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Filing an auto insurance claim is something no one ever wants to do. It means something bad has happened to your vehicle, and it now needs to be repaired or replaced.
An accident or theft is very upsetting, and not knowing what to do afterward can just add to that stress.
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Having a checklist, and keeping a copy in your glove box, will help you get through the process of filing a claim.
Read on to learn how to decide if you need to file a claim, the steps to take after an accident, and the steps of the claims process.
When to File a Claim
This is the first question you need to ask yourself before you even pick up the phone to call your auto insurance company. Insurance rates are based on many factors, one of them being risk.
Even if you’re in an accident that wasn’t your fault, or your vehicle is stolen, your insurance company will consider you more of a risk and will most likely raise your rates when you file a claim.
But what about minor damage like a broken tail light, a deep scratch in the paint, or a door ding that occurred in a parking lot?
If the damage is going to cost less to repair than your deductible, it’s not worth filing a claim and potentially increasing your premiums.
You would have to pay the deductible anyway, so paying out of pocket to repair the damage is really the best way to go when the damage is very minor.
Do you need a police report to file an insurance claim?
If you discover your car has been stolen, call the police immediately. The sooner they begin investigating, the better chance you have of getting your car back. A police report must be filed in order for any investigation to begin.
If you’re in an accident and anyone is injured, call 911 immediately. If no one is injured, call the non-emergency number for the police.
It’s a good idea to have it programmed into your cell phone. If you plan to file a claim, you must have a police report on file.
Call Your Insurance Company
Once the police are on the way, call your insurance company’s claim number and speak to an agent. The sooner your start the claim process, the sooner your car will be repaired or replaced.
Even if the accident isn’t your fault, notifying your insurance company will allow them to begin acting as your advocate.
They will deal with the other driver’s insurance company on your behalf, and ensure you are treated fairly.
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Keep Good Records
If your cell phone has a camera, take pictures of the accident scene if possible. Record the damage to all vehicles involved, and make note of the other cars’ license plates.
It’s unfortunate, but people sometimes panic and leave the scene of an accident before the police arrive. The more information you have about the accident and those involved, the better protected you will be.
Assuming all involved parties remain present at the scene, exchange contact information with them.
The easiest way to do this is to ask to see the other driver’s insurance card, and simply copy the information from it.
After the police have made a report about the accident, get a copy. If this is not available to you at the accident scene, you may get a copy from the courthouse within a few days.
Accident reports are public record and are available to anyone for a small fee.
At some point after the accident, you may receive a call from the other driver’s insurance company. They will ask you questions, and the call will be recorded.
Make a note of the date and time of the call, and notify your insurance company of the conversation.
Fill Out and Return Paperwork Promptly
Your insurance company will most likely require you to fill out claim forms. Be sure to fill them out as completely as possible, and return them to the company in a timely manner.
Get Your Car Repaired
Your insurance company will direct you to a location to have your vehicle repaired.
They usually have relationships established with local body shops and mechanics, and using one of these locations rather than one you find on your own will speed the claim process.
If you have a provision in your auto insurance policy for a rental car, the company will also assist you in securing one.
If you don’t have this provision, but the other driver was at fault, their insurance may cover this cost until your car is repaired.
Steps to Filing an Auto Insurance Claim
OK, so you’ve been in a car accident and everyone has come out with all of their pieces intact. It’s time to start thinking about the next step.
You need to decide what’s going to happen with your vehicle, whether or not you should file an auto insurance claim and how to go about doing it.
It’s an important process and one that you need to do the right way if you want to come out ahead.
Here are the steps you need to take after your accident in order to file your auto insurance claim:
- Decide if it’s worth it – Before you ever call you insurance company, you need to figure out whether or not you need to file a claim. If you’ve got a small scratch on your car and the other vehicle isn’t damaged, you might be better off. Even calling your insurance company to ask them about filing a claim, there’s a good chance that a record was generated and that it can, in the long term, affect your insurance record. If you can pay for the damages out of pocket without filing an auto insurance claim, you’re often better off doing so.
- Get together your documentation – There is quite a bit of information you’re going to need in order to file your auto insurance claim. You need to have information about the accident itself, any witnesses who may have seen the accident, information about the other party in the accident and their insurance information and, of course, either a copy of the police report or information about how your insurance company can get a copy of the police report.
- File quickly – If you’re going to file, do it fast. You want to do it as soon as possible, largely because you want to get the process completed quickly.
- Be ready to hear from the other insurance company – Often, if there is any kind of a dispute or disagreement between the parties, you’ll be contacted by the other person’s insurance company. They may ask you to tell them your version of the story. Realize that the conversation is probably being recorded and documented. If they do call, document the call, as well as the name of the person with whom you spoke.
- Get your car repaired – At this point, once your claim has been approved by the insurance company, you’re probably going to be able to get your car fixed. The insurance adjuster will probably come out to take a look at the damage, or they may ask you to get your car to a repair shop to get an estimate to get it fixed.
Filing an Auto Insurance Claim
After you have a serious car accident, one of the things that needs to happen is that you need to file your auto insurance claim.
You’re going to have a lot of questions at that point in time, the answers of which may not seem readily available.
You’ll be wondering whether your vehicle can be used again, whether your auto insurance company will be cooperative, and what will happen during the claims process.
If you want to make the most out of the situation, there are some things you need to do in order to prepare to file your auto insurance claim:
- Understand your policy ahead of time – The best time to get a handle on your insurance policy is before you need to use it. Chances are pretty good you have a general idea of what sort of auto insurance you have. Still, you should try to familiarize yourself with all of the fine details of your policy, as many of those will determine how things go during the auto insurance claim process. You’re better off knowing that information before the accident, rather than having it explained to you by your insurance company after the fact.
- Figure out your immediate transportation needs – If your auto insurance policy includes rental car coverage, it can help you to have at least a few days to get things together after an accident. A rental car coverage means that you don’t have to shell out hundreds of dollars at the last minute just to get transportation to take you back and forth to work.
- Know your rights – You need to familiarize yourself with your state’s insurance laws. Check with the department of insurance or whatever it’s called in your particular state. Every state has laws that will help protect the citizens of that state from being cheated by an insurance company in the claims process, so find out what your state can do for you.
- Know what your car was worth – The insurance companies use a number of different sources to figure out the actual cash value of your vehicle. If you have some idea of what your car is worth before the accident, it will help you in knowing whether the insurance company’s payout is reasonable.
- Get a fair evaluation of the damage to your car – Your insurance company will make a visual inspection to start the estimation process. Make sure you’re there when it happens so that you can identify things that the insurance adjustor might try to overlook, otherwise you run the risk of having a lower settlement than what you should have.
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