When and How to File a Car Insurance Claim

When should you file an insurance claim after a crash? Read on to learn more about the claims process.

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Car insurance claims: everything you need to know

A car insurance claim is a report you file after a collision with another vehicle or another incident that results in damage to your vehicle. A claim usually results in a payment from your car insurance company. This payout happens only after you meet your deductible.


Auto insurance claims — table of contents:


How to file a car insurance claim

Filing an auto insurance claim is a relatively straightforward process. The Insurance Information Institute recommends contacting your insurance company immediately following a covered accident (or consulting your insurer's mobile app for more information). Your insurance company may provide incident-specific instructions, but the typical steps to file an auto insurance claim will be similar to the below:

  1. Inform your insurance company via phone or mobile app
  2. Gather documents and file a proof of claim report. If you filed a police report, be sure to keep a copy on hand. 
  3. Confirm any document filing due dates and be sure to submit your forms on time. 
  4. Supply any and all forms and information your car insurance company requests. 
  5. Look into the availability of rental car reimbursement through your policy. 


Three scenarios in which you should file a car insurance claim

While at times it might work in your favor not to involve your car insurance company after a crash, there are times when you should always file a claim:


1. If anyone is injured

If you, passengers in your vehicle, anyone in another vehicle, or any pedestrians are injured in a crash, you need to file a claim — especially if there’s a chance you’ll be found at fault. Medical expenses can add up, and failing to file a claim can leave you open to litigation. If you wait to get sued before contacting your insurance company to file a claim, your claims representative could deny the claim altogether.


2. If fault is unclear in the collision

If you’re involved in a crash that results in property damage or injury, and the fault is in dispute, you’ll need to file a claim so that your insurance provider can represent you. Insurance companies deal with insurance companies, and yours will need to work with the other party's insurer to assign responsibility and arrange payouts.


3. If your vehicle is deemed a significant or total loss

If the value of damage exceeds your reasonable ability to cover the loss, file a claim through your collision coverage or your property damage coverage through your liability insurance.

If you're unsure of whether to file an insurance claim, follow our step-by-step guide:

  • Get an estimate at a local mechanic for the repairs.
  • Consult The Zebra's State of Insurance report to see how much an at-fault collision would raise your rates in your state. Remember to consider this value over a three-year time period.
  • Compare the value of repairs to your total rate increase your deductible. If it is cheaper to file a claim, file a claim.

If you’re going to file a claim, do so as quickly as possible — at the scene of the wreck if you can. Once your claim is filed, the insurance adjuster will take care of reviewing important materials like the police report, witness accounts, and photos of the damages, and they will handle payouts to the other party, if applicable. If your car needs repairs, the insurance company will work with your repair shop.

Learn more about how insurance companies handle total loss scenarios.



When not to file an auto insurance claim


1. If you damaged only your own vehicle

If you were involved in a single-vehicle collision and you emerged uninjured, the next steps are fairly straightforward. Any car insurance claim you file in this situation would be considered an at-fault collision claim. Depending on the value of the damage, an at-fault claim could increase your insurance premiums by $2,061 over the next three years.

"There are very many times that filing an auto insurance claim is a bad idea," said Paul Moyer, an independent insurance agent based in Florida. "It really has to do with the math of the policy."

"I just had a client that backed into his own vehicle. He caused $1,500 maximum of damage and $1,200 minimum. His deductible was $1,000 so he had to pay that before the insurance would kick in anything. So his maximum out-of-pocket would be $500. If he filed the claim his rates would also go up and he would probably end up paying back that amount over about 12-18 months and then just get penalized from there on out. This happens frequently in small accidents where a driver could do much better by just paying out of pocket."


2. If the damage to another driver's property is minimal

If there's little to no damage to someone else's vehicle or property, you might not need to file a claim. If you were involved in a fender bender, you might not need to involve insurance companies. In this situation, exchange license plate and contact information with the other party and ask if they will allow you to pay them for the damage out-of-pocket.



Why are auto insurance claims denied?

Few things can be more frustrating — or more financially damaging — than having a car insurance claim denied. Large sums of money could be at stake if you don’t abide by your insurance company's rules. While the following list is by no means exhaustive, it will give you an idea of some of the more common reasons for car insurance claims to be denied. 



Lying to an insurance company is considered insurance fraud and can get you into all sorts of trouble. At best, it will lead to you getting dropped or having your claims denied. At worst, you could face serious legal issues. 


Insufficient coverage 

Make sure you know exactly what your policy’s limits are and what your insurance covers. Your insurance company won’t pay beyond your policy limits, meaning that only carrying minimum liability coverage may not be the best idea. Similarly, you can’t expect your insurance company to fix your car after you hit a deer if you don’t have comprehensive coverage. A detailed list of your limits and specific coverages can be found on your policy’s declarations page


Excluded drivers 

If a driver explicitly excluded from the policy gets behind the wheel, insurance provides no coverage. Should the excluded driver be found at fault, the driver and policyholder could be held personally liable for all damages. 


Waiting too long to file a claim

After an accident, it’s important to act quickly:

  • Report the claim in a timely manner. If you wait too long to report it, an insurance company can deny it as they won’t be able to properly investigate it. See our state-by-state list of claim validity durations
  • Seek medical attention related to a claim within a reasonable amount of time. If you don’t, you could face a denial. 


Non-payment of premiums 

If you don’t pay your premiums, you could lose your coverage. The amount of time that you have after missing a payment before your coverage is dropped is at your insurer's discretion. 



If you are found to have been driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of a collision, your insurance company may deny your claim. Learn more about DUI violations and insurance.



What to do if your auto insurance claim is denied

If you have a car insurance claim you feel was unfairly denied, there are several steps you can take to appeal the decision. Your first step is available through your insurance company. Most reputable insurers usually have a process in place to appeal denied claims. 

Should that fail, consult your state’s insurance commission. Many states have resources available to protect consumers. If that fails, you could involve an attorney. 



What to consider when making an auto insurance claim

The decision to file a car insurance claim varies situationally. But there are circumstances that demand you file a claim. For example, if you or another party has suffered a significant financial loss or physical injury, you should involve your insurance company. However, if the damage is minor or your vehicle is the only car involved, you might be better off getting an estimate prior to filing a claim. Ultimately, the decision is up to you.

If you've already filed a claim and are paying more for insurance than the averages presented above, take this opportunity to see your personalized car insurance quotes and find a new policy.  You can also check out our list of the best cheap insurance companies.



Frequently asked questions on auto insurance claims

Although car insurance claims are going to be very specific to the exact incident, there are some general questions we are able to answer. If we didn't answer your specific claims question, feel free to submit your query to us directly. Our licensed agents will try to answer your question within 48 hours.


Q: Will a not-at-fault accident affect my car insurance rates?

A: Yes. Car insurance companies are in the business of predicting risk. They believe that the more accidents you have the more you will have. On average, a not-at-fault collision raised rates by an average of $98 per year in 2017. Check out our response for more information on not-at-fault crashes and insurance.


Q: Does getting in a collision while driving a company car affect my auto insurance policy?

A: This depends on whether an accident report was filed. If it was, it will show up when an insurance company runs a Motor Vehicle Report. Insurance companies typically do this when writing a new policy (and occasionally when renewing policies). For more information, check out our page on accidents in a company vehicle.


Q: I backed into a pole in a parking lot. Do I need a police report to file a claim?

A: It depends. Filing a police report is a great idea if more than one vehicle is involved and the fault is difficult to determine. However, if yours is the only vehicle involved, it might not be necessary. View a more comprehensive answer here.


Q: If someone keyed my car and I file a claim, will that make my insurance rates go up?

A: This would most likely be considered a comprehensive claim, which won't impact your rates as significantly as a collision claim. In order to justify filing a claim, the value of the damage should exceed your deductible. It's worth getting an estimate of repair costs first. Check out our answer to this question on filing claims after your car is keyed to learn more.


Q: How long do I have to file a car insurance claim?

First, it's important to file a claim immediately after an accident. In theory, you have some time after an accident to file a claim — depending on your state and the type of claim. Although every state provides some cushion, you should contact your insurance company as soon as possible to ensure claim payment.

State Property Damage Injury
Alabama 2 years 2 years
Alaska 2 years 2 years
Arizona 2 years 2 years
Arkansas 3 years 3 years
California 2 years 2 years
Colorado 3 years 3 years
Connecticut 2 years 2 years
Delaware 2 years 2 years
Florida 4 years 4 years
Georgia 4 years 2 years
Hawaii 2 years 2 years
Idaho 2 years 2 years
Illinois 5 years 2 years
Indiana 2 years 2 years
Iowa 5 years 2 years
Kansas 2 years 1 year
Kentucky 2 years 1 year
Louisiana 1 year 1 year
Maine 6 years 6 years
Maryland 3 years 3 years
Massachusetts 3 years 3 years
Michigan 3 years 3 years
Minnesota 6 years 6 years
Mississippi 3 years 3 years
Missouri 5 years 5 years
Montana 2 years 3 years
Nebraska 4 years 4 years
Nevada 1 year 1 year
New Hampshire 3 years 3 years
New Jersey 2/4 years 2/4 years
New Mexico 4 years 3 years
New York 3 years 3 years
North Carolina 3 years 3 years
North Dakota 2 years 2 years
Ohio 2 years 2 years
Oklahoma 2 years 2 years
Oregon 6 years 2 years
Pennsylvania 2 years 2 years
Rhode Island N/A 3 years
South Carolina 3 years 3 years
South Dakota 3 years 3 years
Tennessee 3 years 1 year
Texas 2 years 2 years
Utah 3 years 4 years
Vermont 3 years 3 years
Virginia 5 years 2 years
Washington 3 years 3 years
West Virginia 2 years 2 years
Wisconsin 3 years 3 years
Wyoming 4 years 4 years


Q: Why am I deemed at fault if I damage my vehicle while avoiding another car?

A: These situations can be tricky. In most cases, you are considered at fault if you swerve to miss another vehicle because it is considered a single-vehicle accident and thus there isn't another party to blame. 


Q: By how much does an insurance claim impact car insurance rates?

A: Your rate increase after an at-fault accident depends on a variety of factors — your location being a major contributor. Below is a state-by-state breakdown of how an at-fault accident impacts your rate.

Ohio drivers endure the greatest overall percentage rate increase after their first accident — with New York drivers enjoying the smallest percentage increase. On a dollar-value basis, Michigan drivers face the greatest increases, and Virginia drivers the smallest. 


State None % and $ Diff At-Fault Accident
Alabama $694 44% or $307 $1,001
Alaska $599 51% or $304 $903
Arizona $647 52% or $335 $982
Arkansas $748 44% or $326 $1,074
California $908 42% or $379 $1,287
Colorado $841 37% or $313 $1,154
Connecticut $775 51% or $396 $1,171
Delaware $914 46% or $422 $1,336
District of Columbia $748 40% or $298 $1,046
Florida $1,029 38% or $390 $1,420
Georgia $774 60% or $461 $1,234
Hawaii $541 29% or $158 $698
Idaho $509 42% or $213 $722
Illinois $611 50% or $305 $916
Indiana $575 39% or $227 $802
Iowa $494 50% or $248 $742
Kansas $738 31% or $228 $967
Kentucky $949 55% or $521 $1,470
Louisiana $1,169 42% or $496 $1,665
Maine $448 48% or $217 $665
Maryland $664 41% or $274 $938
Massachusetts $638 55% or $354 $992
Michigan $1,346 45% or $610 $1,956
Minnesota $644 48% or $307 $951
Mississippi $768 44% or $340 $1,108
Missouri $705 34% or $243 $947
Montana $694 43% or $302 $995
Nebraska $642 37% or $239 $881
Nevada $957 50% or $480 $1,437
New Hampshire $553 59% or $328 $881
New Jersey $836 43% or $355 $1,191
New Mexico $676 43% or $288 $963
New York $844 15% or $125 $969
North Carolina $473 48% or $228 $701
North Dakota $662 36% or $241 $903
Ohio $516 84% or $434 $950
Oklahoma $780 49% or $382 $1,162
Oregon $697 47% or $329 $1,025
Pennsylvania $695 20% or $141 $836
Rhode Island $1,055 26% or $278 $1,333
South Carolina $684 44% or $299 $983
South Dakota $671 38% or $257 $928
Tennessee $713 37% or $263 $976
Texas $914 44% or $401 $1,314
Utah $604 41% or $248 $852
Vermont $538 42% or $227 $764
Virginia $459 44% or $201 $660
Washington $603 39% or $236 $839
West Virginia $710 49% or $350 $1,060
Wisconsin $535 46% or $247 $782
Wyoming $687 38% or $261 $948

Compare rates and find an insurance policy today.

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If I paid to have a window replaced on my car, can I submit the receipt to my insurance company for reimbursement?

Since you are in California, glass claims should not impact your rate. You will want to make sure your policy includes comprehensive coverage (which it should since you are leasing the vehicle).
May 8, 2017 Santa Monica, CA

What happens if someone makes a false car insurance claim against me?

Thank you for your question. After any accident, I recommend taking pictures and recording as much information as possible.
Sep 25, 2019 Madison, WI

How long does the person I was in an accident with have to file a claim?

Unfortunately there isn't a specified time frame for that other driver to file a claim. Your insurance company is there to protect you from fraud, among other things.
Sep 14, 2016 Burlington, WI

Should I pay for damage out of pocket or file a claim with my insurance company?

A car accident can have a fairly significant impact on your rates so if the damage is not extensive, as you say, you might want to consider paying for the damage out of pocket. Ultimately, that decision is up to you, but our State of Insurance report shows that at-fault accidents in North Carolina will cause an average rate increase of $426 per year to your policy.
Oct 22, 2016 Greensboro, NC

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Ross MartinManager, Content Quality

Ross joined The Zebra as a writer and researcher in 2019. As a licensed insurance agent, he specializes in writing insurance content to help shoppers make informed decisions.

Ross holds a master's degree from Royal Holloway, University of London and has a background in copywriting and education. As a former teacher, he applies his educational skills to explain insurance concepts in ways that consumers can understand.

Ross's work has been cited by The New York Times, AxiosInvestopedia, The Simple DollarThe BalanceCar and Driver and Fox Business. He has been quoted by CNET, I Drive Safely and Kin Insurance

About The Zebra

The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.