Car Repairs After an Accident

The process of having your vehicle repaired after a car accident can vary greatly depending on the nature of the accident and the insurance companies (and policies) involved. Keep reading to learn about some of the most common elements you might experience during the process, as well as options for how to handle any disputes along the way.

Determine Car Accident Fault

First, it's important to determine who is at fault for the car crash, and how that fault affects the ways insurance companies handle car insurance claims.

Other Driver's Fault

If the other driver is at fault for the accident, his or her auto insurance is responsible for covering car repair costs.

Typically, the at-fault driver's insurance policy can only pay up to the limits of the driver's policy. FOR EXAMPLE, if that driver's policy has a limit of $10,000 for property damage and the car accident caused $12,000 worth of damage, the other driver's insurance company will pay only the $10,000 limit.

That leaves $2,000 worth of uncovered repairs.

You can help protect yourself from a driver's low-limit car insurance, or total lack of car insurance, by purchasing uninsured motorist coverage and underinsured motorist coverage.

If you have comprehensive and collision insurance, your collision coverage may also help cover the costs that exceed the at-fault driver's car insurance limits.

Your Fault

You are technically “at fault" if one of the following applies to your accident:

  • You actually caused the car accident whether or not another vehicle was involved.
    • For example, you skidded on an icy road and crashed into a telephone pole.
  • The accident happened while your vehicle was parked.
    • For example, a tree fell on your vehicle.

Generally, when you're at fault for the accident you can tap into your collision or comprehensive coverage, or opt to pay for car repairs yourself and avoid filing a claim with your auto insurance company.

Comprehensive & Collision Coverage

With exceptions, collision coverage is mainly designed to help with repair costs when you're at fault for the accident, or the accident involved only you.

Similarly, comprehensive coverage helps cover car repair when the accident happened while the car was parked. For example, if your car is damaged during an overnight hailstorm, your comprehensive coverage probably will pay to fix the damages.

Using your comprehensive or collision coverage requires filing a claim with your insurance company and paying a deductible before the coverage kicks in.

Learn more within our section on Comprehensive and Collision Insurance.

NOTE: Comprehensive and collision coverages are considered optional; however, if you are making payments on your car, your financier will require you to purchase both coverages.

Not Filing an Insurance Claim

Whether or not you have comprehensive and/or collision coverage, if you're at fault for the accident, you have the option of paying car repair costs out of your own pocket as opposed to filing a car insurance claim.

Generally, filing a claim against your own policy leads to increased car insurance premiums; thus, some drivers choose to pay for car repairs themselves—especially if the damages aren't too extensive.

Make a Car Insurance Claim

Now that we've explained all the extenuating possibilities above, let's take a look at what happens if you do have to file a car insurance claim in order to cover car repair costs.

Below are the extremely basic steps to this process. Based on your personal situation and the car insurance company's policies, these steps can vary. Please use our steps as a guideline only.

Vehicle Inspection

First, you must have your vehicle's damages inspected.

Some insurance companies send trained inspectors to handle this process; other companies allow you to have your vehicle inspected at an auto repair shop (however, sometimes the insurance company requires you use specific repair shops, so be sure to check ahead).

Damage Estimate

Next, the cost to repair the vehicle's damages must be estimated.

Similar to the vehicle inspection process, the damage estimation process will be handled by either a trained inspector sent by the insurance company or an auto repair shop. Again, the insurance company might require you to bring your vehicle to an approved repair shop, so check ahead.

Note that sometimes, an insurance company's inspector and an auto repair shop might disagree on the damage estimate. If this happens, usually the inspector and auto repair mechanic will meet to come to discuss the situation and come to a fair estimation. (If they can't, you might need additional help; see Auto Insurance Company Disputes below for ideas.)

Repair Cost Payment

Once the damages have been inspected, the repair estimates have been made, and the vehicle has been repaired, it's time for the insurance company to cover the car repair costs.

Generally, you have a couple of options for covering repair costs, and they might depend on the insurance company's policies.

You can either:

  • Pay for the repairs yourself and seek reimbursement from the insurance company.
    • If you choose this option, make sure the insurance company and the auto repair shop agree on the total cost of repairs, or you could end up paying more out-of-pocket expenses than the insurance company will cover.
  • Let the insurance company send a check to the auto repair shop.

Again, these options could depend on the insurance company's repair policies, so be sure to ask ahead before deciding how to handle car repair costs.

Auto Insurance Company Disputes

Unfortunately, things don't always go smoothly when you're working with car insurance companies regarding car repairs—even if you're working with your own.

If you need to dispute a car insurance claim, you have a few options.

  • Mediation.
    • During mediation, an unbiased third party moderates a non-binding discussion between you and the insurance company.
    • Generally, the mediator offers a solution, but neither party is required by law to accept the solution.
  • Arbitration.
    • Unlike mediation, arbitration is more binding as both parties must abide by the decision of the arbitrator; thus, it's practical to attend arbitration with an attorney.
  • Small claims court.
    • Basically, small claims court is an alternative to arbitration. You can choose to use or not use an attorney, but you and the insurance company must abide by the judge's decision.
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