AUTO INSURANCE CLAIM FAQS
How to File an Auto Insurance Claim
To file an auto insurance claim, follow these steps:
- Call your insurance agent as soon as possible, regardless of who is at fault. Find out whether you're covered for this loss. Even if the accident appears minor, it is important that you let your insurance company know about the incident.
- Ask your agent or company representative how to proceed and what forms or documents are needed to support your claim. Your insurance company will require a “proof of claim” form and, if there is one, a copy of the police report. Increasingly, companies allow you to monitor the progress of your claim on their web site.
- Supply the information your insurer requests. Fill out the claim form carefully. Keep good records. Get the names and phone numbers of everyone you speak with and copies of any bills related to the accident.
- Ask your insurance agent or company representative the following:
- Does my policy contain a time limit for filing claims and submitting bills?
- Is there a time limit for resolving claims disputes?
- If I need to submit additional information, is there a time limit?
- When can I expect the insurance company to contact me?
- Do I need to get repair estimates for the damage to my car?
- Will my policy pay for a rental car while my car is being repaired? If so, how much?
Will my insurance cover renting a car after an accident?
Many drivers don't think about their insurance coverage until after they have an accident and call their insurance company to file a claim to help pay for car repairs, a rental car and other expenses.
Unfortunately, many insured drivers are surprised to find out that their auto insurance does not automatically cover the cost of a replacement rental car after an accident. Since the average car is in the repair shop for two weeks after an accident, it can cost as much as $500 to rent a replacement car. But, some insured drivers pay little or nothing to rent a car because of an inexpensive but often overlooked option known as rental reimbursement.
Rental reimbursement coverage is available for only $1 or $2 a month with almost every auto insurance policy, but it is bypassed frequently by those who believe they will not have a car accident or those shopping only for the lowest cost premium. The cost of a rental replacement car adds up fast, so even if you don't have an accident for eight or nine years, the coverage pays for itself when you need it most.
Sometimes working out the details of a claim with the auto insurance company can take time. Even if the accident is the other driver's fault, you may have to wait several days or longer to get the other insurance company to agree to pay for a rental car. With your own coverage, there is no waiting.
How are the value of my car and the cost of repair determined?
There are several standard guidelines for determining the value of your car for insurance purposes. You and your insurer can refer to one of the books that list the depreciated value of all new and used cars. One of these books is published by the National Association of Automobile Dealers another is published by Kelley Blue Book.
When you file your claim, your insurance company will refer you to a claims adjuster. The adjuster will verify the loss and determine what it will cost to repair the car. The adjuster’s estimate can serve as a benchmark to which to compare your own mechanic’s estimate.
No good adjuster or insurance company will expect you to sign an agreement accepting the insurer’s estimate as the total claim payment until you’ve established, to your own satisfaction, that it will cover the cost of repair. The insurer will expect you to get your own estimate from your mechanic, garage or car dealer. Don’t allow yourself to feel pressured into accepting the insurer’s estimate of repair costs without getting at least one estimate of your own.
Your insurance company can’t require you to have repairs done at a particular shop. But they can insist that you get more than one estimate for the work to be done on your car. Just as you want to make sure that your car is adequately repaired, the insurer wants to make sure it doesn’t pay a grossly inflated repair bill.
Don’t be surprised if your insurance company opts to pay for the lowest bid. You don’t have to accept that bid if you believe the low bid won’t adequately repair your car. Don’t hesitate to argue with the adjuster if you really believe his repair estimate is too low based on what your mechanic has told you.
One factor that could reduce the amount of your claim for a repair job is what insurance companies call betterment. If your old car is repaired with brand-new parts, your insurer may argue that the repairs have actually enhanced the car’s value and therefore they can legitimately reduce your claim by the difference between a used part and a new one.
It is up to your insurer to decide whether to pay for repairing your car or to declare it a total loss and pay you its book value. Most standard auto policies will not pay to repair a vehicle if the repairs cost more than the cash value assigned to the car. There won’t be any dispute about whether to repair the car if it was completely totaled. But you may argue about what the pieces of the car were worth when they were assembled as a car. For you to get a settlement higher than the book value of your car’s make and model, you will have to submit evidence such as mileage records, service history and affidavits from mechanics to show that your car was worth more. You’re entitled to the market price of the car you just lost. You shouldn’t get more or less than what you are due.
Can my insurance company require me to use certain types of auto repair parts?
Your insurance company can't require you to use only certain kinds of auto repair parts. However, if the insurance company's rates are based on a certain type of part and you want something different, it can ask you to pay the difference if the part you want is more expensive.
The parts most frequently damaged in auto accidents are "crash parts". These are the sheet metal pieces that cover the engine and frame of the car. There are two sources for crash parts: auto manufacturers, who sell them under their own names, also known as original-equipment manufacturers (OEM), and generic or aftermarket crash parts suppliers. Studies have demonstrated that these crash parts do not affect the safety of the car. The development of a market in generic parts has brought prices for car replacement parts down and can help consumers save money.
In general, if generic parts have been ordered for the repair of your car, this information must be disclosed. The car repair order should state that the parts are not from the original manufacturer and the warranty may be different. Many generic parts are made at the same factories as OEM parts, and in fact very few OEM parts are actually made by car makers.
Insurance companies that use generic parts guarantee the parts they use. If the part doesn't fit properly, the insurance company will generally put on an OEM part at no extra cost.
Some auto insurance companies offer their policyholders a choice between OEM and generic repair parts as part of an endorsement (addition to the policy that changes its terms and conditions) that includes other choices as well. Some always specify OEM parts for repairs and some use OEM parts for repairing recent model cars. A few states require insurance companies to offer generic parts when they exist and some may require OEM parts to be used.
Ask your insurance agent about your state and your insurance company's claim settlement guidelines so that you'll know what to expect if your car has to be repaired after an accident.
If I file a claim, will my premium go up?
You may be reluctant to file a claim because you fear that your premium will go up or your insurance will be canceled. Practices vary from company to company. In general, an insurer will increase your premium by specific percentages for each chargeable claim made against your policy above a specific dollar amount. A chargeable claim is one the insurer considers primarily your fault. The percentages and ceilings vary from company to company. These increases generally stay on your premium for three years following the claim.
Your company may also decide not to renew your policy if your driving record gets markedly worse or you have several accidents. Different insurers have different rules about what constitutes an unacceptably bad driving record. But some accidents, such as those caused by drunk driving, will probably trigger a nonrenewal from virtually every insurance company.
If you have an accident but don‘t report it to your insurer, you are taking a risk, even if the damage seems minor. If the other driver sues you weeks or months later, your failure to report the accident might cause your insurer to refuse to honor the policy. And even if they do honor the policy, the delay will certainly make it harder for the insurer to gather evidence to represent you.
Will My Insurance Pay for a Loss In My Car’s Value if it Is Damaged In a Collision?
Diminished Value Explained
- What Is Diminished Value?
After a vehicle has been involved in a major accident and has been repaired, depending on its age and condition, the resale value may be less than if it had not been damaged. In other words, potential buyers may believe the repairs, even if they meet the highest standards, have not restored the vehicle to its pre-accident condition and will be unwilling to pay as much for it as a result. This perceived financial loss is known as diminished value. (In fact, older model cars that have been damaged and repaired may actually be worth more because new parts have been substituted for many of the old parts.)
Diminished value claims generally apply to auto insurance policies but can also pertain to a property insurance policy covering real estate.
- Will My Insurance Policy Pay for Diminished Value?
An insurance policy is a legal document, a contract between the policyholder and his or her insurance company. Whether an insurer can be expected to compensate an auto insurance policyholder for diminished value depends on state legislation or state court rulings and who was to blame for the accident.
- What If an Accident Is My Fault?
Suppose you, as the policyholder, are backing out of a parking lot and ram the car into a lamppost. In most cases, you would not be compensated for diminished value. If you have purchased the standard, optional collision coverage, your insurer will pay for repairs to the car, minus the deductible. Except in a very few states, the language in the collision section of the standard auto insurance policy clearly excludes coverage for diminished value. This exclusion has been affirmed by courts in many states.
- What If an Accident Was Clearly Caused by the Negligence of Another Driver?
In all states except Michigan, if an accident is the fault of another driver, you would receive compensation for diminished value because legally the third party has an obligation to make the victim of the accident “whole” again; in other words, to restore the victim’s car to its pre-accident fair market value. This means repairing the vehicle and paying the difference in the car’s resale value before and after the accident, the cost of which is usually covered by the at-fault driver’s liability insurance policy.
If the at-fault driver is uninsured and cannot pay for repairs, receipt of payment will depend on whether you have purchased uninsured motorist’s coverage, the portion of an insurance policy that protects a policyholder against losses due to uninsured and hit-and-run drivers. About half of the states allow recovery for diminished value under this coverage. (Drivers are required to purchase a liability insurance policy in all states except New Hampshire, which only requires drivers to have sufficient financial assets to pay for whatever harm they may cause. Some states, including New Hampshire, also mandate the purchase of uninsured motorist coverage.)
When the law allows the policyholder to recover the amount by which the car’s value has been diminished, whether under the at-fault driver’s liability policy or under the policyholder’s own uninsured motorist or collision coverage, it is always the policyholder’s responsibility to prove the repaired vehicle is worth less than before the accident. Payments may be reduced by the degree to which the policyholder was to blame for the accident.
- State Court Rulings
In most states the language in the collision section of the standard auto insurance policy clearly excludes coverage for diminished value. This exclusion has been affirmed by courts in many states. However, a landmark decision in a Georgia case found coverage for diminished value.
The oft-cited case is State Farm Mutual Automobile Insurance Company v. Mabry, decided by the Georgia Supreme Court in 2001, in which the court said the insurance company not only has a contractual obligation to pay for diminution in value in first-party physical damage claims but also that it has a responsibility to establish a procedure for handling diminution of value claims. In response, State Farm developed a formula (“17c”) by which diminished value claims could be measured. Since then, insurers have used this as the basis for creating their own formulas.
In 2011 the Georgia Supreme Court was asked to decide whether the decision in State Farm v. Mabry applied to property, in this case damage to a building. In May 2012, in the case Royal Capital Development v. Maryland Casualty Company, the high court said that “Mabry is not limited by the type of property insured, but rather speaks generally to the measure of damages an insurer is obligated to pay.” In Georgia, therefore, a policyholder’s property insurance policy covers the diminished value of the damaged real estate in addition to the cost of repair.