It’s no secret that repairing or replacing a car can be costly. Luckily, however, that’s what you have car insurance for. Filing a claim is how you notify your insurer that something has happened and start the process of remedying the situation.
Filing an auto insurance claim often involves more than just telling your insurer what happened. There are a few steps you’ll want to take at the scene of the accident and after the claim is filed to get your car repaired and get back on the road.
Here are the five steps you’ll need to take to file an auto insurance claim.
1. Get yourself to safety, then document the situation
If you are involved in an accident, you’ll want to put yourself before your car. Get to a safe place and make sure that anyone else involved is safe, too.
Check for injuries, and if there are any, you’ll want to call 911 or ask someone else to do so. If there aren’t any injuries or medical assistance needed, and your car is safe to drive, you’ll want to move the vehicle out of traffic.
Once you’re in a safe position, you’ll want to take lots of pictures and document the situation. Make sure to document the following:
- License plate numbers and state of vehicles involved
- Vehicle identification numbers (found in the bottom driver’s side of the windshield), and the make, model, color and year
- Names, addresses, phone numbers, and license numbers of all drivers
- Insurance information from the other driver(s), including a policy number
- Names, addresses and phone numbers of other witnesses and passengers
- Photos of the damage to both cars and any other property (like a mailbox or telephone pole)
- Location of the incident
Most states don’t require a police report for a minor accident and you can often still file an insurance claim without having a police report.
However, getting a police report can still be beneficial and can speed up the claims process, even if the fender bender seems to be minor. Each state has different laws for what’s considered a minor accident and the police report can help determine the extent of the damages. Police reports are especially important if the other party is uncooperative and help prove the validity of the account of the accident.
If the police respond to the accident, take note of the officer’s name and badge number and how you can receive a copy of the police report — usually either in person from the police station or by calling. If the police don’t come to the scene, you can still complete a report yourself by going to the police station.
Once you’ve gathered all of the necessary information above, you’ll want to contact your insurance company.
You can do that in several ways. Some insurers, including Geico, State Farm and Progressive allow you to file claims through their app. Here, you’ll want to upload photos you took at the scene, and the police report if applicable.
Ask about your coverage, too, including what coverage you have, the limits of the policy, and any deductibles you may be responsible for. You may also want to ask if you have any rental car coverage if it’s needed.
Generally, you’ll want to contact your insurance company sooner rather than later — the sooner you can start the process, the faster things will be fixed, and the more everyone will remember to make the claim as accurate as possible.
4. Get the damage inspected by an adjustor
An adjustor will probably need to inspect the damage. Generally, they’ll come to you and give you an assessment of the damage, and an estimate of how much repairs will cost.
Your insurance company may decide that your car isn’t worth fixing and decide that it’s totaled. If that’s the case, you may receive a check for the actual cash value (ACV) of the car, minus your deductible. You’ll then start the process of buying a new car.
If your car is fixable, you’ll get an estimate on how much it will cost to repair. You’ll be able to choose the repair facility that will work on your car.
Subscribe to the CNBC Select Newsletter!
Money matters — so make the most of it. Get expert tips, strategies, news and everything else you need to maximize your money, right to your inbox. Sign up here.
5. Get your car repaired, keep accurate records and follow up
The final step is to get your vehicle repaired. Keep track of any expenses related to the accident that you incur along the way.
Throughout the process, keep detailed notes on your interactions with your insurance company. Make sure to note the names and phone numbers of the people you’ve spoken to.
If you’re having trouble with the process, contacting your adjuster, your insurance professional or your state insurance department are all options.
If you’re shopping for auto insurance, CNBC Select has compared dozens of car insurance companies and ranked the best ones. Our top choices include Geico for its superior financial strength and high customer satisfaction ratings and Nationwide for its wide availability and low average premiums for full coverage.
The best way to estimate your costs is to request a quote
Geico coverage and services are available in all 50 states and the District of Columbia and there are 16 different types of discounts available. In addition to the standard coverage options, Geico offers various optional add-ons, such as emergency roadside assistance, rental car reimbursement and mechanical breakdown insurance.
The best way to estimate your costs is to request a quote
Nationwide offers near-nationwide availability and personalized services, such as On Your Side® Review, a free annual insurance evaluation to ensure you are adequately protected and are taking advantage of any discounts available to you.
To get your car repaired after an accident, make sure you gather all the information you need at the scene, including info about the other driver, their car, and insurance. Then, call your own insurance company or use its website or app to start the process of meeting with an adjuster and getting your car repaired.
Editorial Note: Opinions, analyses, reviews or recommendations expressed in this article are those of the Select editorial staff’s alone, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any third party.