How do you make a car insurance claim?

Your car insurance is there to protect you and your finances. You hope you never have to, but making a claim is a key part of having a policy. This is how to make a claim on your car insurance policy.

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What can you claim for?

This will depend on your level of cover — a fully comprehensive policy will allow you to claim for damage to:

  • your car

  • the third party's vehicle

  • any property

If you have third party, fire and theft; or just third party cover then you will not be able to claim for your car's damage in an accident.

For a closer look at exactly what you can claim for under each type of policy, read our guide that compares fully comprehensive and third party, fire and theft cover.

How to claim on your car insurance policy after an accident

There are a number of steps to remember following an accident and, despite any shock and stress you may be under, you must keep as clear a head as possible.

At the scene

  • Contact the police immediately if the accident is serious, or if someone is injured

  • Do not accept blame for the incident, as this can be used in claims against you later. Even apologising can be enough to establish blame

  • Exchange details with the other driver, or drivers, involved in the accident: these include, names, addresses, car registration numbers and insurance policy numbers – if they have them to hand

  • Get names and addresses of any witnesses to the accident. These may be an important factor in establishing liability. Get names of any passengers in the other vehicles and check if they are injured. If anyone is injured you should call the police to report the accident.

  • Take photographs of the scene and damage to any vehicles involved. Try to build up a complete picture of how the accident unfolded

  • Make a note of the location including street names, house numbers or names of shops. Sketch the road layout and where the vehicles were and their direction of travel, plus where witnesses were.

  • If the police are involved, ask for a copy of any report they make and get a crime number

After the accident

  • Find your insurance documents and make sure you have all your information at hand

  • Call your insurance company on their claims number

  • Explain what happened accurately — if you are not honest the claim could be rejected

  • Give the details of the other driver if one was involved

Should you claim on your car insurance policy?

Whose insurance policy pays out for an accident depends on who is at fault. It is important, therefore, not to accept blame at the scene and to take photographs for evidence.

If the other party accepts responsibility, they should claim through their insurer who will cover the cost of your repairs. They will contact you and advise how to proceed. They may recommend an approved garage or offer a refund if you choose to have the work done elsewhere.

Do you need to tell your insurer if you are not claiming?

Yes. Regardless of who is to blame you must always inform your insurer.

Even if the accident is minor and you choose not to claim, you still have to let your insurance company know. Telling them will not affect your no claims bonus, and your insurer can then deal with the other insurer (if applicable) on your behalf.

Disputing a car insurance claim by another party

If you believe an accident was not your fault but the other party thinks otherwise, it is the responsibility of the insurance companies to settle the dispute.

Make sure you submit evidence to back up your claim including witness statements and photographs.

If you dispute the insurer's decision, you may need to take the matter to court. You should only do this if you are confident you are not to blame for the incident.

Hit by an uninsured driver?

If you are hit by an uninsured driver or a vehicle that does not stop, report the incident to the police right away

If you have a comprehensive policy you should claim through your insurer as they will be able to compensate you for any damage to your car, but you may need to pay the excess.

Check your policy to see if you have uninsured driver cover. This protects your no claims and means you will not pay excess if you are in an accident caused by an uninsured driver.

If you do not have a comprehensive policy, you can go to the Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) for compensation. It will carry out its own investigation to establish the facts and work out what compensation is due, you can make your own checks on the MIB’s Motor Insurance Database (MID). A one-off search using this database costs £4.50.

You can find out how to make a claim on the MIB website.

Motor Insurance Bureau (MIB) website - Claiming against an uninsured driver

How much will a claim on a car insurance policy cost?

Despite not having to fork out for all damages, making a claim will still come at a cost.

  • Excess: You will need to pay the excess amount in your policy. If you added a voluntary excess you will need to add this to the compulsory excess specified by your insurer. Here is more on how car insurance excess works.

  • Increased premiums: Any claim will likely mean an increase in premiums when you renew, and you will also lose any no claims bonus which will push up your quotes.

Should you claim or pay yourself?

This depends on the overall cost of the claim:

Example 1: You are involved in a crash with another driver that was your fault.

  • Total damage of both cars costs £1,800 to repair

  • Your excess is £250

  • Your no claims discount saves you £300 a year on your policy

In this scenario you will contribute £250 and the insurer will pay the remaining £1,550.

As you have made a claim, you will lose your no claims bonus which means a £300 hike in your premium when you renew. This is a total cost to you of £550, compared to a total cost of £1,800 if you pay yourself.

Verdict — make a claim, although your premiums will be higher for a few years until you build up your no claims again.

Example 2: You have a crash with no third party involved.

  • Damage to your car is £400

  • Your excess is £250

  • Your no claims save you £200 a year on your policy

This time the cost of the accident is only £400, while the overall cost of claiming would be £450.

Verdict — pay out yourself if you can afford to.

What if you can’t afford the excess?

You could consider using a 0% purchase credit card. This way you can pay it back over time without incurring interest if you clear the balance in the interest free period.

Otherwise, make sure you can afford the excess when you take out your policy, especially if you plan to increase the voluntary amount.

Some insurers offer the optional extra of excess insurance, which will cover the cost in the event of a claim. This will come at price, however, so if you have increased your voluntary excess to reduce your premium, this may wipe out any potential saving.

Think about putting some money aside to cover the cost in an emergency. Consider an easy access savings account so you can withdraw the money whenever you need it without penalty.

How does car insurance excess work?

Who repairs your car?

Your car insurance provider will have a list of approved repairers it recommends. It may let you use another garage, however this could mean:

  • An additional excess will apply

  • A courtesy car may not be provided, even if it is a named benefit on your policy

  • No guarantee on repairs carried out

Check with your insurer and read your policy carefully to find out where you stand.

What if your car is written off?

If, following damage in an accident, your vehicle is considered to be beyond repair (written off) your car insurance company will offer to pay-out the current market value of your vehicle minus the excess.

For example, if your car is worth £6,000 and your excess is £250, you will get a £5,750 pay-out. Remember, you do not have to accept the first valuation offer the insurer makes. If you can show other vehicles like your selling for more, contest the valuation and negotiate an better deal.

When your insurer writes off your car you will need to:

  • give the car to your insurance company to be disposed of

  • send the completed section 9 ('Notification of sale or transfer') of your V5C to the DVLA

  • give the rest of the V5C to your insurer

The DVLA should then issue you with a refund for any full remaining months on your vehicle tax. For more on what to do if your car is written off, visit GOV.UK.

GOV.UK – Insurance write-offs

What if your car is stolen?

If your car is stolen you must report it to the police first:

  • Dial 101 to speak to your local police

  • Report the theft giving the car registration, make, model and colour

  • Ask for a crime reference number

Once the police have been informed contact your insurer and give them the crime reference number. Find out more on reporting your car stolen at GOV.UK.

Your car insurance company will then conduct an investigation, which may include an interview to confirm the details of the theft. If it is satisfied it will pay-out the current market value of the car.

If the car is recovered at a later date it will belong to the insurance company. If you are willing to return the pay-out money you can usually buy it back from them.

GOV.UK - What to do if your vehicle has been stolen

Contesting a rejected claim

If you think your claim has been rejected unfairly, you should:

  • Check your policy and note where it confirms your cover

  • Check your policy for a full list of exclusions

  • Double check all the information you submitted was correct when you claimed

  • Contact your insurer's complaints department either by phone or formal letter

If you are still unhappy, here is more on the best ways to complain to your insurer.

How to complain about financial services.

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