The majority of auto accidents don’t involve personal injuries, only property damage. This includes vehicle damage, and damage to personal property inside the car at the time of the accident (e.g. laptop, jewelry, cell phone, etc.). Any damaged personal items can also be included in an insurance claim.
You’ll file a property damage claim if:
- Your car was damaged in an accident
- You want it repaired quickly and competently
- You need a rental car while your car is being repaired
- You want compensation for damaged personal property
The Claims Process
The claims process begins when you file a property damage claim with the liable party’s insurance company. Unlike personal injury claims, which can take weeks or months, property damage claims are simpler to prove, and can be settled much faster.
The cost of automobile repairs is a fixed amount. In most cases, you won’t have to wait more than a few days while your car is being fixed.
A vehicle damage claim can normally be handled with a few telephone calls and emails. Your discussions with the auto repair shop and claims adjuster don’t have to be in person. Other than emailing or faxing some repair estimates, your claim can be handled solely by telephone.
Don’t wait for someone to contact you. Take an immediate, active role in your own claim. Your actions after the accident can help bring a prompt and fair settlement, and get you back in your car as soon as possible.
What To Do At the Accident Scene
Call the Police
A police report can be a valuable tool. Depending on where you live, police officers may only be dispatched to the scene of an accident if someone is injured, traffic is disrupted, or conditions are dangerous to others. Call the police regardless of the circumstances.
When the officers arrive, they’ll speak with you, the other driver, and any witnesses. They will investigate the scene, and may take photographs. Most importantly, they may issue a ticket to the at-fault driver. That ticket is evidence of the driver’s negligence. Whether it’s for speeding, running a red light, or other traffic infraction, a ticket is very helpful to your claim.
Write Down Important Information
While you’re at the accident scene, write down information you will need during the claims process. Use whatever is at hand to make your notes, even the back of an old envelope. Don’t trust yourself to remember crucial facts. Write down:
- The other driver’s contact information (address, phone, and driver’s license number)
- The name, policy number, and telephone number of his insurance company
- Any admissions he might make, such as, “It was my fault,” or “I didn’t see you”
Here’s a free accident report form to make recording information easier.
Use a camera if you have one. If not, use your cell phone to take photographs of:
- The damage to both vehicles
- The immediate area around the accident
- Broken glass and any other broken parts that fell off the cars
- The position of the cars
- Any special after-market wheels or accessories on your car
- Any damaged or destroyed personal property
- Any other evidence of the accident
Make a List of Any Damaged Personal Property
You have a right to compensation for personal items that were damaged or destroyed in the accident. Make a list of those items. Photograph them, and try your best to find the original receipts.
If you can’t find the original receipts, request copies from the stores where the items were purchased. Also include receipts for after-market wheels and accessories, stereo equipment and speakers, and other vehicle add-ons.
What To Do After the Accident
Make an Accident Diary
Keep a chronological list of all that goes on during the claims process. This allows you to instantly access important information. Keep track of each day’s events using separate dated pages.
Write down important facts and events, such as:
- The date and time of the accident
- The police officers’ names and police report number
- Names and phone numbers of witnesses
- The other driver’s insurance information
- Summaries of discussions you have with the claims adjuster
Being organized, and keeping track of all the relevant information in one place, is crucial to successfully pursuing a property damage claim.
Call Your Own Insurance Company
There are several reasons why you need to contact your own auto insurance company:
- Most insurance policies include language requiring you to inform the company of ANY accident, regardless of who’s at fault. If you don’t tell them, they may be within their rights to deny coverage.
- It alerts your insurance company in case the other driver is uninsured (you may have coverage under the Uninsured/Underinsured Motorist, or UIM, portion of your policy).
- If the damage to your car is minor, you may not want to wait for the other driver’s insurance company to take action. (Check your deductible first. In minor collisions, your deductible may be as high, or higher, than the actual cost of repairs.)
- In case the other driver denies liability, and alleges the accident was your fault.
Call the At-fault Driver’s Insurance Company
Call the other driver’s insurance company and file a claim. Your claim will be assigned to a claims adjuster. Make sure you get your claim number for future reference. This type of a claim is referred to as a third-party claim. (The other driver is considered the first party, and his insurance company is the second party.)
If you live in a no-fault state, you’re required to carry Personal Injury Protection (PIP) insurance. But, PIP doesn’t cover property damage, it only covers personal injury.
Get a Copy of the Weather Report for the Day of the Accident
Having a copy of the weather report for the date and time of the accident is another piece of supportive evidence. If the weather was clear and dry, the at-fault driver can’t try to lessen his fault by saying it was foggy or icy. You can get a copy of the weather report online from your favorite weather site.
What To Do After Your Claim is Filed
As soon as you file a claim with both your, and the other driver’s insurance company, the claim adjuster’s job begins. The adjuster’s responsibilities include coordinating with you and the auto repair shop.
There’s no legal reason you need to get multiple repair estimates, and you have a right to choose any shop, within reason, to repair your car. Don’t let the claims adjuster tell you otherwise.
Demand a Rental Car
You have a right to a rental while your car is undrivable. Most insurance companies have relationships with car rental agencies, and can tell you where to pick up your rental. The number of days should not be limited to less than thirty. You’re entitled to a rental right up until the day your car is fully repaired.
Insist on OEM (Original Equipment Manufactured) Parts
When your car is damaged, you have a right to have it brought back to the condition it was in before the accident.
That includes having the repair shop install the same type and quality of parts that were on your car before it was damaged. Those parts are referred to as OEM, or Original Equipment Manufactured parts. If you don’t insist on OEM parts, the claims adjuster may only authorize cheaper, generic parts.
Expect Compensation Based on Actual Cash Value (ACV)
Every car has a value. That value is set by the Kelly Blue Book, or a company called CCC Information Services. Around 80 percent of claims adjusters use CCC’s valuation program to calculate Actual Cash Value. This helps the adjuster decide whether the insurance company should total a car, or pay for repairs.
In the event the estimated repairs exceed your car’s stated value, the insurance company doesn’t have to pay for the repairs. Instead, they will write you a check for the stated value of the car. This is known as “totaling” your car.
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Visitor Questions on Vehicle & Property Damage Claims
Insurance saying it’s the other driver’s word against mine? I was waiting for a pedestrian to cross a driveway so I could turn left into the driveway on a 2 way residential street. After the pedestrian crossed, I started turning left. The other driver was attempting to pass on the left at the same time and ran into me. He claimed that I was sitting on the... Read More >>
Employee damaged my vehicle with paint… I work for a home builder. An employee was cleaning their paint sprayer outside next to my black truck. They were careless and the worker covered the entire truck in small speckles of white paint. I received an estimate of $8000 to fix the damage. My boss has filed a claim with his business’s insurance company.... Read More >>
My car was damaged by building rubble, who can I collect from? My vehicle was recently damaged by rubble falling off the side of an old university building in Washington Heights (Uptown New York). The right rear body panel was badly dented and the right rear window shattered. A few hours after the incident I took photos and filed a police report that considered it to be... Read More >>
Car dented by man throwing a wooden board… My fairly new car was parked on private property and was dented and scratched when a man threw a wooden board, hitting my car. When I approached him he acknowledged he caused the damage but became angry and hostile when I inquired about compensation for repairs. He even told me to make a false insurance claim... Read More >>
Insurance company only paying 50% of property damage claim? We were in a three-car accident. All drivers have Geico insurance. My wife and I were the middle car, and were completely stopped behind car 1. We got no fault judgement or ticket from the police at the scene. Geico is now accusing us of failure to stop, and only paying for 50% of damage... Read More >>
Dark dumpster in road… It was a dark January night and I was returning from dinner. It was around 8:00 pm. I wanted to show my boss my new house under construction. He followed in his car. It was a public road and phase four of the neighborhood development. I turned left off of Street A, onto Street B... Read More >>
Cement parking stop damaged my car… I parked my car in the parking lot at a Commercial Plaza. The steel rebar posts were sticking out the top of the cement parking stop. When I was preparing to leave and started to back out, the rebar caught my right front bumper, damaging it underneath my vehicle. Looking around the parking lot, I... Read More >>
Is a business owner liable for damages to a vehicle while in their possession? I was having tires replaced at a local business. I left my vehicle in a parking spot in their lot and provided my keys and contact information to the business. Before the repairs were completed, a person backed into my vehicle. The owner called the police, but because no one was injured and it was... Read More >>
Am I responsible for buying the other party a new car after a minor collision? I rear ended a car in a school parking lot at very low speed, which caused a minor dent. The other party immediately called the police for this small dent. I do not have insurance and was given a ticket for not having it and given a ticket for inattentive driving. The insurance company is... Read More >>
Liability if I left a shopping cart in the parking lot and it rolled into a car? When I left the grocery store I parked my cart facing north right outside of the exit door, along with the 8 other shopping carts customers had left there. There was no proper place to leave my cart outside the store, and I wasn’t able to take it back inside because the door shut and... Read More >>
Car hit while parked… The other night my car was hit while parked legally in front of my home. The driver of the car that hit my car was arrested for DWI as well as other tickets. When I called my insurance company – which is the same insurance company as the other driver – they told me that... Read More >>
Hit & Run in my Driveway! Last night my new car was hit while parked in my driveway. No one saw the driver that hit my car, just the damages he/she caused. The problem is that I have only had the car for about 4 days and have not gone to get car insurance yet. Is there any way I can... Read More >>
Insurance company denying claim due to revoked license? I am asking this on behalf of my mother, who is elderly and doesn’t use a computer. My mother lives in Alabama, and her car was struck from behind on 2/4/15 and sustained significant damage to the back end. A police report was taken at the scene and insurance information was exchanged. It was later... Read More >>
Hit by uninsured company vehicle… In August my husband was sideswiped by a company vehicle driven by an employee of the company. Come to find out the registered owner of the vehicle had not paid for the auto insurance policy, but the company did have a certificate of liability insurance policy. Would that liability insurance cover the accident, since the... Read More >>
Uninsured vehicle damaged by hit and run driver… I live in Lafayette, LA. My car was parked with no one inside the vehicle when the perpetrator hit my car and then fled the scene. Thankfully the neighbors were able to get the license plate of the car, and the driver was later picked up by the police. The issue I’m concerned about is... Read More >>
Driver totaled my parked car… My car was parked on the street when it was hit from the back by a motorist. My car was totaled. The car was paid off and it was the only thing I owned of value, and I needed it to get back and forth to work. I am a single mom of four. It’s... Read More >>
Insurance asking me to pay 40% of damage when my car was parked? I live in a condo and the building has 5 parking spaces behind it. I own one of them. My car was parked how it should be parked. The person in the space next to me had someone staying at their place and was using their space. It is a very narrow alley that we... Read More >>
Damaged front fender and tire; do I have to use their body shop? As I entered a 4 way stop, after waiting for the car that was there already to go through, the car on my left pulled through and plowed into me. They hit me just in front of my door, striking my tire and fender, pushing me out of the intersection sideways. There were no injuries... Read More >>
Can a driver change his story about who’s responsible for the crash? My husband, Bob, drove into a small neighborhood in the country, in Loomis, California on 6/11/2014. He went to observe a piece of property that he was going to make a bid on re: weed abatement. Since the road ahead showed two roads coming together into the one he was on, he chose to drive... Read More >>
Car damaged from hitting a dog… My boyfriend and I were driving down the highway when two dogs ran in the road. We tried to stop so we wouldn’t hit them, but we couldn’t get over and so we hit one of the dogs. We pulled over and the dog was not dead, it then ran off. There was a lot... Read More >>
Car Hit While Parked in Emergency Lane… I was driving home on thee interstate the other night when my car just would not accelerate anymore. So I pulled over to check under the hood to see what was going on. I returned back to my car to try to start it and it would not start. I had no money, so I... Read More >>
Shopping Cart Damaged My Car… A shopping cart hit my car in a parking lot due to very strong winds. I believe that the Company was negligent in the fact that they should have taken reasonable efforts to protect their shoppers from damages to person or property (cars) by having their associates collect the shopping carts that were blowing at... Read More >>