When to File a Car Insurance Claim

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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 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 average insurance rate increases after an at-fault accident.

Year(s) After Accident Average Price Increase
No Accident $0 - No Increase
1 Year Later +$687
2 Years Later +$1,374
3 Years Later +$2,061

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.

First, a few post-accident 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.

...and one disclaimer

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."

And of course, if anyone is even remotely injured, *always* file a claim. More on that below.

When not to file an insurance claim

1: If you damaged only your own vehicle

If you had a one-car accident and you're not injured, next steps are fairly straightforward. Any claim you would file in this situation would be considered at-fault collision claim. Depending on the value of the damage, an at-fault claim could increase your premium by $2,061 over three years.

Paul Moyer, an independent insurance agent based in Florida, elaborated: "There are very many times that filing an auto insurance claim is a bad idea," Moyer says. "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 an 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 fault is unclear

If you’re involved in a crash that results in property damage or injury, and 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 loss 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 how much an at-fault accident 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. You can find a list of what info you’ll need to file a claim here. 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.

What you should consider: the bottom line

The decision to file a claim will vary by each individual car accident. But, as we stated, there will times when you will 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 will be 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. Enter your zip code below to see insurance premiums from other companies at once!

Compare rates and find an insurance policy today!

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