How to File a Car Insurance Claim | Insurance Claim Guide

Filing a car insurance claim may seem straightforward, but there are a number of small steps along the way that can help the entire process go more smoothly. Use technology to file your claim quickly and completely, and file as soon as possible. State laws differ around police reports and determination of fault, so be sure to familiarize yourself with what's required before you find yourself in a car accident.

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Rachel Bodine graduated from college with a BA in English. She has since worked as a Feature Writer in the insurance industry and gained a deep knowledge of state and countrywide insurance laws and rates. Her research and writing focus on helping readers understand their insurance coverage and how to find savings. Her expert advice on insurance has been featured on sites like PhotoEnforced, All...

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Written by Rachel Bodine
Feature Writer Rachel Bodine

Dan Walker graduated with a BS in Administrative Management in 2005 and has been working in his family’s insurance agency, FCI Agency, for 15 years (BBB A+). He is licensed as an agent to write property and casualty insurance, including home, auto, umbrella, and dwelling fire insurance. He’s also been featured on sites like and Safeco. He reviews content, ensuring that ex...

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Reviewed by Daniel Walker
Licensed Auto Insurance Agent Daniel Walker

UPDATED: May 5, 2022

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Things to Remember

  • File your insurance claim quickly, even at the scene of the accident if possible
  • Websites and smartphone apps make the claim process easy, offering options to upload photos and other documentation
  • If you are found to be at fault, the incident could impact your future insurance rates

When you buy car insurance, you’re hoping to never have to use it. The whole purpose of insurance, however, is to be there when you need it. If you are in an accident, know how to file a car insurance claim. We are here to help you understand what to expect when filing a car insurance claim, from initial filing to repair and compensation.

What is a car insurance claim?

A car insurance claim is a formal request to your insurance company to assist you with a covered loss. Typically, a claim follows an accident with vehicle damages or physical injuries. When you file a car insurance claim, the expectation is your insurance company will compensate you for your losses.

Some examples of reasons why you may need to file a car insurance claim include:

  • Car accident
  • Damage to your vehicle due to a weather event
  • Vehicle break-in
  • Injuries as a result of your driving

The claims filing process is identical no matter the type of auto accident or vehicle damage.  

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How to File an Auto Insurance Claim

The car insurance claims process will vary from one insurer to the next, but the general steps followed are the same. Before you begin, make sure you have your policy information handy and then follow these steps:

  • Contact your insurance company immediately. The first thing you want to do, right at the scene of the accident when possible, is to contact your car insurance company. Whether you are at fault for the accident or not, you want to get it on their radar. Starting the claim as soon as possible helps speed up the process.
  • Make use of technology. Insurers use technology in the form of online interfaces and smartphone applications. These apps can allow you to report a claim, take and upload pictures right from the accident scene, and more. You can also get policy-level information such as coverage levels and deductible amounts. 
  • Make a list of the necessary documentation. Your insurance company will provide you with the documentation you need. A “proof of claim” form is a must. You may also need to provide additional information, such as a police report if one was made. 

Each car insurance company will have different technology available for filing your claim. Use whatever is easiest and most efficient for you to make that first contact.  

Does it matter who is at fault?

Insurance companies have the responsibility to determine fault in an accident, even in states with no-fault laws. The purpose of determining fault is to make an assessment as to the cause of an accident. For example, if one driver ran a red light and hit another driver, it is likely they are at fault for that accident.  

Why does fault matter? Here are three reasons:

  • The at-fault driver’s insurance company pays for covered losses
  • If both are at-fault in some way, or comparative fault, damages are split
  • The driver at fault will see an increase in insurance rates over time

Even in a no-fault state, fault makes a difference impacting driving records, rates, and more. No-fault states pay out bodily injury through personal injury protection (PIP) policies. Damage to the vehicle(s) falls outside of the scope of this coverage and fault will apply.  

In a no-fault state, both drivers must file a claim, and responsibility determination dictates which insurance company pays for damages.  

Should you always file a claim?

You need to assess the damage at hand before filing a claim with your auto insurance provider. If you have a fender bender resulting in $500 worth of damage, an auto insurance policy with a $1,000 deductible, and the incident doesn’t damage any other vehicles or property, you may not want to file a claim. Filing it will go on your insurance record and might increase your premiums.

In addition, since it was below the deductible, you are paying out of pocket for the entire accident anyways. Unless you are certain damages are more than your deductible and state laws don’t require the filing of a police report, you can decide whether filing a claim is the right move. 

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How long do you have to file an insurance claim?

There is a statute of limitations as to how long after a car accident you can wait to file a claim. If you look at the language from your insurance company, they will likely recommend you file the claim as quickly as possible. Each state, however, has varying timelines for filing a claim or a lawsuit after an accident. The range is typically one to 10 years. 

Does filing a claim affect your insurance rates?

Filing a car insurance claim will often impact your future insurance rates. The frequency of accidents, as well as fault, will determine your rate increase over time. 

Can you file a claim if there was no police report? 

You are able to file an auto insurance claim even if you didn’t file a police report. The police report helps to keep the claims process simple, but it is not necessary for some states or under some circumstances. The police report, though not always required, acts as a key piece of evidence to determine fault.

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How to File a Car Insurance Claim: The Bottom Line

The auto insurance claim filing process is not complicated. Auto insurance companies work hard to provide technology and access, making it easier than ever to file a claim.

The key thing to remember is to assess the damage, and if you intend to file a claim, do so promptly and with as much open and honest information as possible.

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