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No one ever wants to think about, let alone use, their car insurance. But in the event your vehicle takes some sort of damage — whether it’s from a car accident, vandalism or natural disaster — you will have to file a car insurance claim if you want assistance with repair costs. Here’s what you need to know when it comes to filing an insurance claim.

What is an insurance claim?

An insurance claim is a request you make to your car insurance company for compensation or coverage for a covered loss. If your claim is approved, you’ll receive payment based on your policy’s terms for the loss suffered.1

5 steps to filing an insurance claim

How do insurance claims work? Most of the things you need to do prior to filing a claim boil down to documenting as much information as possible. The more information you have regarding your vehicle’s damage, the more prepared you’ll be when you contact your insurer. These are the typical steps to follow for filing a claim. (Note that every step may not apply to your situation.)2,3

1. Collect information

Discovering that your vehicle’s taken major damage can be an unpleasant experience. Do your best to stay focused and write down the following information:

  • Which vehicle on your policy was involved?
  • Who was driving?
  • Location and time of the occurrence
  • Basic description of the event and how severe the damage is

If another driver is involved, it’s critical that you document their information as well, including:

  • Name and contact information
  • Insurance company and policy number
  • Vehicle’s make, model and license plate number and state
  • Names of passengers, if any

Also, get the contact information of any possible witnesses. Their perspectives can help insurance adjusters determine who’s at fault in an accident.

2. Take photos

Follow up on all the information you’ve written down by taking photos of the property damage. Photograph the damage to your vehicle and any other vehicles involved. Try to include photos of the surrounding area and the entire scene. Anything you capture that can provide background to your vehicle’s damage and will prove helpful when filing your claim.

3. Talk to the police

If you’re dealing with damage resulting from a car accident, make sure to call the police to the scene, as an official police report will probably be required to file a claim.

Police are key in deciding who’s at fault. When they’re on site, never admit or accuse any other driver of fault — the police and your insurance company will ultimately decide who’s to blame. It may even be possible that both you and the other driver hold some amount of fault for the accident.

If you can, get the badge number and phone number for the officers that respond; this information will be useful if you need to reach out to them for additional details later.

4. Keep track of paperwork

Hold on to all paperwork that relates your accident or situation, especially receipts. Depending on your policy, you may be able to get some money back for any towing or immediate services you needed. Having this paperwork on hand will also help you describe the whole event to your insurer.

5. File a claim with your car insurance company

Contact your insurer as soon as possible. At Nationwide, you can file a claim online or call the number on your insurance card. Give as much detail as you can regarding your situation and be prepared to share all the information you wrote down earlier. Make a note of the claim number your insurer provides, then wait for an insurance adjuster to get in touch to settle the specifics of your claim. Watch the video below to see step-by-step instructions for filing a claim online with Nationwide.

File and Track a Claim

Next steps after filing an insurance claim

Now it’s time to figure out how to get your car back on the road. An insurance adjuster assigned to your claim will guide you through a bit of the repair process, but you’ll want to review your policy to better understand how your coverage will come into play. These are the common steps that follow filing an insurance claim.

1. Schedule an inspection of your vehicle

An insurance adjuster will usually request that you schedule an inspection of your vehicle at a certified repair shop. The results of their evaluation will let you know if your vehicle can be repaired of if it’s a total loss. Based on the terms of your policy, the adjuster may provide payment at this point.3

2. Check if a rental car will be provided

If you expect to be without a vehicle for an extended period of time, check to see if you have rental reimbursement coverage in your policy. This coverage will help you pay for the cost of using a rental car while your claim is processing or while your vehicle is in the shop. Usually rental coverage will have a daily cost limit combined with an overall maximum amount.4

3. Know your deductible

Before you start making repairs, you’ll want to know your deductible. Your deductible is the amount you need to reach before your insurance will start providing payment. Should your vehicle’s repairs cost less than your deductible, you’ll have to pay for everything yourself.5

For example, let’s say you have a $500 deductible. A tree branch falls on your car and breaks your windshield, costing you $300 to repair. Because you didn’t reach $500 in repair costs, you’ll have to pay out of pocket to replace your windshield.

Keep in mind that standard auto insurance policies often have separate deductibles for collision coverage and comprehensive coverage.5 Collision coverage kicks in when you’re involved in a car accident with another vehicle or object. Comprehensive coverage offers protection for damage that doesn’t stem from a collision with another car, such as a weather-related event or vandalism.

4. Arrange repairs

Should you need repairs, your insurer will typically give you a list of repair shop options to choose from and potentially an estimate for the costs. Your insurer will then either pay the shop directly or compensate you for the repair bills.2

5. What to do if your vehicle is totaled

It’s possible your insurance adjuster will decide your vehicle is a total loss due to the severity of the damage. This generally means that repairing your vehicle isn’t safe or will cost more than the value of the car itself. With a totaled vehicle, you or the company you’re financing or leasing the car through may be eligible for compensation for the market value of your vehicle.2

If your car is stolen, you might receive compensation for its replacement cost value. In this case, your insurer will provide payment for a new car that’s the same make and model as the totaled car. Check your policy to see if your comprehensive coverage accounts for this.2

The process of filing a claim and making the necessary repairs sounds like a hassle, but when you have protection from the right car insurance company, it doesn’t have to be. At Nationwide, you can file a claim online and check the status of a claim online.

[1] https://www.investopedia.com/terms/i/insurance_claim.asp
[2] https://www.creditkarma.com/auto/i/file-car-insurance-claim
[3] https://wallethub.com/edu/ci/car-insurance-claims/12882
[4] https://www.nationwide.com/personal/insurance/auto/coverages/types/rental-reimbursement
[5] https://www.nationwide.com/lc/resources/auto-insurance/articles/choosing-deductible-amount

The information used to create this article was obtained from sources believed to be reliable. Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company and its employees make no guarantee of results and assume no liability in connection with any information provided. It is the user’s responsibility to confirm compliance with any applicable local, state or federal regulations. Information obtained from or via Nationwide Mutual Insurance Company should not be used as the basis for legal advice or guidance.

Each claim is handled on the basis of its individual facts and circumstances, in accordance with policy language, including applicable exclusions, conditions and limitations, as well as applicable controlling law.