When should you file an insurance claim after a crash? Read on to learn more about the claims process.
Why you can trust The Zebra
The Zebra partners with some of the companies we write about. However, our content is written and reviewed by an independent team of editors and licensed insurance agents, and never influenced by our partnerships. Learn more about how we make money, review our editorial standards, reference our data methodology, or view a list of our partners.
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 auto insurance company. This payout happens only after you meet your deductible.
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:
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:
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.
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.
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:
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.
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."
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.
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.
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.
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.
After an accident, it’s important to act quickly:
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.
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.
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 compare car insurance quotes and find a new policy. You can also check out our list of the best cheap insurance companies.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
|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|
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.
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|
The Zebra is not an insurance company. We publish data-backed, expert-reviewed resources to help consumers make more informed insurance decisions.
The Zebra’s insurance content is written and reviewed for accuracy by licensed insurance agents.
The Zebra’s insurance content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.
The Zebra’s editorial team operates independently of the company’s partnerships and commercialization interests, publishing unbiased information for consumer benefit.
The auto insurance rates published on The Zebra’s pages are based on a comprehensive analysis of car insurance pricing data, evaluating more than 83 million insurance rates from across the United States.