When you're making an insurance claim after any kind of traffic accident, getting a trustworthy repair estimate (or two) is a necessary first step toward getting your vehicle fixed and back on the road. In this article, we'll cover:
Every car insurance company handles things a bit differently, but when you're making an insurance claim for vehicle damage after a car accident, the process usually looks like this:
If it's pretty clear that the accident was the other driver's fault, and they have property damage liability insurance, you can file a third party claim through their car insurance company. If you were at fault, or you just want a quicker, cleaner claim process, you can file a claim through your own collision coverage, if you have it.
In either scenario, getting the claim process started usually means simply making a phone call to the insurance company's claims division, or utilizing the company's claim-filing app.
The insurance company might recommend one or two local auto shops you can use to get a repair estimate, or you can go it alone and choose your own shop. Some insurance companies (like Geico) like to get an insurance adjuster involved in the vehicle inspection/repair estimate process.
Depending on the insurance company, and your preferences, they may send you a check for the amount of the repairs (as detailed in the estimate), or they might pay the shop directly for the work. Remember, if they send you a check, you're not required to use it to get your car fixed.
When the repair estimate process goes smoothly, the work gets done quickly and you get on with your life. But there are a few things to keep in mind to make sure you get your vehicle fixed the right way, as soon as possible, and with no surprises.
You don't want to cut corners, especially since the goal here is to have the insurance company (not you) pay for all necessary repairs, or for the "actual cash value" if your vehicle is declared a total loss.
Seek out an estimate for repairing vehicle damage —or any other kind of property damage—only from places where you would actually go to have the repair work done.
Make sure that the repair shop is properly licensed and registered as required in your state, and that the estimate quoted will be an amount sufficient to repair the property to the highest standards.
If you just get the easiest estimate—taking your car to the corner gas station, for example—you may find that the amount quoted will not be enough to cover the repairs you eventually have done at a quality repair shop.
Don't allow an insurance company's inspection or estimates to delay repairs unnecessarily. If the insurance company doesn't inspect the property within a week or so after the accident, and you've given the insurer a reasonable opportunity to do so, and if you already have two independent written estimates, then there's no reason to delay getting your property repaired if you can afford to pay from your own pocket.
The strategy here is to get the repairs done and then demand reimbursement from the insurance company. Of course, if you get the repairs at the shop that gave the highest estimate, the insurance company might agree to reimburse you only for a lower estimate. Also, be aware that getting car repairs before you agree on an amount removes one of the incentives for the insurance company to settle quickly. Once you have your car back, the insurance company no longer has to pay for alternative transportation (a rental car, for example).
If a third-party insurance adjuster (from the other driver's insurance company) tells you the company has a repair shop that will fix your car for substantially less than the estimate you got, be cautious. Insurance companies sometimes have sweetheart deals with certain repair shops that work for the insurance company in exchange for lots of referrals. But that doesn't guarantee that the inspection for damage is thorough or that the work done is good quality.
You should always get your own inspections and estimates from independent repair shops. If two or three independent estimates are higher than the one insurance company estimate, the insurance company's estimate is probably a poor one. Repairs should be made only by a shop chosen by the car owner, regardless of how much money the car owner receives in settlement.
According to Geico, the vehicle damage claim process can be resolved in as little as 48 hours, but it's safe to say that's not exactly the norm.
As with most vehicle damage claim-related issues after a car accident, a big consideration here is whether:
If your car accident resulted in vehicle damage only (you weren't injured), it usually makes sense to handle the insurance claim process on your own, 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).
Of course, the aftermath of a car accident can be more complicated than a quick insurance claim for vehicle damage. If your accident also resulted in injuries, or if you're running into any kind of conflict with the insurance company, it might make sense to discuss your situation with an experienced legal professional. Learn more about how a car accident attorney can help. You can also use the tools on this page to connect with a lawyer in your area.