Steps to prepare for a car insurance claim
When you take out a new car insurance policy, it’s important to familiarise yourself with the claims process so you know how to go about using your policy if needed. Being involved in a car accident or having your car stolen can be a stressful time so knowing how the claims process works beforehand can make the ordeal all the more easier to deal with.
This review will explore how to prepare for your car insurance claim and the steps to take immediately following the event to ensure the claims process runs as smoothly as possible.
The first step, before you even take out a policy, is to familiarise yourself with its benefits, terms and conditions. This is all in the Product Disclosure Statement (PDS) that accompanies insurance policies. This document lays out what you can claim and the conditions under which you can claim.
Once you have a policy and are clear benefits and limitations, you should have a good idea of when you can make a claim and what you are entitled to. It’s important to thoroughly read the PDS of any car insurance policy before buying.
Carry pre-filled forms
To be prepared for the worst, it can be a good idea to carry some pre-filled forms in your car wherever you go. There are a lot of details to exchange in the event of an accident, and having these handy makes it considerably easier. Try printing out forms you can give to other drivers, and witnesses, for them to quickly fill in:
- Time, date and location of the incident
- Contact number
- Vehicle registration
- License number
- Details of their CTP insurer and policy
- A brief description of what happened
This can be supplemented by picture and video evidence, taken with your phone at the scene, to make sure your insurers has all they need to successfully process your claim.
Don’t panic, and follow these steps
- Call 000 for life-threatening emergencies or injuries. Make sure no one is in any immediate danger. If the accident was serious or resulted in injuries, you may be required to call the police depending on where in Australia you are.
- Take appropriate steps to minimise further damage. For example, by moving a damaged car off the road if it is safe to do so.
- Exchange details with the other driver, including all the information on the pre-filled forms. Where possible, try to include any other details you feel are relevant, such as the make, colour and model of the vehicles involved. Take photos and videos if needed, and recording other relevant details.
- Exchange details with any witnesses to the accident if applicable. You can hand them the same forms, and simply ask them to provide their names, contact numbers and a brief description of what happened.
- Make sure you have all the information you need, as far as is safe and reasonably possible, before leaving the scene.
- Do not: Admit liability at any point, regardless of whether or not you were at fault. The issue of blame will be by the insurers and the authorities.
- Do not: Offer to settle the incident or claim unless you have obtained the written consent of your insurer.
- Do not: Negotiate for the damages or repair costs, and do not authorise any repairs until your insurer has has been informed, unless it is absolutely necessary.
In the event of a theft or malicious damage claim, you must notify the police as soon as possible and obtain a police report to accompany your claim.
Depending on your insurer, there may be different ways in which you can lodge a car insurance claim, including:
- Online. Insurers will often let you fill out claims forms and submit them online at their websites. Some might specify claims team email addresses for you to get in touch with.
- Over the phone. You call your insurer to make a claim, or to inform them that something has happened and you will be making a claim. Sometimes you may be able to provide the relevant information, such as the name of the other driver and their registration number, over the phone, while material like photos will need another method.
- Using an app. Some insurers offer claims apps that can help you automatically navigate the procedures. These can be particularly useful by letting you upload photos or videos to your insurer through the app.
- In the mail or in person. If you think you’ll want to do this, it may be worth specifically looking for such providers, as not all insurers will offer this option. You will generally still need to provide the same information.
All the information you provide to your insurer is important, often you cannot make a successful claim without it. For their purposes, however, insurers may be particularly interested in the details of the incident, and the details of the other driver and their insurer.
This is because insurers will typically attempt to recover costs from the at-fault party’s insurers, when applicable, including the cost of damage, replacement rental car hire following an accident and other expenses. This, along with making sure you and your car are getting all the benefits your policy entitles you to, such as free repairs, free towing, emergency glass replacements and similar, are a significant part of what an insurer does.
The steps taken by insurers when processing claims can include:
- Recovery actions on your behalf. For example, if you’ve been injured in a car accident and the other driver was at fault, then your insurer can get in touch with the other drivers CTP insurance company on your behalf.
- Contacting the other drivers and witnesses. Insurers will often take investigative actions to confirm the details of what happened and help establish who was at fault, if anyone.
- Providing services. If you are eligible for emergency accommodation under the terms of your policy, for example, part of your insurer’s claims process might be to book you a hotel room. The same goes for car repairs, towing and other services.
If you do not follow the terms and conditions of your insurance policy, then insurers may reject your claims. Look for:
- Benefits. A common trap is to assume that a policy covers something when it doesn’t. For example, you will probably need a comprehensive car insurance policy if you want to claim certain variety of types of damage, and cannot assume that you are covered for anything in specific.
- Exclusions. These are conditions where the policy will not pay out. Exclusions will typically apply for driving under the influence and otherwise being reckless behind the wheel, but there may be more specific ones such as exclusions for accidents that occur within a certain distance of your home, or beyond a certain amount.
- Your obligations. Not getting unapproved repairs and not offering to settle damage with other parties are two common obligations you will encounter in car insurance policies. Not following these can be used as valid grounds to decline a claim.
In all cases, reading your PDS is an effective first step to making sure you know your responsibilities and exclusions. Contacting your insurance provider as soon as you are able might also be a good idea because it can let you ask specific questions and get some assistance on the scene.
If you are not happy with how your insurer has handled your claim, and after going through your PDS believe you are in the right, then you can contact the Financial Ombudsman Service (FOS) for a resolution.
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