or moving violations? Insurance companies take these factors into consideration when deciding if the accident will impact your insurance rate.
  • Incident details: Some circumstances, like driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, will cause your insurance provider to increase your premiums—or refuse you for coverage altogether once your current policy ends and it's time to renew.

If your premiums do increase after an accident, you may be able to reduce your costs in other ways. Consider these tips to reduce your car insurance rates going forward:

  • Shop around. You may find more affordable car insurance elsewhere. You can use comparison sites or go straight to provider websites to shop for a new policy.
  • Increase your deductible. Your deductible is the amount you have to pay out of pocket before your coverage kicks in to cover repairs and injuries. Be careful not to increase your deductible to an amount that you can't afford to pay should you have to file another claim in the future.
  • Reduce your coverage levels. Review your policy to determine if you are carrying coverages you no longer need or if the coverage levels are excessive.
  • Adjust your coverage based on usage. Notify your auto insurance providers if your vehicle usage has decreased since you initially purchased your policy; you may qualify for a lower rate.
  • Inquire about discounts. While you may not qualify for a safe driver discount if you've just been in an accident, you may be able to save by bundling insurance policies or getting a reduced rate for good grades if you're a student. Affiliation discounts are also available for policyholders affiliated with certain employers, the armed forces or other groups. Insurance discounts aren't always advertised, so you may have to inquire to determine your eligibility.
  • Boost your credit health. In states where it's allowed, auto insurance providers may use credit-based insurance scores when assessing risk. Improving your credit score and history can potentially qualify you for lower premiums when you're looking for a new policy.

The Bottom Line

If you're involved in an auto accident, filing an insurance claim can protect you from future financial damage. Your premiums may increase, but the benefits of filing a claim could far outweigh the costs. Plus, you can adjust your policy or shop around if your premiums are too high.

It's also beneficial to improve your credit score to potentially score lower rates. Experian's free credit monitoring tool gives you access to your FICO® Score and your Experian credit report and score so you can identify areas of your credit profile to focus on. With the right actions, you could start to see improvements to your credit score and possibly save money on your auto insurance policy.