There's no simple answer to the question, "how long does it take for a car insurance claim to settle?” The truth is that many factors can play into the time that elapses between a claim’s filing and its settlement. Typically, minor claims such as glass repair can be settled within a few days. More complex and costly claims, such as total loss or injury, can take months.
Many states have adopted laws regulating the timeliness with which insurance companies handle the claims process. By being knowledgeable of your state’s laws and following other best practices, you can help your claim come to a fast and fair settlement.
How long does an insurer have to settle a car insurance claim?
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) has offered states a model law to help guide how they regulate insurance companies’ handling of claims. This model includes standards for a timely response. For example, an insurer must provide written notification as to whether it accepts or denies a claim no more than 21 days after receipt of proof of loss documentation. If the insurer instead needs more time to investigate the claim, it must notify the claimant within those 21 days. If the claim investigation requires still more time, the insurer must notify the claimant every 45 days.
Many states have adopted laws that are broadly aligned with this model, though the details may vary. Ohio’s law on unfair claims settlement practices, for example, follows the 21-day and 45-day timing for written notifications. California’s fair claims settlement practices regulation requires insurers to communicate initially within 40 days of receipt of the proof of claim documentation, with additional written notice every 30 days if more time is needed. A proposed law in New York, Senate Bill S6813, gives insurers six months to notify a claimant within six months of receipt of proof of claim.
Laws do vary by state. Check with your state’s department of insurance to understand what rules apply where you live.
What to expect when you’ve filed a car insurance claim
Now that you've filed your claim, the clock is ticking. Different types of claims take varying amounts of time to settle, depending on their complexity, cost, and the number of parties involved in the process. Generally, however, you can expect the following:
Glass claim — One to two weeks
These are among the simplest of claims. If all you need is a simple glass repair (filling chipped glass with a transparent epoxy), the insurance company may instruct you to go directly to a glass repair specialist that can complete the work in under an hour. Some insurers offer no deductible glass repair, meaning you won’t pay anything out of pocket.
Windshield replacement may take a bit longer, as the repair specialist may need to order the glass. If you need to be reimbursed by the insurer, expect to receive that within a couple of weeks.
Roadside assistance — One to two weeks
Roadside claims are also fast and straightforward to settle. Often, services such as towing or battery jump are provided with no deductible, so there's no out-of-pocket cost. If you do need to be reimbursed, expect payment within a couple of weeks.
Vehicle damage — Two weeks or longer
Damage claims can have a lot of variability in timing. Much of it depends on the seriousness of the damage: Extensive body and mechanical work will take longer than a bit of painting. It's also not uncommon for additional damage to be discovered while the repairs are being completed, extending the timing.
Using a shop that the insurer recommends can also be a factor. A growing number of insurance companies forego in-person damage inspection by a claims adjuster when the work is completed in a recommended shop. This can help speed the process.
For a relatively straightforward damage claim, expect two weeks for settlement. More complex claims will take longer.
Total loss — Four weeks or longer
Total loss claims, in which the vehicle is damaged beyond repair or stolen and not recovered, can be complex and time-consuming. Numerous parties and a lot of paperwork are typically involved. Agreeing to a settlement amount (often based on the vehicle's actual cash value, which may fall short of replacement cost) can sometimes be challenging.
Expect these claims to take up to four weeks to be settled; longer if there are any hitches in the process.
Injury claims — Two weeks to several months
s are the most complex of all. Many factors contribute to their length. These include injury severity and the care/therapy needed for recovery, the involvement of doctors and other medical personnel, the participation of attorneys and potentially multiple insurance companies, and state laws regarding who's responsible for paying in an accident.
Whereas simpler injury claims can be settled in a matter of weeks, more complex examples can last months or even years.
How to prevent delays when filing a claim
Not everything is in your control when you have a claim. However, there are several things you can do to help the insurance company and other involved parties bring your claim to a fast and fair settlement.
- Understand your policy — First, be sure you understand your policy. Knowing what coverages you do and don't have and what limits and deductibles apply can help avoid misunderstandings that delay the process.
- Be responsive — Act quickly when the insurer asks for things such as a police report, proof of claim documentation, or signatures. If an adjuster needs to inspect your car (and it’s in your possession rather than at a shop), make every effort to get that appointment made as soon as possible.
- Speak up — If you have questions about the process or its timing, contact your adjuster. If you're unsatisfied with the repairs or don't like how the repair shop is handling things, say so. Resolving issues now can save you a lot of time and headache in the long run.
- Involve your agent — Your agent is more than just the person who sells you a policy. They're your advocate throughout the policy's lifetime, including when you file a claim. Agents typically have a lot of experience with customer claims and understand the ins and outs of the process. Yours should be able to give you solid advice that can help the claims process move smoothly. They may even offer to do some of the legwork for you.
When not to file a car insurance claim
There may also be situations when it doesn't make sense to file a claim. If you're involved in a single-vehicle accident and the damage appears minor, consider getting a repair estimate before contacting your insurance company. If the repair would cost less than your policy's deductible, then it really wouldn't make sense to report a claim.
Note, however, that some insurance companies require you to notify them if you damage your vehicle. Be sure to review your policy contract to understand what you should and shouldn’t do.
How to file a car insurance claim
Nobody leaves the driveway expecting to file a car insurance claim. But car insurance exists because the unexpected does happen. If you find yourself in a car accident, regardless of the circumstances or who you think is at fault, follow these steps to help get the claims process off to a good start.
- Safety first — Pull off to the side of the road, if possible. Call 911 if anyone is hurt, there’s a fire, or there’s some other ongoing emergency.
- Document all you can — Jot down license plates, names, phone numbers, insurer names, and policy numbers. If you can, take photos of the damage.
- Contact your insurance company — Your insurance ID card or policy paperwork should list a phone number for claims. Many insurers also offer contact via their website or app.
- Find out what documentation is needed — This may include completing a "proof of claim" form and sending a copy of a police report to the insurance company.
- Ask about deadlines for documentation and when an adjuster will be in touch — Do your best to get all the requested documentation to the insurance company as soon as possible. This should help the process flow smoothly.
It depends on the complexity of the claim
How long a claim takes to settle depends mainly on the type and complexity of the claim. There are also some things you can do to help the process flow smoothly.