Your Car Repair Options After an Accident

Whose insurance covers vehicle damage after a car accident, and how do you get your car fixed?

Updated by , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If your vehicle was damaged in a car accident, you probably want to know how to go about getting it repaired or replaced, and who will be financially responsible. The answers depend on a number of key factors we'll discuss in this article, including:

  • the extent of the vehicle's damage in relation to its value
  • who was at fault for the car accident that led to the vehicle damage, and
  • the types and amounts of available insurance coverage that might come into play after the accident.

Repair Costs and the Value of Your Car

If your car, truck, or other kind of motor vehicle has been damaged in any kind of accident, the first thing to know is that any insurance company—whether it's your own insurer or the other (at-fault) driver's—is only required to pay up to the value of your vehicle at the time of the accident (also known as "actual cash value").

If you've received a repair estimate or two after a car accident and it looks like repair costs will exceed the value of your car, the insurer will often:

  • declare the vehicle a "total loss"
  • pay you the actual cash value of your vehicle, and
  • take possession of the vehicle.

Remember that with any type of property damage claim, the value of the claim has nothing to do with how much you originally paid for the property. And keep in mind that whichever insurance company ends up bearing financial responsibility for the vehicle damage portion of your car accident losses, that insurer will only pay for repairs/replacement of your vehicle up to policy limits.

For example, if the other driver was at fault and caused $10,000 of vehicle damage to your car, but has only $5,000 of property damage coverage, that driver's insurer will only pay $5,000 toward your repair costs.

Get the basics on how car insurance coverage works after an accident.

Making a Claim With the Other Driver's Insurer

If the other driver was at fault for your car accident, you probably have the option of filing a claim with that person's insurance company (assuming they have liability property damage or other relevant coverage) in order to get your car repaired or replaced. This is known as a "third party" insurance claim. Learn more about making a third-party insurance claim after a car accident.

Using Your Own Collision Coverage

Collision coverage ensures that you will be reimbursed for your vehicle damage if the other driver didn't have enough insurance, or if you were at fault for the accident. If the other driver was at fault and had enough insurance coverage, you wouldn't typically make a claim against your own insurance policy's collision coverage.

Using Your Own Comprehensive Coverage

Comprehensive coverage will pay for damage caused by something other than a collision—like weather, fires, and falling tree branches. It also covers theft, vandalism, and (sometimes) accidents involving animals.

Note that if your car if another driver hits your parked car, you could make a claim against that driver's liability policy, or under your own collision coverage, if you have it. Remember that comprehensive coverage doesn't apply to any kind of collision, including parking lot hit-and-run incidents.

What If You Were at Fault for Your Vehicle's Damage?

If you caused your own vehicle's damage—by driving off the road or running into a tree or fence, for example—you would either have to pay for the damage yourself or make a claim against your own policy's collision coverage, if you have it.

If the damage isn't extensive, you might want to pay out of pocket for repairs because making a claim against your own policy's coverage might raise your car insurance premium, and cost you more money in the long run.

Getting the Insurer to Pay For Your Repair Costs

Regardless of whose insurance company is responsible for paying your repair costs, the first thing that you have to do is report the accident and get the car insurance claim process started.

After that, the insurer will usually have your car inspected. If the car is drivable, the insurer might ask you to bring it to a drive-through inspection station. If the car is not drivable, the insurer will usually have an inspector come to wherever the car is located.

The insurer will then come up with an estimate of the damages, which may or may not be enough to pay for the repairs. Although the insurer might recommend that you bring the car to a mechanic of its choice, you always have the right to use your preferred mechanic.

Once you get the insurer's estimate, you may want to bring your car to your mechanic and ask if they will accept the insurer's estimate. If they will, then everything is all set. If your preferred mechanic thinks the estimate is too low, they will often agree to call the insurance adjuster and discuss things directly.

Next Steps When Your Vehicle Has Been Damaged In an Accident

If your car accident left you with vehicle damage, but no injuries, it probably makes sense to get the insurance claim process started on your own, without a lawyer's help. That's especially if you're proceeding through your own insurance company. For more tips on getting your vehicle repaired the right way after a car accident, get How to Win Your Personal Injury Claim by Joseph L. Matthews (Nolo).

If your car accident also resulted in injuries, or if you and the insurance company are miles apart when it comes to what it's going to cost (or who's going to pay) to get your car fixed, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced legal professional. Learn more about how a car accident attorney can help.

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