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 auto 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 compare 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.

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 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. 


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

Compare rates and find an insurance policy today.

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Recent Questions:

If my car was fully paid for, can I still file a claim?

Having "full coverage" is a bit of a misnomer. It really refers to having both comprehensive and collision coverage.
Jul 1, 2018 Eutaw, Al

Do I have the right to tell my insurance company not to pay a liability claim?

Unfortunately my best advice would be to hire an attorney if you aren't able to successfully argue your liability in the accident with your adjuster or their supervisor. The decision to pay out liability is up to your insurance company since the funds for the repairs are coming from them.
Nov 5, 2016 Dallas, TX

Can I file a claim with the "At fault" insurance company and have the repair check made out in my name if the car isn't registered to me?

You would file the claim since you were driving at the time of the accident. Unless the vehicle is totaled, however, there won't be any payout from the insurance company to anyone other than the repair shop.
Sep 10, 2017 Columbus, OH

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

The decision to file a claim would be completely up to you, but in Massachusetts, an accident has an average impact of more than $700 per year in additional premium. If the repairs are less than that then I would recommend paying for the damage out of your own pocket.
Dec 24, 2016 Springfield, MA

Ross Martin
Ross MartinManager, Content Quality

As a licensed insurance agent, Ross researches and writes insurance content intended to help users make informed decisions.

Ross's background is in writing and education. He holds a master's degree from Royal Holloway, University of London.

Ross's work has been cited by The New York Times, Investopedia, 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.

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  • The Zebra’s insurance content is not subject to review or alteration by insurance companies or partners.

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  • 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.