Auto Body Repair Costs: Should I Pay Out of Pocket or Submit a Claim?

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Auto insurance was created to absorb risk and prevent drivers from paying fully out-of-pocket to repair or replace their car after an accident. But when filing an insurance claim, your premium tends to increase. If you’re in an accident and your car sustains damage, you might be wondering if you should pay for the repairs yourself or submit a claim.

The answer to that question isn’t straightforward. There are many things you need to consider before you make a decision. In this article, we’ll help you understand the pros and cons of each option so you can make the right choice confidently.

What should you consider when paying out of pocket or submitting a claim? 

When you get into an accident and your car is damaged, there are a few things you need to consider before filing an insurance claim. Every driver’s situation is different, and it will likely alter your decision to submit a claim or pay out-of-pocket. Here are three things you should think about.

How many people are involved in the accident, and who’s at fault?

First, consider how many people were involved in the accident and who caused it. That will have a major impact on whether you should file a claim.

For instance, if you cause an accident with another car and both cars are damaged, you need to file an insurance claim. The other driver will expect your insurance to cover the cost of repairs to their vehicle. If you’re not at fault and your car sustains significant damage, the other driver’s insurance will pay for the damages for you.

However, there are certain situations where you don’t necessarily need to file a claim. For instance, if you hit an stationary object and you damage your bumper, you can probably get away with paying for the repairs yourself. 

However, if you live in a no-fault state, you are required to file a claim with your insurance company, regardless of who is at-fault. Any vehicle damages will be automatically paid for by your insurance company, even if you caused the accident. No-fault states include Florida, Michigan, New Jersey, New York and Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Minnesota, North Dakota and Utah.

Is your deductible higher than the out of pocket repair cost?

When you file any insurance claim, you will pay a deductible. Your deductible is the amount of money you agree to pay out-of-pocket towards the cost of repairs before the insurance company reimburses you. For example, say you get into an accident and your car sustains $2,000 worth of damage. If you have a $500 deductible, you will pay $500 and the insurance company will give you $1,500.

There are two parts of your auto insurance policy that have a deductible—collision and comprehensive coverage. That means your deductible applies when you get into an accident (collision) and almost any other event that causes damage (comprehensive). Comprehensive insurance covers things like theft, vandalism, falling objects and glass damage.

If your deductible is higher than the out-of-pocket repair cost, you should pay for the damages yourself. For example, if your deductible is $500 but the cost of repairs is only $350, it doesn’t make sense to seek reimbursement from your insurance company. In that situation, the insurance company couldn’t give you any money because your deductible would theoretically cover the cost alone. 

What is a zero payout?

If you’re on the fence about submitting a claim or paying out-of-pocket to repair your car, you can also consider a zero payout claim. A zero payout claim is when you don’t file a traditional insurance claim, but you notify your insurance company about repairs you made after an accident. Usually, a zero payout claim won’t raise your premium if you do it once or twice.

If you’re in an accident, you need to notify your insurance company, even if you intend to pay for repairs yourself. Without proper notification, it puts you at risk and could lead to denied claims down the line. 

For example, let’s say you get into an accident and your front bumper falls off. You decide to replace the bumper yourself. If you get into another accident and the bumper gets damaged again, the insurance company might deny your claim because you didn’t report the accident that caused the initial damage. 

Essentially, the insurance company isn’t responsible for any repairs you make on your own. Not notifying the insurance company of self-repairs puts you at risk for not getting covered if a more serious or expensive accident occurs. 

If I have to file a claim, how can I keep my premium from going up? 

If you have to file a claim based on your state’s requirements, there are a few ways you can prevent your premium from increasing. Look at your policy and see if you have accident forgiveness. Accident forgiveness allows you to file a claim without your rates going up. Typically, this only applies to a first accident or a certain number of accidents per year. If you don’t have it, consider purchasing it as an add-on when you renew your policy. 

You should also look for discounts that you aren’t already taking advantage of. For example, many insurance companies offer savings for customers who pay their premium in full, set up auto-billing or switch to paperless statements. You can also get discounts for installing safety features on your car, like an anti-theft system. 

If you can afford it, also consider raising your deductible. Even if you agree to pay a few hundred dollars more out-of-pocket towards your claim, you might be able to keep your annual rate from increasing. 

The takeaway

If you’re in an accident and your car is damaged, getting it repaired is a big priority. But unfortunately, most people don’t have auto repair insurance. It’s not always easy to decide if you should pay for the damage out-of-pocket or if you should seek insurance money.

Before you make a decision, consider who is at-fault and how much the repairs will cost in comparison to your deductible. If you’re able to pay for the repairs yourself, it’s still a good idea to inform the insurance company and file a zero payout claim. By taking advantage of certain discounts, you can probably keep your annual premium from increasing significantly if you file a claim. 

Elizabeth Rivelli

Elizabeth is an insurance writer for coverage.com, where she covers insurance providers and reviews policies to help consumers find comprehensive and affordable coverage for every area of their life. She has more than three years of writing experience for top online insurance and finance publications.

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