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What happens when you make a claim?

Every state has a financial responsibility law which lays down the minimum mandatory requirements to satisfy before you can drive on the road. In the at-fault states, this is third party liability coverage. In the no-fault states, this is a minimum amount to help pay for your medical treatment, and the repair or replacement of your vehicle. In all but one state, it is mandatory to carry car insurance. So when you pay the cheap car insurance premium, you get a piece of paper which says it is legal for you to drive on the public roads. But the equally important thing you want to buy is peace of mind. You need the confidence the insurer is going to pay out if you are unlucky and get into an accident.

How to check whether the insurer pays when you claim?

Every state has an Insurance Commissioner responsible for licensing and regulating the local insurance companies. All of them also run a complaints service. Some are a straight investigation by the Commissioner's staff. Others depend on arbitration or mediation proceedings. Either way, your state's Commissioner collects detailed information about the reliability of the local insurers. The more consumer-friendly Commissioners publish league tables showing how many complaints are upheld against the local insurers. In such states, you should avoid buying a policy if you really think there is going to be a possible claim. The bad companies take your annual premium payments and then find every reason not to pay out at all or only pay you a small percentage of the proper amount. Cheap car insurance often means no good experience when you claim. If your local Insurance Commissioner does not publish names, ask your family and friends, check local websites or ask the local Better Business Bureau about the reputation of local insurers.

What should happen when you claim?

This all starts with the quality of the information you submit as the claim. If you have covered all the points explaining how the collision occurred, the insurer should:

    » confirm the accident falls within the scope of the cover you bought;

    » check you are up-to-date in paying the premium;

    » confirm the extent of the damage to the vehicles; and

    » if necessary visit the scene of the accident to ensure your description of events is credible.

Now comes the more challenging part played by the claims adjuster. Once your claim is confirmed as credible, you now come to negotiation over the cost of repairs to your own vehicle. There will usually be an inspection and a comparison of competitive quotes from different repairers. If the repair is economic, the adjuster will approve the repair. If the repair will cost too much, your vehicle will be totaled, and you will receive the fair market value.

If a claim is being made against you, the other parties will add up the total bill for medical treatment and vehicle repairs, and claim it from you. Your insurer will pay up to the maximum set in your policy. If that amount is insufficient, you remain liable to pay the rest. With cheap car insurance you usually end up underinsured.

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