How do I assess car damage for insurance purposes?

Insurance claim adjusters assess damage for car insurance purposes. Some insurance companies send their own claims adjusters while other insurance companies work with a network of approved body shops. Learn more here.

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UPDATED: Jun 2, 2022

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Written By: Laura BerryReviewed By: Joel OhmanUPDATED: Jun 2, 2022Fact Checked

Here's what you need to know...

  • If you are in a car accident, it is important to assess damage for car insurance purposes
  • No matter how much damage you think the car has endured, it is not up to you to determine the amount of the claim
  • An insurance claims adjuster will appraise the damage to your car or you may also get some repair estimates from reputable body shops
  • While you may have the right to appeal a damage determination, it is more than likely that you will accept the claim payment amount offered by your car insurance company

Read on to learn all about auto insurance and assessing damage for car insurance claims and then also be sure to enter your ZIP above for a FREE auto insurance comparison!

Deciding Whose Car Insurance Company Pays for Damages

The kind of damage that can be submitted to a car insurance company for a claim depends upon the type of car insurance you have. If you only have liability and you were at fault for the accident, then there is no car insurance coverage for your car and no claim to submit.

If you are the victim in a car accident, then the other party’s car insurance will pay for the damages to your car.

When this is the case, it is always a good idea to contact your insurance agent as well and very often they will act as a communicator on your behalf to ensure you are treated fairly.

When the damage to your car is being assessed by another person’s insurance company, it may be a good idea to request some independent estimates from local body shops. This way, when you receive the claim amount from the insurance company you will know if it is reasonable or not.

If it is not reasonable, you may need to ask if your insurance company can offer any advice.

It is also beneficial to send copies of your estimates, preferably from 3 different repair shops in this instance, to the insurance company for review. If you are unable to settle on a claim amount through an appeal process of some sort, then you may need to seek legal action.

If your car is being assessed by your own insurance company, then you still have the option of requesting some repair estimates from some other body shops.

Some insurance companies send their own claims adjusters while other insurance companies work with a network of approved body shops. In these cases, the insurance company almost always approves whatever is quoted by their authorized body shop.

You can always discuss claim amounts with your insurance agent if there is any dispute. If you feel you are not getting paid per your policy and you are unable to resolve the issue with your car insurance company, then you may need to go to court and let a judge decide who is correct.

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Should I do the assessment by myself?

If at all possible, try to involve someone else in the car accident’s damage assessment. This is because it will be helpful to have another opinion, especially from someone who was not involved in the accident or does not have a vested interest in the vehicle.

You can also take the car to an auto body shop or mechanic and ask them to assess the damage.

Additionally, your insurance company will most likely provide an insurance adjuster if necessary.

However, you should be aware of if the insurance adjuster actually works independently or for the insurance company.

Learn about insurance companies and read customer reviews from the Better Business Bureau.

Other Car Insurance Claims that Require Damage Assessment

If you have car insurance for collisions then you need to submit a claim with your car insurance company and simply follow their procedures.

For example, if you are required to make an appointment with an insurance claims adjuster, then you need to do so. If you are asked to take your car to one of the approved body shops, then you may need to do that.

However, if you have a body shop that you prefer to use and it is not on the car insurance company’s list of approved vendors, then you may need to talk to your insurance agent.

It is possible that your car insurance company will approve the body shop if its estimate is within close proximity to their own.

They may also allow you to repair your car there if you choose to do so, but they may agree to only pay the original set amount and leave you responsible for any charges over the initial estimate.

If your car is stolen and determined to be unrecoverable, then you will most likely need a police report in order to receive payment per your policy.

Neither a body shop nor a claims adjuster will be needed to assess damage for a stolen car.

Instead, the claim will be paid according to the policy, which is most likely the value of your car, taking depreciation, age, and mileage into consideration.

Legal Action if Your Claim is Denied

It is always the easiest and least expensive to settle disputes out of court. However, there are times when agreements cannot be made and a legal judgment is necessary, Ehline Law Firm reports.

Insurance companies have a procedure to follow for submitting claims, and it is important that you follow the procedure completely in order to have a chance in court.

However, if you have done everything you need to do and you still feel your claim was not handled correctly, such as in the case of an undervalued damage assessment, then a court settlement may be in order.

When you go to court for a claim, be sure to bring all documentation with you, including multiple body shop estimates and any written correspondence between you and the car insurance company.

It is always a good idea to keep documented notes of phone conversations as well, with date, time, names, and content of conversations.

If you follow all of the procedures set forth by the insurance company and you have a reasonable dispute, the judge may find favor with you. However, if you do not follow the procedure, your case may be dismissed even if the judge would have agreed otherwise.

For example, if your insurance company dictates that you have to submit all independent body shop estimates for consideration within four weeks of the claim date, then you must.

If you do, and all of your estimates are 25 percent higher than the insurance company’s damage assessment, then the judge will probably rule in your favor.

However, if you failed to submit the body shop estimates to the insurance company and it is more than four weeks after the claim date, then the judge will rule in favor of the insurance company since you did not follow the protocol set forth in your legally binding policy contract.

The judge may feel your pain on the difference in estimates, but he ultimately has to rule on the law.

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Always Ask Questions If Concerned About Your Claim

Anytime you are unsure of something, do not hesitate to ask. Even if you feel you are annoying your insurance agent with phone call after phone call, do whatever it takes to make sure you are doing everything properly.

Do not wait until deadlines are over otherwise you risk your entire claim.

For instance, if you are in a minor car accident and you don’t report it to the police or your insurance agent for a few weeks, then chances are you will no longer have a valid claim.

An insurance company is not going to assess damages to a car for an accident that was not reported timely because there is no longer a way to substantiate when the damage actually occurred.

It is always in your best interest to ask more questions and receive more answers than you will ever really need rather than be left holding a body shop repair estimate with your name on it as the Bill To.

The Bottom Line: Car Damage Assessment For Insurance Purposes

Car insurance is more than just financial protection for when you need it. It is a legal contract with obligations and expectations for both parties.

As long as both parties always uphold each end of the contract then you should never be surprised or disappointed by your car insurance company when it comes to assessing a car for damage.

If you have been let down, or if you would just like to do some comparison shopping, you can get free online car insurance quotes right now by entering your ZIP code with our quote tool below!

Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about auto insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything auto insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by auto insurance experts.

A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

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