Before an auto accident can be covered by an insurance company, the insurer will want to take a look at the damaged vehicle. This inspection is the first step to receiving a claims settlement, and it may take place the same day as the accident or many weeks later depending on the circumstances surrounding your claim.

Different insurance companies handle their inspection process differently. Some companies will send a mobile adjuster to take a look at the vehicle at your home or even come to the scene of an accident to take photographs and get statements. Other companies prefer to have you bring a vehicle to an inspection location, take it to an approved body shop or fax in estimates from the shop of your choice. No matter what method of inspection your company chooses, the ultimate goal is the same: Obtaining an accurate estimate of the vehicle’s repair cost.

Why Adjusters Must Complete Inspections

An insurance company needs to make sure that the damage matches the accident description and that there is no preexisting damage on the vehicle that needs to be excluded from the claim. This helps keep operating costs low by preventing insurance fraud. The insurer will also determine the reasonable repair cost of the vehicle so that an appropriate settlement can be paid.

In most cases, an estimate from a body shop will not be sufficient. Shop rates are flexible, and many body shops will charge customers more than the vehicle should actually cost to be repaired. When faced with an estimate from an insurance company, the shop will often reduce its rates to match. Body shops are also not generally qualified to identify possible fraudulent damages.

You are certainly free to obtain an independent estimate prior to your inspection. Having an estimate on hand from a body shop can help your adjuster double-check the damages and give you a starting point for discussions about your damages. You can ask questions about anything you don’t understand so that you’ll feel more comfortable about the repair process.

How Long does a Claims Inspection Take?

Most vehicle inspections take between 30 minutes to one hour. During that time, the adjuster will walk around the vehicle and take photographs of every panel, not just the area that sustained damage. He or she will also make note of your license plate, VIN and odometer reading. If the damage is fairly minor, the adjuster may mark the vehicle with a water-soluble chalk or pen to highlight damages such as dents or scratches.

The photographs will then be uploaded into the claims file. The adjuster will make note of every panel that must be replaced and run a search for the average cost of parts and labor in the area where you live. Depending on the age of the vehicle, the adjuster may offer you a choice between after-market and OEM parts. For older vehicles, OEM parts will not be an option.

They will then over the estimate with you to explain everything and answer any questions that you may have. You will receive a copy of the written estimate, which breaks down all of the necessary repairs by cost. If you’re comfortable with the amount and there are no problems with the insurance investigation, the adjuster will usually issue you a check for the repair cost minus your deductible. You may then take that check to the company of your choice to have the repairs completed.

Of course, the inspection only addresses obvious physical damages. If there is any hidden damage beneath the panels of a vehicle or to its frame and mechanical parts, the adjuster may not notice it at the inspection. Once the repair shop begins doing a tear-down of the auto, they will discover the additional damages and submit a supplement to your insurance company. The written estimate should have directions for the supplement process, and you can call your damage adjuster with any questions about repairs that you may have.

What to Bring to an Inspection

In order to make sure inspection process go smoothly, it helps to be prepared. Having certain items available will help speed up the process:

— Your driver’s license to prove your identity
— Your policy number and claim information
— The vehicle’s title and registration
— Any photographs you took at the scene of the accident
— Receipts for any recent work you’ve had done on damaged panels of the vehicle
— Information for any body shop you plan on doing the work

Your title is especially important to bring to an inspection. In order to issue a check to you, the insurance adjuster must know that you own the vehicle outright. If you cannot provide a title free of any liens, the check must be issued two-party to you and the body shop of your choice.

Hopefully, you will never have the occasion to use your auto insurance. Accidents do happen, however, and knowing how the claims process works can help prepare you for the worst case scenario.