Whether you were just in an accident or are in the midst of searching for an auto body shop, it helps to understand the car accident repair process. Read on for a step-by-step guide, expert tips, claims and coverage details, FAQs and more!
6 Steps to Take After a Car Accident
1. Get to Safety & Call 911
First things first: Get out of the way of other traffic if you’re physically able to. From there, you should call the police, which is legally required in some states whether you’re in a minor fender bender or a major collision.
The responding officer will compile an accident report, which you may need to provide to your insurance company. If an officer isn’t able to get to the scene, you can file a police report at the closest police station.
2. Document Everything
Personal injury attorney John Sherman advises that “one of the most important things you can do is to take pictures of the scene.” This includes:
- All vehicles involved in the accident
- Weather conditions
- Road conditions
- Lighting on the road
- Any physical injuries you have
If the accident involved another driver, you should exchange insurance and contact information.
3. Don’t Admit Fault
U.S. News & World Report advises, “if you were responsible for the accident, tell the truth, but stick to the facts and don’t offer your opinion.” Remember: It’s up to the insurance companies to determine fault.
4. Get Medical Attention
If you don’t have visible injuries immediately after the accident, getting medical attention might not seem necessary. However, “immediately following an accident, the human body starts pumping adrenaline that can make injuries sometimes difficult to detect,” says Sherman. “If there are any visible injuries from the accident, you should seek medical care as soon as possible. Even if the crash was minor and you’re feeling fine, it is advisable to at least make an appointment with your primary care doctor for an examination.”
5. Contact Your Insurance Company
Either while you’re at the scene of the accident or after the fact, you need to contact your insurance company to start a claim. They will also be able to give you an idea of the next steps to take and what to expect from the process.
6. Find a Car Accident Repair Shop
Your insurance company may offer a list of preferred shops where you can take your vehicle for repairs, but you are not required to follow their suggestions. You can choose an auto body shop that you’re comfortable with, or search for one in your area.
Whatever route you choose, make sure your auto body shop offers the following:
- Free, quick estimates
- I-CAR certified technicians
- Lifetime limited warranty for all repairs
- A meticulous quality control process
Every auto body repair shop is different, and the extent of the repair process will depend on the severity of your vehicle’s damage. However, you can usually expect the following steps when you bring your car in for repairs:
- Estimate: The auto body shop will examine the damage to your vehicle to compile an initial estimate. This will give you an idea of the extent of the damage and the potential cost of repairs.
- Insurance Approval: The auto body shop will submit the estimate to your insurance company. There may be some back and forth here, but you shouldn’t be too involved with this step.
- Dropoff: Once the car repair shop has an approved estimate, you’ll bring your vehicle in for repairs.
- Disassembly: The technicians will take apart your vehicle and create a blueprint of the repairs.
- Order Parts: Once there’s a blueprint, replacement parts will be ordered. This involves coordination with the insurance company in order to get the best parts at the best price.
- Repairs: This covers all structural and mechanical repairs. In most instances, this step can begin before the new parts arrive.
- Painting: A new coat of paint helps restore vehicles back to their factory finish.
- Reassembly: After all the pieces are freshly painted, the vehicle is fully reassembled.
- Detailing: This step includes vacuuming, cleaning and final touches.
- Final Inspection and Delivery: The quality control department inspects the vehicle. Upon their approval, your vehicle is ready to be picked up.
Insurance Claims & Coverage
What’s covered by your insurance and how does the claims process work? Every accident and every policy is different, but you should know where you fall under these factors:
Fault vs. No-Fault States
All U.S. states follow one of two systems for car accident claims:
- Fault States: You can seek compensation from any of the parties that were at fault for the accident, so either your insurance company or the other driver’s insurer. This is the most widely used system, which is followed by 38 states including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
- No-Fault: You can only seek compensation through your own insurance, regardless of who was at fault. Twelve states are no-fault, including Massachusetts and New York, and each state follows their own variation.
Collision coverage, according to Allstate, “helps pay to repair your car if it’s damaged in a collision with another vehicle or object, such as a fence. Generally, collision coverage comes into play because a driver gets into a car accident.”
Collision insurance covers damage to your car from:
- Single-car rollovers
- Accidents involving other vehicles
- Accidents involving objects, like trees or fences
Nationwide explains that comprehensive car insurance “pays for damage to your vehicle caused by covered events such as theft, vandalism or hail, which are not collision-related.”
Comprehensive insurance will cover damage to your car from:
- Natural disasters
- Falling objects
Collision and comprehensive insurance coverage is typically required if you are leasing or financing a vehicle. It’s important to know that these do not cover damage to another person’s vehicle or medical bills (yours or anyone else who was injured). Liability insurance helps pay for the damage to “other driver’s property and medical injuries if you are ‘at fault’ in an accident,” according to State Farm.
5 Expert Tips for Car Accident Repairs
1. You can choose your auto repair shop.
Contrary to what your insurance company may want you to think, you don’t actually have to get your car repaired at the auto body shop they recommend. Your insurance company will have a list of preferred auto repair shops that they work with most often, but it’s ultimately your choice.
2. Get a few repair estimates.
If you have the time and patience to shop around, getting estimates from several repair shops can help you find the best cost. However, don’t let the lowest price tempt you. The cheapest option doesn’t often produce the highest quality repairs.
3. If it’s covered by your insurance, make sure replacement parts are new.
Your insurance policy will state whether aftermarket or OEM parts can be used to repair your vehicle. Since aftermarket parts are made by a different manufacturer than your vehicle, they aren’t always the preferred option. If your car is under a lease, your policy should include OEM parts.
4. Let your auto repair shop handle all insurance communications.
Aside from starting the claims process, there’s really no need for you to be the middle man between your repair shop and your insurance company. Your repair shop should coordinate all of the work being done to your vehicle for you, from the initial estimate to final billing.
5. Ask to be notified if new damage is discovered.
While technicians are working on your repairs, it’s possible that they could find additional damage. If this happens, they are required to notify your insurance company to receive approval to make these extra repairs.
While it’s nice to have your auto repair shop and insurance company coordinating amongst themselves, this might be an instance where you’d like to receive updates. You can request to be notified at the same time as your insurance company so that there aren’t any surprises when you pick up your car and see the final invoice.
Car Accident Repair FAQs
Q: Do I need an appointment to get an estimate?
A: This will depend on the auto body shop, but in most cases you don’t need an appointment. Just check the operation hours of the shop you’re considering.
Q: Do I have to get more than one estimate?
A: This may depend on your insurance company. If you have a repair shop you know you want to use but your insurer is requesting more than one estimate, the repair shop can contact your insurer to coordinate the repairs.
Q: What if repair costs exceed the value of my car?
A: If repairs cost more than the cash value assigned to the car, it will be your insurer’s decision whether to pay for the repairs or to pay you for its book value (the amount you paid for it, minus depreciation). The Insurance Information Institute states that “most standard auto policies will not pay to repair a vehicle if it is ‘totaled.’”
Q: What if I was at fault for my vehicle’s damage?
A: If you are determined to be at fault for the accident in a fault state, which includes 38 states, your insurance company will be responsible for paying for the other driver’s vehicle damage, medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering.
In a no-fault state, the other party will submit a claim to their insurance company. Then, their insurer will contact your insurer for reimbursement. Your premiums will likely go up when your policy is renewed.
Q: What if the car repair shop and my insurance company disagree about repair costs?
A: It’s entirely possible that your insurance company rejects an auto body shop’s estimate, or that an auto body shop rejects an insurance company’s estimate. If this happens, your auto body repair shop should take the lead on coordinating a solution with your insurance company.
Q: What am I going to do without a car while it’s being fixed?
A: The auto body shop will be able to help you coordinate a rental vehicle while your car is being repaired, but check your insurance policy for the fine details. Rental vehicles are not always covered and when they are, there will be limits to how long you can rent the vehicle and how much it will cost per day.
Q: My car is under a lease and I was in an accident — is that bad?
A: Since a leased vehicle isn’t your property, the repair process needs to follow very strict guidelines set by the OEM. For example, only new, OEM replacement parts can be used. If the vehicle is declared a total loss by your insurance company, they will write a check to your lease financing company for the value of the vehicle.