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After an accident, the question becomes whether to file a claim with your insurance company -- and if so, how.


Smart phones can be helpful in the event of an accident.

  • You can use the camera to photograph or video all vehicles involved in the accident. The notebook functions gives room for vital information.
  • Some insurers have apps that help with claims. They walk you through the information to gather - and some even electronically submit your claim - and then allow you to check the status.

Should You File A Claim?

It is advisable to file a claim with your insurance company unless:

  • No one else is involved in the accident and repairs will cost less than your deductible.
  • You have been in an accident in the past three years, no one is injured, and the property damage is affordable. Excess claims can cause your insurance company to raise your rates or to drop you all together.

Before deciding not to file a claim, check your policy. Some policies require a report of all damage, no matter the amount.

How To File An Insurance Claim

Use the following tips when filing your claim to increase the chances it will be approved:

  • If you have one, call your insurance agent or broker as soon as possible, even if someone else caused the accident. Let the broker call the insurance company. He or she is an expert in what to say, and what not to say.
  • If you don't have an insurance agent or broker, read your policy before calling the insurance company so you know what is and is not covered. With knowledge, you can describe your loss to fit as closely as you can within the policy's coverage.
  • Don't delay. Call the insurance company as soon as possible.
  • Keep records of expenses related to the accident. Many automobile policies cover medical expenses, lost wages, and rental car expenses.
  • Keep copies of all your paperwork.

Settling Your Automobile Insurance Claim

An insurance company adjuster (or an adjuster's representative) will usually have to inspect the damage to your car before you can receive payment. The adjustor will also try to determine the cause of the accident and collect information about any injuries.

If your loss was due to vandalism, theft, or collision with an inanimate object (such as a guardrail or a tree) you will often receive a check after the adjuster's inspection.

If other vehicles were involved, the adjuster will thoroughly investigate the accident and then try to settle the claim.

Don't let an insurance company pressure you to use a specific repair shop.

If parts are needed, don't be surprised if the insurer wants you to use generic aftermarket parts instead of original manufacturer parts. You can usually insist on manufacturer parts if some one else's insurance company is paying. It may be more difficult with your insurer -- but it's worth the try.

A car that has been repaired is generally worth less as a used car or trade-in than an identical car without an accident history. This is known as "diminished value." Ask for diminished value as part of your claim. If you don't get it, see if you can write it off on your tax return.

Don't accept a settlement until you get an estimate from an independent repair shop. The settlement may be less than the amount for which you can get the car repaired.

Once you and your insurance company agree on the terms of the settlement:

  • The company must by law send your payment promptly.
  • Many state laws require that the adjuster provide names of one or more repair facility in your area that can make repairs for the amount of the appraisal. Adjusters cannot require you to use a certain shop or recommend one in particular.
  • If your car is drivable and can pass inspection, you are not legally obligated to have any repairs done at all.

Consider hiring a post repair inspector to be sure the work was done properly.

What To Do If You Don't Agree With The Insurance Company's Settlement

If you are not satisfied with the amount of money the insurance company offers, and are not able to resolve the matter with the insurance company's adjuster:

  1. Talk to your agent or claims representative. Explain why you feel the proposed settlement is unfair. Be prepared to provide documents supporting your position. You should also send a letter and supporting material to the claims executive at the insurance company's headquarters.
  2. If after hearing from your insurance company's claims executive you still feel the company isn't properly handling your claim, call the National Insurance Consumer Hotline at 800.942.4242
  3. File a complaint with your state's insurance department offsite link.
  4. As a last resort, consult an attorney.