A Guide to Car Insurance Claims

If you were recently in a car accident, filing an insurance claim can help you cover the cost of repairing your vehicle. Insurance agents and adjusters deal with this every day, but this is probably only the first or second time you have ever gone through the process. Use this guide to car insurance claims to help ensure a smooth process.

Collect Information at the Scene of the Accident

First, make sure everyone is okay. If anyone is injured, call an ambulance. Even if there are no serious injuries, call the police. Having an officer record the details and compile a police report will prove useful when you file your claim.

Next, exchange information with the other driver(s) involved in the accident. Collect the following:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Phone number
  • Insurance company name and policy number
  • Driver’s license number
  • License plate number

You’ll also want to document the accident and any injuries before they’re cleaned up so you can prove the extent of the damage. Taking photos is the best way to do this.

Provide Information to Your Insurance Company

Call your insurer as soon as it’s safe to do so. You may have a better chance of answering all your agent’s questions if you call from the scene of the accident. Be prepared to provide the following information:

  • Facts about the other drivers involved (see the list above)
  • Location, time of day, and weather conditions when the accident occurred
  • Names and badge numbers of the officers who responded to the incident
  • Copy of the accident report
  • Photos of the vehicle damage (may need to be emailed later)

Ask About Your Insurance Coverage

Make sure you understand your coverage before you pay for anything out of pocket related to the accident. Here are the most important things to clarify:

  • The deductible: This is the amount you owe before insurance benefits take effect. For instance, if your deductible is $1,000 and you accrue $2,500 in damages, the insurance company will reimburse you $1,500.
  • Transportation expense coverage: You may be eligible for a free tow truck to get your car to a shop, as well as a rental car while your vehicle is being repaired. Review your policy to check for coverage and limits.
  • How a total loss is determined: 22 states, including Illinois, don’t assign a specific threshold percentage for designating a car as “totaled.” Instead, they use a total loss formula, which accounts for the cost of the repairs plus the scrap value of the vehicle. If this number is equal to or greater than the actual cash value of your car before the accident, it is considered totaled.
  • Gap insurance: If you still owe money on your car, it’s wise to have gap insurance. This requires the insurance company to pay off your auto loan if the car is totaled in an accident.
  • Time limit for submitting a claim: If you wait too long, you could forfeit benefits for vehicle repairs and medical bills. To avoid this possibility, file the claim as soon as possible.

Work with an Insurance Adjuster

Once you report the accident and file a claim, your insurance company will issue you a claim number and assign you an adjuster. This specialist will work with you to get your claim settled. Here are the kinds of things to expect from your insurance adjuster:

  • Arrange for a tow truck and/or rental car, if covered by your policy
  • Investigate the circumstances of the accident
  • Speak with other people involved and their insurance companies on your behalf
  • Recommend a repair shop where you can take your car if you choose
  • Review and approve repair estimates
  • Go over potential injury claims and handle payments
  • Answer any questions you have, such as when your claim will be paid out

Repair Your Car

Never accept, offer, or approve any car repairs until your insurance company gives the all-clear. In fact, it’s best to hand over control of the entire process to your adjuster to ensure you don’t pay for expenses that are not approved for reimbursement.

Let the insurance adjuster work with the car repair shop and share the estimated cost with you. Once you and the adjuster agree on the price and the work to be done—including the use of original equipment manufacturer (OEM) vs. generic parts—the repair can begin.

Be aware that your insurer might pay the car repair shop directly, or pay you and let you handle the bill. Either way, have your claim number with you when you bring your vehicle in for repair to speed up the process.

Decide How to Proceed if the Car is Totaled

If the repair estimate plus the scrap value of the vehicle exceeds what the car is worth—in other words if it’s totaled—you’ll need to decide how you wish to proceed:

  • You can go forward with the repair, but you’ll be responsible to pay the difference between the cost and your car’s value.
  • You will receive an offer from your insurance company for the actual cash value of your car, minus the deductible, in exchange for surrendering the totaled vehicle. You can put this money toward the purchase of a new car. If you owe more money on the car than it’s worth, gap insurance should help pay off the rest of your auto loan.
  • You may be given the option to collect a lower claim payment and keep the totaled car for your own purposes, such as tinkering with or salvaging it.

Tackle Any Problems with Your Claim as They Arise

Insurance companies are supposed to help their clients, but it doesn’t always go smoothly. If you have difficulty communicating with your adjuster, contact your agent directly. You can also ask your insurance company about how to submit a complaint.

If you feel as though your insurance company is neglecting you or taking too long to reimburse you, contact your state commissioner’s office to learn what can be done. Only after all of these attempts to resolve the issue should you consider hiring a lawyer.

If you are unhappy with the service you received, you may want to look into changing insurance companies. Be aware, though, that finding coverage at or below your current rate shortly after getting in an accident could prove difficult, even if you weren’t at fault.

B&L Automotive Repairs has experience working with car insurance companies. We’ll facilitate the claims process so you can go about your busy schedule until your car is repaired and returned to you. Bring your vehicle to our Chicago auto repair shop for an estimate, or give us a call at (773) 463-1622 for more information.

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