filing an auto insurance claimIf you have ever been involved in an automobile accident, you probably remember how flustered you were after the initial impact. In the event of even a minor collision, it can be difficult to remember what your course of action should be.

Calling the police should be your first step. After that, here are a few things to remember that will help mitigate the stress of filing an insurance claim after an accident:

1. Exchange information. While you are waiting for the police to arrive, take photos and exchange information with the other driver involved. Use your smartphone to take pictures of the scene and of the other driver’s registration, license, and insurance card. Be sure to obtain the contact information of any and all people involved in the accident. Also determine whether there were any witnesses at the scene, and take down their contact information as well.

If the other driver of the other car is not cooperative, stay in your vehicle until the police arrive. Try to identify the year and make of the other car involved in the accident, as well as the plate number and issuing state. You can never assume that when the police arrive, they will give you all of the information you need to identify the others involved in the accident.

Depending on the state in which you live, you may want to go to the local precinct to pick up the police report or to obtain a case number for future reference. Typically, your insurance company will order this report as part of its investigative process, so even if all the police are offering is the case number, take it. There may be a fee to obtain a copy of the report and you could have to wait up to 10 days to receive it.

2. Call a towing company. If your vehicle is not drivable, call a towing company and ask that it take the car to a body shop. If you have roadside assistance coverage on your insurance policy, or if you have a membership with AAA, use that to help you through this process. Remember the name of the body shop to which your car is getting towed, as your insurance company will need this information to set up an inspection of your damaged vehicle.

3. Call your insurance company. File an auto insurance claim with your insurance representative as soon as possible. Having all the above information, along with your version of how the accident occurred, will help to speed up the processing of your claim and expedite vehicle repairs. Your insurance company will prepare an estimate of the damage done to your car in the accident.

If you have purchased rental car reimbursement coverage, your insurance agent will be able to answer any questions you have about that coverage. He or she may also be able to help you navigate the process of renting a car while yours is being repaired. If you don’t have collision coverage on your vehicle, you will need to report the accident to the other party’s insurance carrier. That company will assess the damage to your vehicle and determine the dollar amount it will offer you toward repairs.

4. Fill out the paperwork. After the accident, both your insurance company and the other party’s insurance company will send you some paperwork that asks for your version of what happened in the accident. In order to expedite the settlement of your claim, complete and return the paperwork quickly.

5. Wait for the claim to be settled. Depending on the severity and complexity of your claim and the reputations of the insurance companies with which you are dealing, the settlement process could take anywhere from five to 30 days. Typically, the insurance company will confirm your acceptance of the settlement offer in writing and then issue your payment.

(Click here to learn about the four factors that may help you get auto insurance discounts.)

Once your vehicle is repaired, you will need to have your body shop complete and sign a certificate of repair. If this form is not on file with your carrier and you are involved in another accident, your insurance company can withhold or deny any payment should the car be damaged in the same area.

Many insurance agents can provide you with a pamphlet that offers instructions on what to do in case of an accident. Request one from your agent and keep it in your glove compartment so that if you are ever in an accident, you’ll have it for reference.

Heidi Petschauer Fox graduated from St. John’s University in Queens, N.Y., in 1983 with a B.S. in management. She joined her late father’s firm, Petschauer Insurance, in 1982, became principal in 1995, and now shares ownership with her partner and cousin, Erwin Petschauer. She received her Certified Insurance Counselor (CIC) designation in 1997. She currently facilitates the professional and creative development of the entire Petschauer team and manages the personal lines and social media departments.