Gianetta Palmer is a writer for, copywriter, and essayist. Her work has appeared in, Healthline, and The Dyrt Magazine. She is the author of Scrunchie-Fried and writes a lot about car insurance in her spare time.

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Melanie Musson is the fourth generation in her family to work in the insurance industry. She grew up with insurance talk as part of her everyday conversation and has studied to gain an in-depth knowledge of state-specific car insurance laws and dynamics as well as a broad understanding of how insurance fits into every person’s life, from budgets to coverage levels. She also specializes in automa...

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Reviewed by Melanie Musson
Published Insurance Expert

UPDATED: Mar 13, 2020

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In order to receive an insurance settlement for injuries or damages after an accident, you need to file a claim with a car insurance company. Some individuals may carry insurance for several years without ever needing to file a claim. Unfortunately, accidents can and do happen every day, so you may some day need to file a claim against your auto insurance policy. By knowing what to expect in advance, you can help make the process as quick and painless as possible.

How to File a Car Insurance Claim

In order to begin the claims process, you will need to call the insurance company or visit with your local agent. Not all agencies are equipped to handle claims; some may simply connect you with the claims department. Either way, you will need to provide some basic information about the accident to the insurance company. The process usually takes about 15 minutes, but it may take longer if the claim is fairly complex, such as multiple car collisions or accidents with numerous injuries.

You will need to verify your identity and provide the year, make and model of the vehicle. You will also need to provide all of the identifying and contact information for all other parties involved in the accident, give a description of what happened, explain what areas of the vehicles are damaged and state if there were any injuries. If you do not know any information, you can file a claim with unknowns, but the processing will be delayed until the information can be fully updated.

Once all of the information has been keyed into the system, the claims representative or agent will discuss your coverages, explain the next steps of the process and set up an appointment for an inspection if necessary. If the vehicle sustained damage and you have the coverage to pay for that damage, the insurance company will want to look at your vehicle to complete an estimate. Even if you do not have the coverage to pay for your repairs, the insurance company may still want to look at the vehicle to aid in the liability investigation.

Once this has occurred, the claims department will provide you with a name and phone number for your adjuster. Depending on the claim, you may have multiple adjusters, such as one for injuries, one for damage and one for liability. Other claims may be handled by just one person, or a team of people. Either way, be sure to take down that information as you may need to follow up later on in the process.

The Liability Determination

Some car accidents have clear liability. Any time you rear end someone, hit a fixed object or collide with a parked vehicle, you would be considered at fault for that collision. Other types of accidents are not as clear-cut, however, and an adjuster may be assigned to determine who is at fault for a collision. This may take several weeks depending on the situation. For example, a four-car pileup may take longer to investigate than a head-on collision between two cars.

The adjuster will obtain a recorded statement about the accident from all parties involved. They will ask in-depth questions, order a police report, speak with witnesses, take photographs of the accident location or complete any other investigation necessary to decide who caused the collision and how the claim should be handled.

Once liability has been determined, the adjuster will let you know what the ruling is and how it will apply to your loss. If you’re found at fault, your liability insurance will pay for the damage; if you are not at fault, you may be able to recover your deductible, and the adjuster will discuss that process with you.

The Inspection and Settlement

Before or during the liability investigation, the vehicle must be inspected. This may occur at the insured’s home, a drive-in inspection location, a body shop or other place. The appointment for the inspection will be set at the time the claim is filed, and an inspection will usually take between 30 minutes and one hour to complete.

During this time, the adjuster will photograph the damage, compile an estimate and discuss the price with the insured. If possible, the adjuster will issue a check for the damage at the inspection. Any applicable deductible will be subtracted from the total repair cost and the insured will receive a check for the difference; if the vehicle is being financed, the check must be issued two-party to either the liennnholder and insured or a body shop and the insured, but if the insured owns the vehicle outright the check will be made out directly to them.

If you are not at fault for the damage, you may be able to recover the cost of your deductible from the other insurance company. The adjuster will discuss this process with you and let you know what to expect if this is available. In most cases, the deductible can only be reimbursed after the claim has been settled, and it may take several months to receive those funds.

Every claim is unique, so it’s impossible to know in advance exactly what will happen whenever an accident occurs. By understanding the basic claims process, however, you will be prepared for an accident if it does happen. If you have any questions about a specific situation relating to your insurance, you can contact your insurance company for clarification.