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How do you file a car insurance claim?

Peter Terlato avatar
Peter Terlato
- 7 min read
How do you file a car insurance claim?

If you’re involved in a road accident and you have a car insurance policy, you may be able to file a claim.

In order to successfully make a claim, you’ll generally need to provide a substantial amount of information pertaining to the incident. Whether you’re making a claim with your own insurer or receiving compensation from another driver’s policy will depend on whether or not you’re at fault.

If you’re the driver at fault you’ll be filing a claim with your insurer to cover costs such as repairs and medical expenses, depending on the type of insurance policy you have. However, if another driver is deemed to have been responsible for the crash, you’ll need to file a report with your insurer and they will seek restitution against the at-fault driver’s insurance policy.

This process could be exasperated if you’re injured or in hospital. For this reason alone, you should consider familiarising yourself with how to file a car insurance claim, both with your own insurer and against someone else’s policy, should the need arise. You may also want to find out what happens if a police report needs to be filed and if there are other legal requirements.

How do you file a car insurance claim?

A car accident often involves at least one at-fault driver but establishing who is at fault is at the behest of the insurance companies. This can be a tedious process and may even require examining police reports and any available photos and camera footage.

If you are involved in an accident, your priority, whether or not you’re responsible, is to collect as much information as possible, including when and where the incident occurred and details of the other car and driver. Details you should attempt to gather include:

  • Date and time of the accident
  • Precise location of incident
  • Details of all vehicles involved (make, model, registration number, etc) 
  • Details of all drivers involved (full name, address, phone number, licence number, etc)
  • Insurance information from all drivers involved
  • Witnesses details (full name and phone number)
  • Police report number if applicable
  • Photos of the accident and damage to any vehicles involved

One helpful tip that most people can employ in the age of smartphone technology is to take photos of all the drivers licences, as well as registration plates and vehicles. In some cases a video of the incident, explaining what happened, might also be helpful. You can often make mistakes writing this information down, especially if you’re in shock.

This media may help insurers determine who is at fault and assist in speeding up the process of a claim.

Depending on the circumstances of the accident, a police report may need to be filed. This is common if someone involved is injured. Tow trucks may also need to be called to move damaged vehicles.

Filing a car insurance claim

You will need to share all of the information you’ve gathered regarding the accident and other drivers involved with your insurer, so consider checking if you can do so through either their website or mobile app, via email, or by phone.

You’ll likely not need to submit anything physically, but speak to your insurer if you prefer having this option. The insurance provider will then seek to confirm who caused the accident and, accordingly, work on settling the claim by negotiating with the other driver’s insurer. You may need to inform the other driver, possibly in writing, if you plan to file an insurance claim against them.

How long does a car insurance claim take to settle?

The time it takes to process a car insurance claim depends a lot on how quickly liability can be established, although compensation for injuries covered by Compulsory Third Party (CTP) insurance is usually awarded at the earliest.

When there is no doubt as to who caused the accident, a claim can be filed against them, which may even be settled within the ten-day response period mandated for insurers. However, your insurer will have to inform you if processing the claim may take longer, which could happen for several reasons, such as delays in getting a quote for the damages caused or waiting for the police to complete their investigation.

Although you’ll likely have been involved in the accident, the sooner you can report it to your insurer, providing as much detail as possible, the faster your claim is likely to be processed. In case you need to report the accident to the police, you should consider doing that at the earliest convenience too, even if the usual deadline for doing so gives you approximately a month’s time.

However, suppose the accident is not a significant one, and no one is injured. In that case, you may consider forgoing a car insurance claim and instead settle any damages directly with the other driver, especially if the cost of repairs isn’t more than the excess you’ve agreed to cover. You should remember that car insurance claims may affect your premium each time you file a claim.

How can you appeal a car insurance claim decision?

Your insurance provider needs to inform you in writing if your car insurance claim is denied, explicitly stating the reasons. For instance, your claim may be refused if the damage caused isn’t covered by your car insurance policy or if your insurer feels you’ve not disclosed the full details either about yourself, your vehicle, or the accident.

If you feel your car insurance claim has been unfairly denied, you can consider submitting a written complaint to your insurer’s Internal Dispute Resolution (IDR) department. If they reject your complaint, you can escalate it to the Australian Financial Complaints Authority’s (AFCA) General Insurance Division or your state’s consumer claims tribunal.

Filing a complaint with the AFCA is free, and your insurer may have no choice but to accept their decision. However, you’ll have to file the complaint within two years of your insurer’s IDR rejecting the complaint, besides which the AFCA may require you to modify your complaint if your claim amount is too high. If your car insurance claim has not been denied, but you aren’t satisfied with the settlement, you may only be able to negotiate with the insurer for what you consider a fairer settlement.

Preventative actions for future car accidents

If you haven’t already purchased a comprehensive car insurance policy, you may want to consider this option. 

Car insurance covers the insured person’s liability in case they are responsible for a motor vehicle accident. The extent to which car insurance covers you will ultimately depend on the type of policy you choose and the level of coverage it offers.

Comparing car insurance quotes online before buying or renewing your insurance policy can help you better understand the kinds of coverage insurance companies offer. You can search by state and insurance features to find a provider that can quote for your individual situation. It may also be helpful to read through the insurer’s Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) to understand the exact limits, inclusions and exclusions.

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Product database updated 20 May, 2024

This article was reviewed by Personal Finance Editor Mark Bristow before it was published as part of RateCity's Fact Check process.