The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimates that there were well over 5 million police-reported car accidents in 2012. Thankfully, the majority of crashes only involved property damage.
Even when no one is injured, a car crash is scary. For many motorists, filing an insurance claim is equally unsettling. But, it doesn’t have to be. Here’s what to expect.
Gather your facts
Before contacting your insurance company, calm down and gather your facts. Consider writing things down so you can keep your statements consistent. DMV.org recommends having the following information at your fingertips:
- your auto insurance policy number
- date and location of the accident
- your description of how the accident happened and any injuries or damages
- name, contact information, license plate and insurance information for other drivers involved
- name of the police department and officer who responded and the officer’s contact information
Always get a police report, advises Consumer Reports. This provides you with a written, unbiased account and protects you in case stories change later.
Contact your insurance company
No matter who was at fault, call your own insurance company promptly, suggests the Insurance Information Institute. Laws vary by state and your insurance company can guide you through the process and warn you of any pitfalls. They’ll advise you about any steps you should take and whether or not you should speak to the other driver’s insurance company. They’ll also answer questions about your coverage.
When you call, the insurance agent will ask for the information you gathered earlier. They may even take a recorded statement from you right over phone. Then you’ll be assigned a claims adjustor. Make sure to write down your claim number and the adjustor’s name and phone number. In fact, document everything you can about your claim and its handling.
Dealing with the damage
An adjuster may schedule an appointment to view the damage to your vehicle. If not, you may be asked to take it to an approved body shop for an estimate or to get a repair quote on your own and submit it. Don’t forget to check with you insurance company to see if you’re covered for a rental while your car is in the repair shop.
Once the damage is assessed and agreed on, you insurance company will cut a check for the amount of the repairs, minus any deductible. This may come to you, or go straight to the repair shop.
If your car is totaled, you’ll be compensated based on your car’s actual value before the accident. This means you’ll get enough to buy a used car similar to the one you had. Only if you’ve purchased coverage that entitles you to replacement value will you receive enough to buy a similar new car.
Filing a car insurance claim shouldn’t be scary. Documenting everything and staying in touch with your insurance company should ensure the process goes smoothly. If not, you can contact your state’s insurance commissioner for help.
“8 Steps to Filing an Auto Insurance Claim” — Bankrate.com
“How Car Insurance Companies Handle Claims” — DMV.org
“How Car Insurance Companies Handle Car Accident Claims” — Edmunds.com
“How to File an Auto Insurance Claim” — Insurance Information Institute
“Insurance Claims: How to Get Your Due from Car, Home, and Life Insurance Policies” — Consumer Reports
“Traffic Safety Facts – 2012 Data” — National Highway Traffic Safety Administration