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By Paul Reynolds and Martha C. White
Updated: March 1, 2021 4:04 PM ET
Photo Illustration of a Hand holding a phone with car insurance app filing a claim
Money; Getty Images

After a major car accident, provided you’re not hurt, you need to begin the process of repairing your car by filing a claim with your insurer. Now instead of fumbling to find phone numbers when you get home, you can initiate a claim immediately from your phone -- and get your vehicle fixed faster.

As with many other changes to insurance in the past year, the rise in claims on mobile phones is partly due to COVID-19, says Elixabete Larrea, partner in the insurance practice at consulting firm McKinsey. “What we've seen is carriers have had to move very quickly” in shifting towards digital claims management due to constraints placed on insurance adjusters’ in-person work during the pandemic.

Being ready in case of a claim may be the key reason to install your insurer’s mobile app, but it isn’t the only one. Apps also offer such other pluses as providing access from anywhere to information on your policy. Here’s why and how to go mobile with your car-insurance interactions.

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Filing an accident claim via insurance app

Your insurer’s app should at the very least provide links to click or phone numbers to text or call to facilitate filing a claim from your device.

The best apps go a step further and offer a guided claims process. That typically includes the ability to upload photos of the crash scene directly into the app, and to use the phone’s technology to automatically capture the location and time of the event.

Images that capture damage to your vehicle and others involved in the crash, as well as to property such as fences and barriers, provide useful data, says Neil Keane, field CTO with Smart Communications, which advises insurance companies on customer-service issues. He urges drivers to take them with their phone, regardless of how they’ll eventually be conveyed to the insurance company. But features that allow them to be inserted onto the claim, such as the QuickFoto Claim function of Allstate’s app, make the shots easier for the driver to organize and the adjuster to process.

Apps also help facilitate communication with your insurer as your claim is processed, says Deniz Cultu, partner in the insurance practice at consulting firm McKinsey. “It can be much more efficient to interact back and forth through the app [rather than by other means] as the claim gets processed,” Cultu says.

Savings in time and (eventually) money

Greater digitization of car-insurance claims is a win for policyholders, says Jack Gillis, executive director of the Consumer Federation of America. “The good news is that these apps have the potential to dramatically speed up the reimbursement process,” Gillis says.

That, in turn, can serve to lower insurers’ claims-handling costs, according to customer-service consultant Keane. The company “can get the info they need quickly, and use the likes of apps to gather data that might formerly have been in forms, which are not efficient,” because they take more time and are prone to error.

Eventually, says Gillis, the efficiency savings should be passed along to drivers. “Reducing the overall cost of an accident repair process ends up serving the consumer from a competitive standpoint,” he points out.

The app can also help the insurer communicate with other stakeholders, potentially saving more time. Leslie Plumberg, managing claims account executive at CBIZ, says that an increasing number of auto repair shops also work with insurers’ apps, which can reduce both time and hassle. Since newer cars today tend to have more sophisticated, expensive sensors, cameras and other safety equipment, it can sometimes be difficult to assess the extent of vehicular damage until the car is taken apart. With the app interfaces, auto shops can upload their own photos if they discover additional damage and obtain approval from the insurer to make those more extensive repairs without having to schedule an in-person visit from an adjuster.

“It’s very, very simple,” Plumberg says. “The repair process of the claim is going to be done a lot quicker.”

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Apps offer other useful information

As a rule, most or all apps allow you to access such documents as your policy, which can be useful to check your coverage details, maybe even from the accident scene. You can also usually pull up your latest insurance ID card, too, which is helpful if the version in the glovebox happens to have expired -- and you need to verify that your coverage is still in effect.

Other universal or near-universal features include the ability to pay your premiums and summon roadside assistance, if you have that service as part of your policy. There can be further features for those who bundle their car policy with others from the same company, such as keeping your inventory (with photos) of the items in your home covered under your homeowners insurance policy.

In short, there are plenty of pluses to using your phone to manage your car insurance, even if you’re never unlucky enough to have to use it to file a claim. You can start by simply searching for and downloading your insurer's free app in the Google Play or Apple App Stores.

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