Car Accident Vehicle Damage: Your Auto Repair Options

Here's how to get your car fixed and back on the road after an accident, or get payment for its value.

Updated by , J.D.
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  • 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, including:

    • the extent of the damage in relation to the vehicle's value
    • who was at fault for the crash, and
    • available insurance coverage.

    Repair Costs and the Value of Your Car

    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 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 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.

    Using Your Own Collision Coverage

    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.

    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.

    If another driver hits your parked car, you would make a claim against that driver's liability policy and not your own comprehensive policy. If your car was parked at the time of a collision, it's usually pretty easy to prove that the other driver is to blame for the accident.

    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 make a claim by reporting the accident.

    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. 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 and the Insurer Disagree About Repair Costs

    If you don't like the insurer's final numbers, you have the choice to accept it, negotiate for a better settlement, or file a lawsuit.

    If you find yourself in a dispute with an insurance company, you might want to contact an experienced attorney to make sure that your interests are protected. Learn more about how an attorney can help after a car accident. You can also connect with a lawyer directly from this page for free.

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