An insurer is only required to pay damages up to the value of your vehicle. If you've received a repair estimate or two and it looks like repair costs will exceed the value of your car, the insurer will often declare it a total loss, pay you the fair market value (also known as "actual cash value"), and take possession of your car.
Remember that with any type of property damage claim, the amount of the claim is based on the value of the property at the time of the accident. 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 only has $5,000 of property damage coverage, their insurer will only pay $5,000 toward your repair costs.
Get the basics on how car insurance coverage works after an accident.
If the other driver was at fault for your car accident, you probably have the option of filing a claim with the other driver'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 claim for vehicle damage after a car accident.
Collision coverage ensures that you will be reimbursed for your vehicle damage if the other driver did not 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 would not make a claim against your own insurance policy's collision coverage.
Comprehensive coverage is for vehicle damage that occurs when a car is parked at the time of the accident. Comprehensive coverage can apply if a vehicle hits your parked car, or with miscellaneous damage like a tree falling on it. As with collision coverage, if the driver that hit you had enough insurance coverage, you would not make a claim against your own insurance policy's comprehensive coverage. You don't generally need to worry about proving fault if your car was parked. It is generally assumed that, if someone hits a parked car, that driver was at fault.
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. However, if the damage is not extensive, you would probably not want to make a claim against your own policy because that might raise your car insurance premium, and it might cost you more money in the long run.
Regardless of whose insurance company is responsible for paying your repair costs, the first thing that you have to do is make a claim by reporting the accident.
The next thing that will usually happen is that the insurer will have your car inspected. If the car is drivable, you may be asked to bring it to the insurer's drive-through inspection station. If the car is not drivable, the insurer will usually have an inspector come to wherever the car is.
The insurer will then come up with an estimate of the damages. This estimate 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 own 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 they think that the estimate is too low, they will often agree to call the insurance adjuster and discuss things directly.
If you don't like the insurer's final numbers, then the only choice that you have left is to either accept it or file suit. If you find yourself in a dispute with an insurance company where a significant amount of money is at stake, it may be worth it to contact an experienced attorney to make sure that your interests are adequately protected. Learn more about how an attorney can help after a car accident.