How to navigate the claims process with your car insurance company

If you were in a collision with another driver, you should definitely get your insurance company involved if anyone was injured or there was more than a scratch. In addition to taking care of the claim, they'll pay for a lawyer if the other driver sues you.

How to navigate the claims process with your car insurance company

No one plans to have to file a car insurance claim. You’re thinking about something else – being late for work, that text from your bestie, how awful the traffic is – when suddenly you hear the unmistakable crunch of your bumper colliding with something. Next thing you know, you’re exchanging insurance information with another driver. You have more questions than answers. Will my insurance pay to fix my car? What about the other driver’s car? How do I file a claim with my car insurance? Why don’t they teach you how to deal with insurance in school? 

We don’t have all the answers, but as insurance experts, we know all about how to file a claim. Even if you’ve never done it before, you’ve got this. Just let us help. 

Filing a car insurance claim: key things to know in 2023 

What does it mean to file an insurance claim? 

An insurance claim is how you get paid back for a loss that an insurance policy covers. In insurance lingo, “loss” is when you lose money or something of value. 

For example, imagine you have to replace your side view mirror after a close call with another car. The damage to the mirror and the money you pay to the mechanic replacing it are losses. If you have medical bills from a car accident, those are losses too. 

When you file a claim with an insurance company, you’re basically saying, “You guys said my policy pays for this type of loss. Well, it happened to me. Can you please send me the money to pay for it?” 

Unfortunately, you can’t just call your insurance provider and ask them to Venmo $2,000 to @soccergurl2003 for car repairs. The process is slightly more complicated. But, if your provider approves your claim, they’ll send you money to pay for your loss. 

When should you file an insurance claim? 

You have the option to file a car insurance claim when you suffer a loss your insurance covers. So, if an accident damages your car, or causes you an injury, you could file a claim. 

If you were in a collision with another driver, either one of you or both can file a claim, and you should definitely get your insurance company involved if anyone was injured or there was more than a scratch. In addition to taking care of the claim, they'll pay for a lawyer if the other driver sues you.

If you were the only person involved, it depends. If the loss is less than your deductible, you don’t need to file a claim. Your insurance will only pay for medical bills or car repairs that cost more than your deductible, and only if you have PIP/meday or comprehensive and collision on your policy, respectively. In fact, filing a claim when the loss is less than your deductible could hurt you in the long run. Filing claims raises your premiums. Why raise your premium when you won’t get reimbursed for your claim? 

Who was involved also matters for which company you file a claim with. You can file claims with your insurance provider or, if you were hit by another driver, you can also report it to them. 

Which insurance company should you file a claim with? 

For many car accidents and other losses, you’ll file a claim with your insurance provider. If you caused the accident, you’ll likely be filing a claim with your provider. 

However, if someone else caused the accident, or you and someone else are both responsible, you might file a claim with their car insurance. If someone is legally responsible for causing an accident, they are “at fault”. Being at fault doesn’t mean someone’s a bad person – it just means they’re liable for the accident. If you’re liable for an accident, then you’re on the hook to pay for the losses it caused. That’s why liability coverage on your car insurance is so important! And that’s why, if another driver caused an accident you were in, you might file a claim with their car insurance. 

And don't worry - your insurance company and their insurance company will get in touch and agree on who is at fault. You don't need to sort it out or even discuss it with the other driver.

Does filing a car insurance claim raise your premiums? 

Unfortunately, filing a claim almost always raises your premium. Your premium will likely increase by three to 32 percent for three to five years after you file the claim. Many factors affect the size of the increase. The top reason is the type of claim you file and how much it costs. A claim for an accident you caused will result in the biggest increase. Damage that costs more than $2,000 can also raise your premium a lot. Your claims history and which company you get insurance from also make a difference.

Having accident forgiveness on your policy could reduce the amount your premium increases. In addition, some states don't allow insurance companies to surcharge for accidents in which you were not at fault.

Insurance claim process for car accidents 

Document the scene and file a police report 

Documentation is essential for getting your insurance claims approved. Make sure you exchange information with any other drivers at the scene - name, address, insurance company, and policy number.

Then, make sure you get a police report. If police come to the scene of the accident, file a police report with the officer(s) on site. Otherwise, check with your local police station for how to file a report saying what happened in the accident. 

Take pictures or video of any damage from the accident. That means your car, other cars, and inanimate objects like fences or guardrails. If you have visible injuries like bruises or scrapes, photograph those too. The more information you can provide to your insurance company about the accident, the better. 

Contact your insurance company 

Call your insurance agent or provider as soon as possible after an accident. They will ask about: 

  • Which car was involved 
  • Whether you or someone else was driving 
  • Where and when the accident happened 
  • What happened 
  • The name and insurance info of any other people involved in the accident 

Make sure to get the agent or provider’s name and phone number, and take notes about what they say. They should give you a claim number. Think of your claim number like a USPS shipping number – it’s how you’ll track your claim’s progress. 

If you believe another driver is at fault for the accident, file a claim with their insurance provider too. 

Work with the insurance adjuster 

Claims adjusters work for car insurance companies. Their job is to investigate your insurance claim to figure out how much the accident costs and how much of that cost the insurance company is responsible for. The adjuster investigating your claim will call you to learn more about the accident. They will ask you to: 

  • Describe what happened during the accident 
  • Send them any photos or video you took of the accident damage or injuries 
  • Provide contact information you collected from witnesses or other drivers 

The adjuster will record your call as part of documenting your claim. Just tell them the facts of what happened – don’t guess if you’re not sure about something. 

Outside of your call, the claims adjuster will inspect your car to assess the damage. Or, they’ll have you bring your car to a shop that can inspect it for them. 

Get the adjuster’s report and get paid 

After the adjuster concludes their claim investigation, they’ll create a report estimating how much your accident repairs will cost. If a repair shop inspected your car, the number in the estimate might come from the shop. Either way, the estimate informs the insurance company’s decision about how much to pay to fix or replace your car. 

Get your claim payment 

If you’re happy with the estimate, you can sign a release accepting the insurance company’s offer to pay the claim. This is called reaching a final settlement. Once you sign the release, the insurance company will send you the claim payment. 

If you think the estimate is too low, make a counteroffer to the adjuster. You’ll need to provide evidence to back up your counteroffer. For example, maybe the adjuster missed a broken component from the accident and replacing that component will cost $300. You could submit an estimate from your mechanic with their diagnosis of the problem and an estimation of the component’s cost. If the adjuster agrees, you can reach a final settlement for the new amount. Otherwise, you might need to keep negotiating, or accept a lower claim payment. 

How your agent can help 

Being in a car accident is stressful enough on its own. Filing a claim afterward can feel like adding insult (or confusion) to injury. You’ll probably have lots of questions and anxieties about the claims process. That’s where your insurance agent can help.

You can call your agent with questions like how long the claims process will take, how to talk to the adjuster, and how your insurance company assesses accident losses. You know that “I’m an adult, but I need an adultier adult” feeling that comes with dealing with bureaucracy? An insurance agent is the one to call when you need a claims expert to be your adult. Agents help customers through the claims process all the time, so they have lots of expertise to draw on. 

Are you looking for a new insurance policy right now, or wondering how to lower your premiums after an accident? Contact Surround Insurance to talk to one of our independent insurance agents. We’re very adulty and happy to help. 

This is general information based on questions our customers ask us. It may not be right for your specific situation. You should get some advice from a licensed insurance agent (like us!) before you make a decision on your own insurance.