Auto Insurance

Does asking about an accident affect your auto insurance policy?

By: Lisa Coxon on April 25, 2024
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This article has been updated form a previous version.

When you’re involved in a minor car accident, one of the first questions to flash through your mind is: Should I make a claim with my insurance company? 

The answer depends on who you ask, the extent of the damage, and your deductible. If the accident is truly minor, like, say, a fender bender in a parking lot, most people will suggest handling it on your own. 

Related: Everything you need to know about your auto insurance deductible 

Is asking about a potential claim the same as making an actual claim? 

Sometimes, you’ll hear that when it comes to insurance companies, honesty isn’t always the best policy. Being too forthcoming with information, some people believe, could end up working against you.  

There’s a common belief that if you ask your insurance company whether to file a claim, they might increase your future premiums as a penalty, regardless of whether you end up making a claim or not. 

“We know that people have been afraid to contact their insurers to ask questions about a potential claim, concerned that it will impact their policy regardless of whether they make a claim,” says Gerry Martineau, assistant vice president of national auto claims at The Co-operators. 

“Yet that’s the time they need advice the most, someone to come alongside to provide assistance and peace of mind.” 

Read more: What to do after a collision, and how to file an insurance claim 

Can insurers penalize you for inquiring? 

Insurance brokers aren’t obligated to report to someone’s insurance company when a customer calls in asking about an incident, but there’s nothing stopping them from doing so, either. 

“It’s really dependent on the individual broker as to what they do with the next step,” says Randy Carroll, CEO of Ai Insurance Organization. He says that brokers run a system in the background called an “accident reporting centre”. This is done for a few reasons, but not ones you might expect.  

It’s not so much that you’re going to be reprimanded for asking a question. Rather, you could get into trouble for not reporting the incident, a penalty that could come in the form of either a claim denial or higher premiums. 

You could get dinged for not reporting an incident with another driver 

There’s a big difference between, say, scraping the side of your vehicle on your garage door and not telling your insurance company versus rear-ending someone and trying to settle it quietly.  

If you get into an accident with another driver and decide not to make a claim, but the other driver does, and reports it to the accident reporting centre, “both insurance companies will be advised that there was an incident,” says Carroll.  

It’s especially tricky in situations where two people get into an accident and decide to settle the damage without involving their insurance companies. You can’t really trust that the other person won’t eventually file a claim with their insurance company, even if the damage is paid for out of pocket.  

So even if you decide against telling your insurance company, it could still come back to haunt you and at that point, your claim would probably be denied, Carroll says. 

“The responsibility of the customer is to make sure that the insurance company knows that there is potential loss there,” he says.  

Each company is different, however. Some offer what’s called “accident forgiveness” where your first at-fault claim is “free” in the sense that your rates aren’t going to increase as a result. 

'If our client decides to pay their own claim,” says Martineau, “their premium will not increase, and we will not use this information to affect coverage in the future.

A spokesperson for Aviva said in an email that simply asking hypotheticals isn’t grounds for making changes to someone’s policy. 

“If a customer called an Aviva agent and said they’d been in an accident, no matter how minor, we would expect the agent to ask the appropriate questions to determine whether or not the vehicle, property, etc. was impacted,” the spokesperson says. 

However, they say, a simple inquiry would likely not make an impact on the caller’s record.  

“If a claim was started as a result of the conversation and questions, the customer could potentially see a change to their policy at renewal time,” they add. “If a customer just called asking for general or hypothetical advice, they wouldn’t see any changes to their policy or premium.” 

Related: Six reasons your auto insurance policy could be cancelled 

Asking a broker is probably your best bet to avoid any unwanted penalties for claim inquiries 

To avoid any speculation that you might have a claim waiting in the wings, it’s in your best interest to call up your broker with any hypothetical questions or need for advice. 

Unfortunately, however, there’s no standard process for this situation, and yet it’s one many drivers find themselves in. 

“It’s always a tricky conversation,” says Carroll. “As a broker, I have an obligation to the customer, so I’m going to get them the advice they need in regard to what happens if you do not report the claim, and what happens if you do report the claim. And I’m leaving it up to the customer to make that judgment.” 

Read next: Can I sue my auto insurance company? 

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