How To File a Car Insurance Claim in 6 Easy Steps

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From checking for injuries and submitting photos of the accident to choosing a repair shop and getting paid, keep reading to learn the steps on how to file a car insurance claim. No longer a daunting task, you can move through the claims process with more confidence.

Key Takeaways

  • Call the police and file an insurance claim for any car accidents involving another driver or pedestrian.
  • Your insurance company can recommend a repair shop but cannot require you to use a specific facility.
  • If the other driver was at fault you can file a liability claim with their insurance company.
  • Uninsured/underinsured insurance pays for your losses if the at-fault driver was uninsured or does not have enough coverage.
  • You need collision coverage to pay for damages to your vehicle.

6 steps filing a car insurance claim infographic by SmartFinancial

1. Call the Police Immediately After the Accident

Immediately after a car accident, check for injuries to your passengers or the people in the other car. Even if no one was hurt during the accident, you should call the police, as the police report will come in handy when filing a claim. When the authorities arrive, remember to ask how you can obtain a copy of the police report.

2. Request Contact Information + Take Photos

You should exchange the below information with everyone involved in the accident regardless of who was at fault. Get the name and contact information of any bystanders who witnessed the collision, as well.

  • Name, phone number, email address and home address
  • Car insurance carrier and policy number (exchange with the other driver only)
  • Vehicle's make, model, license plate number and state
  • Names of all passengers

Next, take pictures of the property damage and the accident scene. Get close-up shots of scratches, dents and other damages. Don’t forget pictures of the surrounding area, including the street names if the accident was at an intersection. These photos can provide background information about the damage and provide supporting evidence for your insurance claim.

Do not admit fault or point fingers. Law enforcement and the insurance companies will investigate which driver will be held liable.

3. Contact Your Insurance Provider and Submit Documentation

If the accident involved a third party, you should always report the accident to your insurer, regardless of who was at fault in an accident. You can usually initiate the claims process via phone, mobile app or online portal. Calling your agent is usually most helpful since they can walk you through exactly what they’ll need while you’re still at the accident scene.

Your insurer will list what documentation they’ll need to advance the claim. This will usually include a "proof of claim" form to be filled at the accident site, a copy of the police report, photos that you’ve taken and the other driver’s contact and insurance information.

Tip: After filing an insurance claim, you can usually review your claim’s status via mobile app or online portal.

4. Confirm Your Coverage Limits and Deductible

Your insurance will pay up to the limits you purchased and you will need to meet your deductible before your insurer pays for damages to your car. Before you proceed with a claim, you should double-check your policy for the following:

  • Does my auto insurance cover these losses?
  • How much is my deductible?
  • How long will it take the car insurance company to process my claim?
  • What are the deadlines I need to meet to file my claim?
  • Does my auto insurance policy have a time limit for resolving a claim?
  • How long will it take to receive compensation if I'm approved for a settlement offer?

5. Get an Estimate From a Repair Shop

Although you won’t be forced to utilize a particular facility, your insurance company can give you a list of suggested repair shops. Consumers have the right to select the repair facility that will work on their vehicle, and in some states, it is unlawful for insurance companies to require you use a particular auto body shop.[1]

There is a catch, though. If the repair facility you select charges more than one in the insurer's recommended network, you can be responsible for paying the difference. A free online tool from Consumer Reports can be used to locate nearby certified repair companies and request rapid estimates.[2]

6. Accept the Settlement and Complete the Repairs

You can either take your car to a repair shop for an evaluation or an adjuster can meet with you to estimate the cost of repairs. Based on this, the adjuster will offer a settlement that they believe will return your car to its state before the collision.

You can either accept this settlement or present repair facility estimates that demonstrate the proposal is too low. From here, three options are generally available:

  1. Your insurance company reimburses the difference between your estimate and the final cost of the repairs
  2. Your insurance company suggests a facility that will do the work at the price at their proposed settlement amount.
  3. You could choose the more expensive repair shop and pay the difference.

Once you’ve reached a decision on where to send your vehicle, send your car to the mechanic to finish the repairs. Your insurance provider might mail you a check to settle the bill or pay the repair business directly in some circumstances.[3] Customers should normally anticipate average wait periods of four to five days depending on the type of repairs and the vehicle.[4]

If the repair shop later finds further damages, they will contact you or your insurance company and provide an updated estimate of the additional repair and labor costs. Your insurance provider must give the repair shop permission before they start additional work.

How To File an Insurance Claim Against the Other Driver's Insurance

If someone crashed into your vehicle and they were at fault, you can file a claim with their car insurance company. Insurers call these third-party claims since you are the third party to the other driver and their insurance company. It will take time for the driver's insurance company to process the claim since they will conduct an independent investigation to learn who was at fault. You can expect a payout once the claims process is finished — usually in 30 days.[5]

What if the other driver doesn’t have insurance? Uninsured/underinsured motorist (UM/UIM) insurance will pay for your losses if the other driver was zero insurance or does not have enough coverage.

What Are Car Insurance Claims?

Car insurance claims are a request for payment by an individual to their auto insurance company to cover losses in a covered accident. All auto policies will cover liability costs to a third party if you were the at-fault driver. If you bought full coverage, then you can be covered for physical damages to your car.

After filing a claim, the insurance company will investigate if it’s a covered loss. If it is, then the insurance company will cover the customer’s losses, up to the policy limits.

When Should I File a Claim?

Generally, it’s always a good idea to report a car accident to your insurance company if the accident involved a third party — even if everybody seemed uninjured. Injuries may not immediately manifest and can surface even a few days after the collision. Or the other driver may later realize that the impact somehow affected their engine. They may decide to file a liability claim with your insurance company, even weeks after the accident. It’s always best to err on the side of caution and report the car accident to your insurer promptly.

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What Should I Do in a Minor Accident With No Damage?

If you are involved in a minor accident with no damage and there are no other people involved, it may not be worth filing a claim with your insurance company. Firstly, your insurance coverage is there to cover the damage. If there isn’t any damage, then there is no reason to contact your provider.

If your car damage is minor, like a scratch or scrape, it will likely cost less than your deductible. It may be more cost-effective to pay out of pocket than face a rate increase when you renew your policy.

Again, if the accident involved a third party, you should still report the accident to your insurance company — even if the other party’s damages are minor or seemingly nonexistent.

How Long Do I Have To File a Car Insurance Claim?

Generally, it is recommended to file a claim as soon as possible after the incident occurs, as there may be time restrictions for reporting claims. However, this can depend on your policy language and your state’s regulations.

Keep in mind that the longer you wait to file a claim, the more difficult it may be to gather the necessary information and evidence and the less likely it may be for your insurance company to cover the losses incurred.


What happens if I’m at fault in an accident?

If you’re determined to be the at-fault driver in a car accident, your liability insurance will pay for the other driver’s medical and repair bills. Collision coverage (if you have it) will pay for damages in your car and medical payments or no-fault insurance will cover your medical expenses.

Who pays for a rental car after an accident?

If the other driver was at fault, their insurance company may pay for your rental car. If you were the at-fault driver, your insurer will cover you if you added rental car reimbursement to your auto policy.

Why would my car insurance claim be denied?

Your claim may be denied if you did not provide adequate evidence of the damages, the specific loss was not covered or the claim was fraudulent (e.g., premeditating the damage to or theft of your car and filing a claim for reimbursement).

Will I be penalized for filing a claim?

Filing a car insurance claim will usually increase your rate when you renew your auto policy. Your insurance company may also refuse to renew your policy or drop you as a customer if you file claims excessively


  1. “Filing a Claim With Your Own Insurance Company.” Accessed Feb.4, 2023. 
  2. Consumer Reports. “Car Repair Assistant.” Accessed Feb. 4, 2023. 
  3. “Automobile.” Accessed Feb. 4, 2023. 
  4. J.D. Power. “Parts and Staffing Issues Challenge Dealer Service Departments.” Accessed Feb. 4, 2023. 
  5. Rose, Klein & Marias. “How Long Does It Take to Get a Settlement Check From a Car Accident?” Accessed Feb. 4, 2023.

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