Car Insurance and Repair Options After an Accident

Your vehicle repair options after a crash depend on the answers to a number of key questions.

By , J.D. · University of San Francisco School of Law

If your car is damaged after an accident, you may have more than one option for getting the vehicle fixed and back on the road, depending on:

  • who was at fault for the accident
  • what type of car insurance coverage you have, and
  • whether or not the other driver is insured (if they were at fault).

Who Pays to Get a Car Fixed After an Accident?

The first rule to know is that the party who was responsible for causing a car accident can usually be held liable for the cost of any necessary vehicle repairs— everything from minor scratches to major body work. Or, if the car is deemed a "total loss," the at-fault driver will be on the hook for the market value (or "actual cash value") of the vehicle at the time of the accident.

This is usually true even in states that follow a "no-fault" car insurance system. Under no-fault, after a car accident, most medical bills and some amount of lost income can be paid under the injured person's own insurance coverage. But property damage (meaning damage to your car) is not usually covered as part of no-fault.

But from a practical standpoint, the key issue isn't always who can be held liable for car repairs after a car accident, but who actually pays for the repairs. Let's look at a few options.

The Other Driver's Liability Coverage

In most states, vehicle owners are required to buy liability car insurance for registered vehicles, and after a car accident, the property damage liability coverage of an at-fault driver's insurance should kick in to pay for damage to other cars, up to policy limits.

This means if someone else was responsible for your accident, their insurer should pay for your car's repairs (or for the value of your car), and you have the right to make a claim with that insurance carrier directly.

But what if the at-fault driver does not have insurance, or what if you were responsible for the car accident? What if you're pretty sure the other driver is at-fault, but you want to get your car fixed now so you can get back on the road?

Your Own Collision Coverage

In some situations, you may have to turn to your own car insurance to pay for damage to your vehicle, assuming you have collision coverage. This kind of car insurance coverage can be thought of as another form of "no-fault" insurance. That's because once you purchase collision coverage, it will cover any necessary repairs to your vehicle—or a totaled vehicle's actual cash value—up to the coverage limits, regardless of who was at fault for the accident.

But keep in mind that if you make a claim under your own collision coverage, you'll be responsible for the "deductible," which is usually a minimum of $500. In some cases, you have the right to get the deductible back. For example, if your own insurer pays out your claim and then turns around to seek reimbursement from the at-fault driver's insurance carrier, your insurer may also recover your deductible for you.

Pay Out of Pocket and Seek Reimbursement

This is usually the fastest way to get things done, but be careful. If the insurance adjuster things you overpaid for the repairs, the work might not be fully covered (this may occur more often when drivers have their repair bills paid by their own insurer under a collision coverage policy). One more caveat: if the other driver puts up a fight on issues like fault for the accident or the extent of damage to your vehicle, then you could be in for a long wait before you're reimbursed—if you're reimbursed at all.

The Car Insurance Claim Process After an Accident

The claim procedure will vary depending on the circumstances and the insurance carriers involved. But usually, whether you pursue a claim against the other driver's property damage liability coverage or under your own collision coverage, there are four steps:

  • inspection of the vehicle
  • assessment of the nature and extent of damages
  • one or more repair estimates (or valuation of "actual cash value"), and
  • (hopefully) the payment.

The process could take a while to play out. Getting a rental car can be an option, if a replacement rental is part of your own coverage, or if you are willing to pay for a rental car now and are confident that you can get reimbursed by the at-fault driver's insurance later on.

It's possible to handle the vehicle repair portion of a car accident claim yourself, but if things get contentious or you and the other side are too far apart on valuation or repair estimates, you might need the help of a skilled lawyer. You can use the chat tools right on this page to connect with a lawyer near you, or learn more about when to get a lawyer's help after a car accident.

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