You were so careful, but sometimes that’s still not enough. You’ve been hit in a car crash, and now the paperwork begins.
The exact process may vary depending on your insurance provider and what province you’re in, but there are some basic steps you should follow to help everything go as smoothly as possible.
“The first thing anyone involved in a crash needs to do is take stock,” says Pete Karageorgos, director of consumer and industry relations for the Insurance Bureau of Canada (IBC). “Your insurance company is going to be asking you specific questions.”
Record as much information as you can at the crash scene. Write down the other person’s license plate immediately, in case that driver takes off. If the police are not called, you’ll have to exchange information with the other driver, including name, address, phone number, vehicle make and model, along with your insurance company and policy number.
Use your phone to take pictures, providing it’s safe to do so. “You want photos showing the damage, any road signs, and road conditions,” Karageorgos says. “Someone might say they didn’t see the stop sign because it was obstructed, so take photos of that viewpoint showing they couldn’t see it because of a tree. Take anything that will help explain what happened.”
Note the time of the crash, the weather, the directions the vehicles were travelling, and the number of passengers in the other vehicle—yes, insurance companies sometimes get more injury claims than there were people actually involved. If there are witnesses, get their names and contact information too.
If your car needs to be towed, you’ve met your next hurdle. “Tow trucks can be a problem,” Karageorgos says. “Most insurance companies have 24-hour call centres and some have the ability to send a tow truck and take it to a shop the company knows.”
If this isn’t possible, your next step is to get a trustworthy company to the scene. Don’t just accept the services of any drivers that show up and “know a place to go.” They may pad your towing bill and get a kickback from a particular bodyshop. If the police show up, they may have a towing company contracted to them that you can use. Call the auto club if you’re a member, or your car’s roadside assistance. Let them know it’s a crash, and be aware that you may have to pay for the tow.
Your vehicle should only be towed to a bodyshop recommended by your insurer, or to one that you know and trust. This could include a shop at the dealership where you bought the car. If you don’t know anyone, have the car taken to your home, and wait for instructions from your insurer.
Call your insurance broker or company as soon as possible. Your policy will specify how long you have to notify them that you’ll be making a claim. If you wait too long, your claim could potentially be rejected. It’s usually a good idea to call the other driver’s insurance company and let them know what happened, in case that person didn’t notify his or her insurer.
In some instances, such as with certain types of crashes for drivers covered by the Insurance Corporation of British Columbia for example, you may be able to start the claim process online.
“Your company will assign a claim rep, who will ask about the facts of the crash, and confirm that coverage you have,” Karageorgos says. “There has to be an appraisal done, and they will typically coordinate that. If the car is at a preferred shop for that insurance company, someone at the shop may write the estimate and send it in. Otherwise, they may have to send someone to the shop to write the appraisal.”
The appraisal not only assesses the extent and cost of the damage, but compares it to the value of the vehicle. If it’s going to cost more to fix it than the car’s worth, it will be considered a total loss. While many people think a “write-off” only happens with major damage, a relatively minor fender-bender that deploys the airbags could be enough to do it on an older vehicle.
Crash damage can potentially affect the resale value of a vehicle, and if yours is leased, you may want to contact the dealership and speak with them about it.
Many insurance companies used to require you to get three estimates before work could commence, but usually that’s no longer the case. “The estimate is written by someone who is the insurance company’s employee or has a relationship with them, and they’re comfortable with the estimate,” Karageorgos says.
Even so, you should stay on top of the repair process. There may be delays, especially if the weather turns bad and the shop fills up, or if parts are on backorder. If you’ve been provided with a rental car in the meantime, there may be a cap on how much the insurance company will cover, and you don’t want any nasty surprises if the repair goes past that.
Payment for the repair will depend on the insurer and the shop, and whether you owe a deductible. The insurance provider will sometimes cut a cheque co-payable to you and the shop, so make sure you’re satisfied with the work before you sign over the payment to the shop.
Karageorgos also recommends that you check your policy when it comes due. “Don’t just look at the price,” he says. “Call your agent or broker and make sure you have the right coverage, and be aware of your deductible. Review it on an annual basis.”