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When to File a Car Insurance Claim – and When Not to

Alexa Goyette

Picture this scenario: You had a long day at work and – on your long commute home – you look down to turn up the air conditioning, hoping the cold air will wake you up. Then… CRASH! The front of your car kisses the back of another. Next thing you know, the other driver is getting out of his car, stomping over to his bumper, and inspecting the dent. Stressed out already? Being in the seat of an at-fault driver puts you in a tough position with difficult decisions.

A lot of drivers choose not to file an insurance claim after colliding with another vehicle, as they think they’re saving money paying out of pocket rather than watching their premiums increase. In some cases, not telling your insurance company about an accident is the smartest way to save money. Other times, making a claim can save you a great deal of money and stress.

You want to get the best possible rates in car insurance, we know that. But what’s the best way to save money following a collision? When should you file a claim, and when is the best time to pay out of pocket for repairs?


You should file a claim if...

Another car is involved in the accident.

You might think you could save money if you pay for the damages of another car without the risks of raising your premiums. But with a complete stranger, you don’t always know what you’re getting into. Liability insurance is there to protect you against legal action taken by the other party. In addition, your insurance company is there to serve as a middleman, dealing with both you and the other party. While it may seem worth it to not file a claim, if the other party decides to sue, you could be in serious trouble. If it’s a minor fender bender with no visible damage, you might be off the hook, but if there are dents or scratches, it’s best to get your auto insurance company involved.


The car damage is more serious than it may seem.

Your car might have hidden damage, which means the damage won’t take a toll on your car until you’ve driven it around a bit. However, your policy most likely requires that you make a claim within a certain amount of time; if you wait, you could lose your chances of having this covered.


You or anyone involved is injured.

Medical bills can really add up, and while certain minor accidents may not seem like they’ll cause serious injuries, others might surprise you. Some issues may not appear immediately – like whiplash or a concussion – which often result in symptoms appearing with a delay. Whether these medical bills are your own, those of a passenger, or those of someone in the other car, you don’t want to risk paying a lot of bills when your insurance company would have gladly stepped in to assist.


Your car is vandalized and you don’t know who did it.

Hopefully you have comprehensive auto insurance to cover these costs. (You can learn more about comprehensive insurance in a past post.) If you do, contact your auto insurer immediately to file a claim to fix these repairs. They will most likely send a claims adjuster to look at the damage; since many vandalism claims are filed fraudulently, they want to ensure that your claim is true.


You don’t have to file a claim if…

The collision involved only your car.

If your car is the only one affected, you might not want to file a claim. If the damage is minor, like a dent from backing into a telephone pole, you might consider paying for it yourself. Getting a repair estimate is the best way to see if this could save you money. If the repair will cost less than your deductible, it’s smart to not file a claim. If the repair costs more, you’ll need to decide if the raised premiums will be worth the amount of money saved on the coverages of these damages. In addition, if your car is getting old and the dent is merely cosmetic, you might not want to bother getting it fixed.


Deciding if you want to file a claim following an at-fault accident is tough. Knowing that you have to make the choice relatively quickly is even harder. With all things considered, if you’re not sure what to do, it’s best to involve your insurance company. While these increased premiums may seem like the worst thing to happen, you could be saving money on damages and legal action in the long run.