Should I file an auto insurance claim?

Frustrated young woman checking car scratches and dents

So you’ve had a minor accident. It happens to most of us, sooner or later. You might be a bit shaken up and wondering what to do next. Your first priority, of course, is making sure everyone involved is okay. If there are other drivers, be sure to exchange insurance information, whether or not you think it’s necessary. The next step is to take photos of damage to all vehicles involved, the scene of the accident, and any property damage. Now you’re probably asking yourself, “Should I file an auto insurance claim?”

The biggest reason people are often hesitant in filing an auto insurance claim is that they fear that their insurance company will raise their rates. There are certainly times when it makes sense not to file a claim, but if there are other people involved in the accident, that may not be the best choice.

A not uncommon occurrence with fender-benders is for the drivers to work out a cash arrangement and avoid insurance companies entirely. While this can work out fine, it is risky and generally not recommended. Say you rear-ended someone and from all appearances there is only minor damage that you can pay for out-of-pocket. But then a few days later, the other driver discovers more damage or realizes she is injured – being sued is now a real possibility. You are better off reporting the accident to your insurance company right away.

When to File a Claim

While no one wants their rates to go up, you have an insurance policy for a reason and there are times you should use it. Below are some examples:

  • Another vehicle was involved – You will not always be aware of the extent of the damage or how much it will cost to fix. There could also be injuries that are not obvious at the time of the accident. File a claim any time there’s another driver involved.
  • There are injuries – Generally, if you’re hurt, you should file a claim. If others are hurt, report it to your insurer immediately to protect yourself from lawsuits.
  • Your policy includes “accident forgiveness” – This is offered by some companies, and if it’s part of your policy, your rates won’t go up for an accident. Just know that if you use this benefit for a minor accident, you won’t have it available if you get into something more serious later.

When Not to File a Claim

While you still might decide to file a claim in the following scenarios, you can also keep your rates from going up if you don’t:

  • You only have liability coverage – You should still report the accident to your insurance company if anyone else was involved, but you won’t be covered by your policy for damage to your own vehicle.
  • No one else was involved and there was no other property damage – I once backed into a large boulder and put a good-sized dent in my bumper; of course the boulder was fine. In situations like these, if you can afford to pay for the repairs yourself, or if the repairs cost less than or slightly over your deductible, there’s no need to file a claim.

The Claims Process

Filing auto insurance claims is something no one looks forward to, but when it’s time, it helps to know a bit about the insurance claim process. Your first step will be to contact your insurer or insurance agent and provide any information you’re asked for. Any photos or other documentation you have should be provided as well, as it can greatly assist in claims processing.

A claims adjuster will then investigate the accident to determine who’s at fault and how much you will receive. That includes looking over your car to determine the cost for repairs. Then you’ll take your vehicle to get it repaired at the repair shop of your choice, and the insurance company will either pay you or pay the shop directly.

Accident claims are an unfortunate part of life for many drivers, but hopefully they are a rare occurrence for you. Knowing when you don’t need to file them and when you absolutely should will ensure that you don’t get hit with rate increases when you didn’t need to, and protect your bank account when you do have a claim.

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