When to File a Car Insurance Claim

When is the best time to file a car insurance claim following a crash?

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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 coverage.

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

Year(s) After AccidentAverage Price 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.


Here's what we'll discuss:


What is a car insurance claim?

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


Some quick post-collision reminders

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."

Of course, if anyone is even remotely injured, always file a claim.


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When not to file an auto insurance claim


1. If you damaged only your own vehicle

If you had a one-car accident and you're not injured, 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 premium 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 there are times it might work in your favor not to involve your car insurance company after a crash, there are times when you should 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’ll 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 the 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 you suffer a total or significant 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 and see by how much an at-fault collision would raise your rates in your state. Remember to consider this value over three years.
  • 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 requires repairs, the insurance company will work with your repair shop.



Common reasons that your claim could be 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 the rules of your insurance company. 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 that you know exactly what your policy’s limits are as well as what it 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 havecomprehensive coverage. A detailed list of your limits and specific coverages can be found on your policy’sdeclarations page


Excluded drivers 

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


You waited too long 

After an accident, it’s important to act quickly. Here are two such examples:

  • 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 here how long you can wait to file a claim in your state.
  • Seek out 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 insurers discretion. 



If you are found to be driving under the influence of drugs or alcohol when an accident occurs, an insurance company can deny your claim.



What to do if your claim gets denied

If you have a car insurance claim that you feel is unfairly denied, there are typically several steps that you can take to appeal the decision. Your first step will likely be your insurance company itself. Most reputable insurers usually have a process in place for such an appeal. 

Should that fail, you should check with your state’s insurance commission. Many states will have resources available to act as protections to consumers that might provide some guidance. Finally, you could always consult an attorney. 



What to consider: the bottom line with auto insurance claims

The decision to file a car insurance claim will vary by each individual circumstance. But there will times when you need to file a claim. For example, you or another party has suffered a significant loss or someone is injured are common instances you should involve your insurance company. However, if the damage is small 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 experiencing a greater premium increase than the averages we presented, consider this a good opportunity to shop around for car insurance.



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 specific, feel free to submit it here! We have licensed agents who are able to answer your questions within 48 hours!


Q: Does a not-at-fault accident affect 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, see here.


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

A: This depends if an accident report was filed. If it was, it will show up when an insurance company runs a Motor Vehicle Report. This is typically done when beginning new policy and occasionally at your policy renewals. 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. So it's worth getting an estimate of repair costs first. Learn more.


Q: How long do you have to file a claim?

First, it's important to file a claim immediately after an accident. However, in theory, you have some time after an accident to file a claim — depending on your state and the type of claim.  Bear in mind, taking a few years will evitably length your wait time for a claim payout and can even risk having your claim denied. Although you have some time, you shouldn't wait to contact your insurance company.

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 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 vehicle to blame. For more information, see here.


How much does a claim impact my rate?

Your rate increase after an at-fault accident depends on a variety of factors — your state being a major contributor. Below is a state by state breakdown of how an at-fault accident impacts your rate. If you live in Ohio, you should expect the highest overall percentage increase after your first accident — with New York being the smallest. On a dollar-value basis, Michigan has the greatest increases versus Virginia with the least. Find your state below!

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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Recent Questions:

When to File a Car Insurance Claim

I borrowed my friend's car and caused $1,000 of damage

Typically, car insurance follows the vehicle (not the driver) so if you were to file a claim, it would be under your friend's insurance. However, I would exercise caution when considering filing claim.

What do I do if I scratched a person's car, agreed to pay out of pocket, but can't agree on the cost of the repair?

Unfortunately agreeing to pay for damage out of pocket without involving your insurance company can lead to issues like this. He does not have to agree with your offer and can attempt to get you to pay more than the actual cost of the repair.

Is it worth filing a claim for a scratch on my car that happened when it was parked?

If the scratch was the result of vandalism and not caused by another vehicle then filing a comprehensive claim should have little to no impact on your future rates. This also means that you will have to pay your comprehensive coverage deductible for the repair.

How long can you wait to file an auto insurance claim?

Each state has varying statutes on how long you have after damage occurs to file a claim. In Maryland, you actually have up to 3 years to file a property damage claim, although I would not recommend waiting that long as it can be difficult for your insurance company to properly assess the damage.