When to File a Car Insurance Claim

When should you file an insurance claim after a crash? Let's review some basic rules of the road.

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A car insurance claim is a report you file after a collision with another vehicle or another circumstance resulting in damage to your vehicle. A claim usually results in a payment from your auto insurance company, which kicks in after you meet your deductible.


When to file a car insurance claim


When should you file a car insurance claim after an accident?

Sometimes filing an insurance claim is an obvious course of action after a car accident. If a vehicle sustained damages or a driver was injured, it's important to reach out to your insurer. But not all car collisions are serious enough to warrant an auto insurance claim. There are many situations in which you shouldn't file a claim or use your insurance coverage.

As a general rule, if the cost of the damage is less than the rate increase you would face after a claim, do not use your insurance coverage.

*Note: This primer on the insurance claims process was written by one of The Zebra's licensed insurance experts

Below are average car insurance rate increases after an at-fault accident.


Year(s) After IncidentAverage Insurance Rate Increase
No accident$0 - no increase
1 year later+$618 total
2 years later+$1,213 total
3 years later+$1,849 total


You will typically be penalized for three years after an at-fault accident. When you're considering filing a car insurance claim, weigh the value of your claim against the $2,061 in additional premiums you would pay after a claim.

Now that we've covered how filing a car insurance claim impacts rates, let's review when you should and shouldn't file a claim.


Auto insurance claims — table of contents:


Post-collision reminders from an expert

According to Christin Wiley, a personal risk advisor based in Tennessee, it's important to take a few financial steps in the wake of an accident.

"A couple little tips I tell my clients about filing accidents: First of all, I always suggest attempting to file a police report or an incident report, so that the other party won’t be able to come back after the fact and try to twist the truth (I’ve seen that done all too many times). Second, I tell people to never discuss the details of the accident with anyone but the police and insurance company. It’s up to the police and insurance adjusters to determine the fault of the accident, not you. I have heard of too many people saying, “Wow, I’m so sorry, I didn’t mean to do X..."

Sound advice: Get the police and your insurance involved, and keep your mouth shut. But, Wiley added, this isn't always necessary, depending on the accident.

Wiley said she always tells her clients the same thing: Check your insurance policy documents. "Many insurance policies state that you must notify the insurance company of anything that might lead to a potential claim. Also, there are many different state- and insurance company-specific time limits to filing a claim; so, always know of any applicable time limits."

If anyone is injured in the collision, always involve a claims adjuster.


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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.

Paul Moyer, an independent insurance agent based in Florida, elaborates: "There are very many times that filing an auto insurance claim is a bad idea," Moyer said. "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 "kissed" a giant SUV without leaving any lipstick, so to speak, you might not need to involve insurance companies. In this situation, exchange information with the other party and ask if they will allow you to pay them for the damage out-of-pocket.



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 the other party, 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 bills can add up, and not filing a claim can leave you open to litigation. If you wait to get sued before contacting your insurance company, your claims representative could deny the claim altogether.


2. If fault is unclear

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 our State of Insurance guide 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.



Most common reasons for insurance claim denial

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 your 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 compare car insurance quotes and find a new policy.



Frequently asked car insurance claims questions

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. For more information on not-at-fault crashes and insurance, see here.


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, see here.


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. 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.

StateProperty DamageInjury
Alabama2 years2 years
Alaska2 years2 years
Arizona2 years2 years
Arkansas3 years3 years
California2 years2 years
Colorado3 years3 years
Connecticut2 years2 years
Delaware2 years2 years
Florida4 years4 years
Georgia4 years2 years
Hawaii2 years2 years
Idaho2 years2 years
Illinois5 years2 years
Indiana2 years2 years
Iowa5 years2 years
Kansas2 years1 year
Kentucky2 years1 year
Louisiana1 year1 year
Maine6 years6 years
Maryland3 years3 years
Massachusetts3 years3 years
Michigan3 years3 years
Minnesota6 years6 years
Mississippi3 years3 years
Missouri5 years5 years
Montana2 years3 years
Nebraska4 years4 years
Nevada1 year1 year
New Hampshire3 years3 years
New Jersey2/4 years2/4 years
New Mexico4 years3 years
New York3 years3 years
North Carolina3 years3 years
North Dakota2 years2 years
Ohio2 years2 years
Oklahoma2 years2 years
Oregon6 years2 years
Pennsylvania2 years2 years
Rhode IslandN/A3 years
South Carolina3 years3 years
South Dakota3 years3 years
Tennessee3 years1 year
Texas2 years2 years
Utah3 years4 years
Vermont3 years3 years
Virginia5 years2 years
Washington3 years3 years
West Virginia2 years2 years
Wisconsin3 years3 years
Wyoming4 years4 years


Q: Why am I deemed at-fault if I damaged 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. 


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

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. 


StateNone% and $ DiffAt-Fault Accident
Alabama$69444% or $307$1,001
Alaska$59951% or $304$903
Arizona$64752% or $335$982
Arkansas$74844% or $326$1,074
California$90842% or $379$1,287
Colorado$84137% or $313$1,154
Connecticut$77551% or $396$1,171
Delaware$91446% or $422$1,336
District of Columbia$74840% or $298$1,046
Florida$1,02938% or $390$1,420
Georgia$77460% or $461$1,234
Hawaii$54129% or $158$698
Idaho$50942% or $213$722
Illinois$61150% or $305$916
Indiana$57539% or $227$802
Iowa$49450% or $248$742
Kansas$73831% or $228$967
Kentucky$94955% or $521$1,470
Louisiana$1,16942% or $496$1,665
Maine$44848% or $217$665
Maryland$66441% or $274$938
Massachusetts$63855% or $354$992
Michigan$1,34645% or $610$1,956
Minnesota$64448% or $307$951
Mississippi$76844% or $340$1,108
Missouri$70534% or $243$947
Montana$69443% or $302$995
Nebraska$64237% or $239$881
Nevada$95750% or $480$1,437
New Hampshire$55359% or $328$881
New Jersey$83643% or $355$1,191
New Mexico$67643% or $288$963
New York$84415% or $125$969
North Carolina$47348% or $228$701
North Dakota$66236% or $241$903
Ohio$51684% or $434$950
Oklahoma$78049% or $382$1,162
Oregon$69747% or $329$1,025
Pennsylvania$69520% or $141$836
Rhode Island$1,05526% or $278$1,333
South Carolina$68444% or $299$983
South Dakota$67138% or $257$928
Tennessee$71337% or $263$976
Texas$91444% or $401$1,314
Utah$60441% or $248$852
Vermont$53842% or $227$764
Virginia$45944% or $201$660
Washington$60339% or $236$839
West Virginia$71049% or $350$1,060
Wisconsin$53546% or $247$782
Wyoming$68738% or $261$948


Additional resources


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This article was written by one of The Zebra’s insurance experts. Each article is thoroughly researched to ensure we provide readers the most accurate and useful information possible. That’s insurance in black and white.®

Recent Questions:

When to File a Car Insurance Claim

If I ask my insurance agent about making a claim, can they raise my rates?

While your agent could certainly help advise you about whether or not to make a claim, it's possible that they could report the potential claim to their underwriters who may follow up on it. At-fault accidents can add a considerable amount to your insurance premiums, so you definitely want to be careful about filing.

How do I get a false claim on my record removed?

The best course of action would be to call that insurance company and request all paperwork associated with that claim. It should show as a zero dollar payout, which you could show to other companies to dispute the claim. If you want to fight it off your record, you'd need to look up your CLUE report from LexisNexis and open a dispute regarding that claim.

Should I file a claim with their insurance company or mine?

In this case, if they opened a claim on their own insurance they are likely admitting fault. I would also open a claim against their insurance.

My car was a total loss. Will the other insurance send the money to my lienholder?

Sorry to hear about your situation. I would check with your gap coverage provider.

Ava Lynch LinkedIn

Ava worked in the insurance industry as an agent for four-plus years. Currently providing insights and analysis as one of The Zebra’s resident property insurance experts, Ava has been featured in publications such as U.S. News & World Report, GasBuddy, and Yahoo! Finance.