If you’re ever in an accident, you might make a claim on your car insurance. (You don’t have to claim, but it’s important to tell your insurer about it anyway.)
You would hope claiming would be quick and straightforward – but car insurance claims can be complex and there aren’t many clear ‘rules’ for how they work.
So we’ve trawled through the fine print to explain the processes, timelines and technicalities of it all.
There are lots of different kinds of claims, depending on who’s at fault and what you’re claiming for.
Frustratingly, it also counts as an at-fault claim if your insurer can’t track the other driver – that’s why it’s so important to get the other person’s details after an accident.
For a non-fault claim, your insurer pays for the damages to your car, but recovers the cost from the other person’s insurer.
Your no-claims bonus won’t be affected (but only if your insurer can recover all the money).
Say you’re both 50% to blame for an incident – the insurer always pays for the damage to the vehicle they insure in full (minus the excess). They’d then reimburse the other insurer for half the costs, and recover half the costs at the same time. 🤷♀️
When they do pay, you should get “market value”, which is the amount your insurer thinks you could have sold your car for (it could be less than you think).
If you have windscreen cover, claiming won’t affect your no-claims bonus.
It’s not always clear whose fault an accident is. You should always let your insurer know if you’ve been in an incident – you’ll have to claim on your own insurance, and then get the money back from the other person’s insurance company.
This could mean you have to pay your excess, then go through the (often pretty rubbish) process of getting your excess back from the other insurance company.
If you have legal cover or uninsured loss recovery with your insurance, or as a separate policy, you can use this to help you get back your excess and any other uninsured expenses.
If you’re in an accident, there are certain things you need to do at the scene, and afterwards, to make sure your claim goes through smoothly.
If it’s a bad accident or someone is injured, call the emergency services and police.
Never apologise or take the blame even if it was your fault – this could count against your claim later.
Exchange details with the other driver and any witnesses to the accident.
You’ll need the driver’s name, contact number, address, car registration number and insurance policy number, if possible. Get the details of any passengers too.
Take photographs of the damage and the scene. The more evidence you have, the better.
Write down exactly where and when the accident took place, and what happened, to help you remember later.
If you’re claiming for a theft, report it to the policy immediately and get a case number.
Call your insurer’s claims number as soon as you can – there’s usually a 24-hour time limit on how long you have to report an incident. (Even if you don’t want to claim, you still need to let your insurer know within this 24 hours.)
Have your policy details to hand and tell your insurer exactly (and truthfully) what happened. Make sure you give them the other driver’s details.
Write down the date and time you called your insurer, and who you spoke to. Do this every time you ring them up and make copies of any letters you send and receive, so you have a record of the whole claims process.
If your car is stolen or badly damaged, check your policy to see if you can get a courtesy car. Often, you’ll get one through your insurers’s repairer network.
(These aren’t always included as standard, or only given under certain circumstances, like if your car is written off.)
Tell them in writing you want to claim from them, and their insurer will work out who is responsible before paying out.
Once you’ve filed your claim, your insurer will arrange to check out the damage to your car and – hopefully – pay out for the damage. You might need to have it fixed at their preferred garage.
It can take anywhere from a few days to months to get your payout, depending on how complicated things are.
If the other driver admits it was their fault, or it’s clear who’s responsible, the claim will be much quicker. Most insurers aim to pay out within 30 days.
If you’re both claiming innocence and it’s not clear-cut, it can take months for the insurance companies to investigate and resolve a dispute. You could end up waiting up to nine months for your claim to be paid.
And even if your claim is simple, you might face delays while your insurer looks at the damage to your car.
This can leave you in a frustrating limbo, without a car or courtesy car, and no clear answer on how much they’ll pay out, or when.
Claiming will almost always increase the price of your insurance – and it might not always seem fair.
Even when an accident isn’t your fault, you can still end up paying more. (At-fault claims will generally make the price of your insurance go up more than a non-fault claim.)
Even if your car is stolen or you’re in an accident and don’t claim, you could still see a hike in your insurance costs. That’s because every time you’re involved in any kind of incident your insurer sees you as a riskier customer. That means they’ll charge more to insure you.
One exception is claiming for windscreens. If you have windscreen cover included as part of your fully comprehensive policy, or you’ve bought it as an added extra, claiming for windscreen damage won’t usually affect the price of your insurance or your no-claims bonus.
You have to tell your insurer about every accident and incident, even if you don’t want to claim. If you don’t, they could cancel your cover or refuse to pay out in the future.
The cost of the claim can also depend on how much it affects your price.
There are lots of things that affect the overall cost of a claim.
The biggest cost is often the price of the repairs. Sometimes repairs can be cheap, but sometimes it will cost a lot of money to get a car fixed.
Imported cars are usually harder to repair, too, because all the new parts have to be shipped in from abroad.
If you’re in an accident or your car is stolen, you need to tell your insurer as quickly as possible, even if you don’t want to claim. Insurers typically have a 24-hour time window for reporting – but you should report it as soon as you can.
Reporting an incident is not the same as claiming, but sometimes just telling your insurer is enough to make your price go up when your insurance renews.
In the UK, you can claim for injury on the third party’s insurance up to three years after an accident, and up to six years later for damage (with a few caveats).
Sometimes it can count in your favour to wait a bit – for instance, if it helps you gather more evidence. If your car is stolen, some insurers will tell you to wait before you claim, in case the police manage to find it.
Insurers often set their own time limits for different types of claims, so it’s best to check your policy carefully.
If you have third party insurance and you’ve been in an accident that wasn’t your fault, you can claim against the other driver’s insurance.
Write to the driver or their insurer to tell them you want to claim, and their insurer will decide who is at fault before settling. (You also need to tell your own insurer if you claim against another driver.)
If someone sends you a letter or claim form saying they want to claim from your insurance, send it to your insurance company right away.
If you have comprehensive insurance and an accident is your fault (an at-fault claim) – or it’s not clear who’s to blame – you'll need to claim from your insurer.
In the UK, there’s a big database of car insurance claims. It’s called the Claims and Underwriting Exchange. Insurance companies can use it to find out about the accidents you’ve had and the claims you’ve made.
So, car insurance claims never “drop off your record”, or anything like that, but that doesn’t mean they make your car insurance more expensive forever.
That all comes down to your insurer, and how far back into your driving history they want to dig around. It can be as little as three years or as many as 10. Most of the time, you’ll have to tell your insurer about claims you’ve made and incidents you’ve had over the last three to five years.
Most insurers will reward you for driving carefully with a no-claims bonus (also called a no-claims discount). The more years you have claim-free, the bigger the discount you get on your car insurance.
When you claim you'll lose some or all of your no-claims bonus and you'll have to build it up again.
If you have a non-fault claim and the other driver’s insurer pays out, you’ll keep your no-claims bonus – if your insurer can get all the money back.
“Excess” is the amount you have to pay whenever you make a claim. You don’t pay excess for reporting an accident if you don't claim.
There are two kinds of excess:
If you have a tiny bit of damage to your car – say, a scratch in the paintwork – and you have a £500 excess, it wouldn’t be worth it to claim on your insurance. You’d pay more in excess than you would to get it fixed – and you’ll have to think about the impact on your no-claims bonus.
Because of that, trivial bits of damage are usually cheaper to repair yourself, rather than going through your insurer.
What you’re covered for depends on the type of policy you have.
There are three main types of car insurance:
Third party insurance only covers you for any damage and injuries you cause to other people while driving – it’s the lowest level of insurance you can get.
Third party, fire and theft insurance does the same, with added protection if your car catches fire or is stolen.
Fully comprehensive is the highest level of cover, protecting your car against damage as well.
There are other types of policies too – like temporary insurance, learner driver insurance, young driver insurance, multi-car policies and so on. You can also buy added extras like windscreen cover and breakdown cover.
Each policy allows you to claim for different things, under different circumstances, but there are always limits to what your insurer will pay out.
And because every insurer does things slightly differently, it’s really important to read your policy docs – including the fine print – to understand what’s covered, and what isn’t. Don’t assume something will be covered.
You won't always get a full payout when you make a claim. And there are lots of things that can affect that.
If another driver thinks you were at fault for an accident, they will make a “third party” claim against your insurance. If you agree with them, your insurer will go ahead and pay out.
If you don’t agree, you will raise something called a “liability dispute” with your insurer. This is when both sides try to work out who’s really to blame, looking at all the evidence (like a less fun “who-dunnit”.)
Sometimes this process ends in a “liability split”, where your insurer pays for some of the damage, and the driver’s insurer pays some too.
Named drivers are people you add to your policy so they can drive your car from time to time. If they have an accident in your car, it’ll mean a claim on your policy – even if they have their own car and insurance.
This affects your no-claims bonus, not theirs. (Seems a bit unfair to us, but that's how it works).
Plus, you might have to pay more for your insurance in the future, or have the added hassle of being without a car for a while. (Which is a good reason to be careful who you add as a named driver.)
You need to tell your insurer if a named driver has an accident in your car, even if you don’t want to claim.
The named driver will need to tell their insurance company when their own policy comes up for renewal. This could push up the cost of their own insurance, too.
Temporary car insurance is a great option when someone else needs to drive your car for a bit, but you don’t want to add them as a named driver.
These policies are totally separate from the owner's insurance, so if they have an accident in your car your no-claims bonus won’t be affected, and the cost of your insurance won’t go up either.
And, unlike named driver accidents, you won’t have to tell insurance companies about the accident when you're shopping around for a new car insurance deal.
Learner driver insurance is for people who are practicing on a provisional licence. (You don’t need it if you only plan to drive with your instructor, in their car.)
Most learner driver policies are fully comprehensive, and they'll cover you for accidents, theft, fire and damage. But they tend to be more expensive than a regular policy, and the excess can be much higher.
If you're driving someone else’s car on a provisional licence and you have an accident, it won’t affect their no-claims bonus if you have learner driver insurance.
Some insurers will even let you build up your own no-claims discount as a learner driver, which can help you get cheaper insurance when you upgrade to a regular policy.
If you make a claim against your learner driver policy, it might mean you’ll have to pay a higher price when you take out a new policy later on.
(You always have to declare any claims and accidents you’ve had when buying insurance.)
You can cancel your car insurance even if you’ve made a claim on it – but you probably won’t get any money back from your insurer.
If you make a claim within the 14-day cooling off period and then cancel, your insurer will take away the cost of the claim from any refund they owe you.
Whether you pay annually or monthly, expect to pay all the normal cancellation fees and admin charges to get out of your policy. These vary between insurers.
When you pay monthly for insurance and make a claim, some insurers will ask you to pay for the whole policy, which can come as a bit of a shock.
It’s because paying monthly for car insurance is a bit like a loan that you pay off month by month. When you make a claim, it’s the insurer who’s out of pocket.
If you make a claim and then cancel, you might still be expected to keep paying every month until the end of your policy, or asked to settle what you owe in one big amount.
Just cancelling your direct debit to stop the payments is not a good idea. It could leave a bad mark on your credit history and make it harder and more expensive to get insurance in the future.
We think there’s a better way to do pay-monthly car insurance – no deposit or interest rate, and a subscription you can cancel or pause whenever you like, without a fee. Sign up for the waitlist, and we'll let you know (soon!) when it's ready.
Updated on 11th November 2020