You buy car insurance as a precaution, never wanting to have an accident or for your car to be damaged or stolen. But if it does happen, it's important you understand the car insurance claims process.
From contacting your insurer to dealing with a car finance company, here's everything you need to know about claiming on your car insurance.
How to make a claim on your car insurance
You don’t need to call your car insurance company straight away, but most require you to get in touch within 24 hours of the incident.
It may be possible to report the accident and make a car insurance claim online if your insurer allows it. But most insurers require you to call on the phone and tell them exactly what's happened.
This starts the claims process and you should be told what you need to provide and how the claim will be handled.
When you speak to your insurer, you need to have certain information available. These include:
The registration details of both vehicles
The name and address of the registered owner of the car (if they aren’t driving it)
The date and time of the incident
Crime reference numbers if the police have been involved
Your policy number
The names and contact details of the other driver, any passengers and witnesses
Photos of the damage to your car and any others involved (if you’ve taken any)
The location, including road or street names, and the nearest house or business numbers
Any other relevant information such as road and weather conditions
Need to make a claim? Find your car insurance company's details
What happens when you make a claim?
When making a claim, you should first speak to your insurer and explain what happened.
You need to explain in as much detail as possible what's happened to your car and how it's damaged. You also need to provide information such as any other drivers' contact details.
The insurer should explain how much you need to pay for your excess and how much you could get to repair or replace the car.
Your insurer should then arrange for this to be transferred to you or it may pay someone to make the repairs directly.
If you need repairs, how does that work?
You need to get your car repaired before you can drive it again. Your car insurance provider should tell you how to do this during the car insurance claims process.
You either need to go to one of your insurer's approved garages or you might have to arrange for the work to be done yourself.
In some cases, insurers insist on you going to a garage it has a relationship with in order to claim for the cost of repairs. You may also need to get quotes for the repair work before it's carried out.
While your car is being repaired, your insurer might provide you with a courtesy car if your policy allows it. This may not happen if your car's stolen or deemed a write-off.
What happens if your car is stolen?
If your car's stolen, you need to contact the police and get a crime reference number before claiming on your car insurance policy.
Then, your insurer usually pays you a sum of money equal to the current market value of the car.
There’s usually a short period in which an insurer waits before paying out. If the car is then found after you’ve been paid, the insurer may keep the vehicle.
Can you still claim if hit by an uninsured driver?
If you’re in an accident with someone without insurance, you should be able to claim from your own insurer if you have comprehensive cover.
If the other driver is uninsured, some insurers let you claim and keep your no-claims bonus and don’t ask you to pay your excess. But this depends on the insurer.
This is why it’s important to shop around and compare the costs of these extras when you buy car insurance.
If you don’t have comprehensive cover, you could claim from the Motor Insurers’ Bureau (MIB) for compensation relating to personal injuries and other losses.
Any payments from the MIB are subject to a £300 excess.
If I damage my own car can I claim on my insurance?
This depends on the type of car insurance policy you have. If you have comprehensive insurance, it covers you for damage to your cover
If you have third-party only or third-party fire and theft, you're not covered if you've damaged your car.
Always check the policy first and speak to your insurer for more car insurance claim advice.
If my car is written off what happens to my insurance?
If your car is a write-off and can’t be driven, your insurer should pay out up to the car’s current market value.
Usually, the vehicle is taken by the insurer. But in some cases, you may be able to keep it. If you do, you need to prove that it's possible to repair the car to make it roadworthy again.
In this case, the insurer may take some money off your overall payout to cover the cost of the car.
How long do you have to report a car accident to your insurance company?
Most insurers specify a time frame for reporting an incident. This is usually 24 hours.
You don’t have to call them immediately after the accident, but it’s worth doing as soon as possible.
Your policy's terms and conditions should state when you need to tell your insurer.
What happens if my car is written off and it’s on finance?
If you've bought your car with a car finance contract, the process for making an insurance claim is slightly different.
If your car is written off or stolen, your insurer usually pays out the car's market value. This is usually less than the original cost of the car because of depreciation.
For cars bought on finance, the amount is likely to be a lot less than your outstanding finance agreement.
So you still have to pay the difference between the amount you owe the finance company and the amount you’ve been given by your insurer.
One way to protect yourself against this is with gap insurance. It's a policy that covers the shortfall between your payout and what you owe the finance company.
When do you pay the excess on car insurance?
If you make a claim on your car insurance, you usually need to pay an excess. This is an amount of money you need to agree to pay when buying the policy.
The higher the excess, the lower your insurance costs may be.
But, if you do make a claim with a high excess, you may then have to pay a big sum to start the process.
You might have to pay the excess straight away or, with some insurers, it may take the excess off your total payout.
For example, if your excess is £250 and the cost of repairs is £500, your insurer could take £250 off this amount, giving you £250 back. Check the small print of your policy to find out how your insurer handles claims and when it requires the excess.
If the car only has minor damage and it’s less to repair than your excess, it makes sense to arrange and repair the car yourself. This saves you money but also means you’re not claiming on your policy, saving your no-claims bonus.
Can I keep my no-claims bonus if I make a claim?
Every year you don’t make a claim on your car insurance, you build up a no-claims bonus. This can reduce your insurance costs.
If you do make a claim, you usually lose this bonus or at least some of it.
Is it worth claiming on car insurance?
The price of car insurance depends on several factors including:
The age of your car
Your car's condition
The type of policy you choose
Your claims history
If you do make a claim on your car insurance, your insurer might increase your costs. But this doesn’t always happen.
For example, if you’ve had an accident, the insurer may see you as more of a risk and increase your costs to cover this.
But you shouldn't avoid making a claim just because your insurance costs may go up.
It all depends on how you want to repair the car, the extent of the damage and the cost of repairs.
If claiming saves you money, because the cost of repairs is far higher than your excess, it’s worth doing.
But if it costs you money to claim because the cost of repairs is less than your excess, you might choose a different option.
For more information, read our guide on whether it’s always worth claiming on car insurance.
What if I don’t agree with the other party’s claim?
The insurers, both yours and any other vehicles involved in an accident, should handle any disputes over who's at fault.
This is why it’s important to give as much detail as possible and to hand over contact details for the other driver and any witnesses.
If you don’t agree with your insurer’s final decision, you can make a formal complaint to your insurer. But it may take 8 weeks for them to reply.
If you haven’t heard from your insurer or you’re unhappy with the decision, you can make another complaint to the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS).
This is a free and independent service for dealing with complaints towards financial services companies, including insurers.
If the FOS decides your insurer is in the wrong, it can demand it correct its decision and pay you for any expenses incurred.
But if it decides your insurer is correct, you then have the option of taking the insurer to small claims court. It's recommended you get independent legal advice before choosing this course of action.