These Are the Worst Auto Insurance Claim Mistakes
When Rex Freiberger thinks of his worst auto insurance claim mistake, he remembers the time someone rear-ended his Honda Accord.
“It was a small accident,” he recalls. “The damage was minimal. At first, I thought it was just body damage, and I reported that a couple of days after the fact, which was already a long time to wait.”
But then he noticed two significant problems: The wiring for the taillights had been affected by the accident, eventually knocking out both lights. The bumper had also sustained internal damage. “And, most distressingly, I was experiencing headaches, nausea and some memory problems,” says Freiberger, who edits an electronics website.
Lesson learned: When it comes to auto insurance claims, don’t wait too long to file—and don’t file an incomplete claim. How long do you have? Ideally you should report a claim as soon as possible. The deadline for filing an official claim will vary by state.
“What I needed to do, according to my agent, was to file a report as soon as possible and get the car evaluated,” he says. “Then, I needed to get a physical evaluation. With that information compiled within the first few days, I could have added to the open claim easily.”
It could have been worse. Some drivers don’t get anything because they mishandle their own claims. But that doesn’t have to be you. Here’s how to avoid some of the worst auto insurance claims mistakes.
Auto Insurance Claim Mistake No. 1: Filing a Claim When You Shouldn’t
If you have collision coverage and you caused minor damage to only your vehicle, you probably want to skip the claim.
For one thing, if the repair cost is less than your deductible amount, you won’t get anything anyway.
If the repair cost is only a bit more than your deductible, it’s probably not worth it either, especially because you could be risking a rate increase at renewal time.
Save your insurance claims for the big problems, like wrapping your car around a tree.
Auto Insurance Claim Mistake No. 2: Not Taking Pictures
“In a perfect world, you should take reams and reams of fresh photographs and video,” says Jordan Peagler, a personal injury lawyer with MKP Law Group in California.
Specifically, did you document the weather conditions? Are there photos recording skid marks and road debris?
“Documenting vehicle damage is always helpful, but a record of the damage before the vehicles have been moved is optimal,” he adds. “How the vehicles were positioned in relation to one another, in relation to traffic signals and how and where the vehicles came to rest, can play a big part in winning insurance claims.” Peagler says these “big picture” images can sometimes mean the difference between having your claim paid and having it denied.
Auto Insurance Mistake No. 3: Not Collecting Evidence
It isn’t just photos, but any kind of evidence.
Dan Bailey remembers his wife’s recent claim involving her totaled car. “The insurance company sent an appraiser to the junkyard to assess the vehicle, but the total claim amount they came back with was laughably below what it should have been,” says Bailey, who runs a lawn care website. It turns out the adjuster recorded the body damage, damage to the tires, to the chassis, and a few other parts of the vehicle, but skipped the features and amenities of the car.
The adjuster also failed to take into account the additions he’d made to the vehicle and its condition before the accident. “Later, we found out this car would have been appraised at a $9,000 value, obviously depreciated from where we bought it, but still far more than the $4,000 we got,” he says. Lesson learned: Document everything about your car. Provide written proof of the car’s condition and any details that might help your claim.
Auto Insurance Claim Mistake No. 4: Saying You’re Just Fine
Insurance adjusters often call you after an accident to find out how you’re doing.
“A simple statement of ‘I’m feeling good,’ will often later be used to negate any subsequent pain or harm,” says Dennis Sawan, a personal injury lawyer at Ohio law firm Sawan & Sawan. “We advise that, until you have a full and complete handle on the scope of an injury, you refrain from committing to any firm position regarding your injuries. This will allow you the flexibility you need if you later find additional damage or fail to heal properly.”
Auto Insurance Mistake No. 5: Lying About What Happened
It might cross your mind to lie about the circumstances of an accident if it looks like you were at fault. But ultimately it’s important to be truthful so that your claim isn’t void later due to misrepresentation.
And remember, most major intersections have traffic cameras. And don’t forget witnesses and their social media posts.
Auto Insurance Claim Mistake No. 6: Offering Too Much Information
On the flip side, your willingness to tell the whole story and then some could be a problem. Too much of the wrong kind of information could affect your claim.
“Just answer the questions that the adjuster or insurance company asks without offering a lot of extra commentary,” says Jeff Zander, CEO of Zander Insurance. “Too much elaboration can give a company avenues to pursue when reviewing the claim that could either delay the payment or possibly create a denial.”
Zander and other experts say you should just answer the questions without any elaboration. Just give the facts.