Question: Over three years ago one of the guys where I was living backed into my car during the night. He never said a word about it and I didn't want a confrontation, so I didn't say anything. I want it fixed now, but I’m afraid if I use my insurance company my rates will go up. Can I just go to the body shop and pay out of pocket?
Answer: Yes, you can go to a repair shop and pay out of pocket for the repairs. And, at this late date, that may be your only choice.
No one requires you to make a car insurance claim. If you choose to preserve a friendship rather than make a claim, that is your choice to make -- you just end up being the one who is out the money for repairs instead of the person who did the damage.
You didn’t want a confrontation with your roommate, so you declined to speak to the at-fault party and obtain his auto insurance information. If you had, you could’ve made a claim against his property damage liability coverage and had your car fixed at no cost to you.
Unfortunately, if you were to change your mind and wanted to pursue him for the cost of repairs now, over three years after the fact, it’s likely too late to do so.
States have statutes of limitations for injury and property damage claims, or lawsuits. In most states, you only get two to three years to file for third-party property damage. There are states that allow up to six years, and Rhode Island permits up to 10 years.
How long is too long?
There can be even tighter deadlines under your own car insurance policy.
Your auto policy should note how long you have to claim for damages your vehicle sustained. It may say something specific, like one year, or vague, like “promptly” or “as soon as possible,” but the point is that three years later is likely too late for you to make a collision claim.
Whether you’re making a first-party claim through your own insurance company or third-party claim through an at-fault driver’s liability coverages, time is really of the essence.
Waiting to make a claim for weeks or months, and especially years, is much more likely to raise a red flag with the auto insurer involved. If it is within the given time period for the claim to be accepted, a late claim will be examined more closely by the adjuster.
One reason a claim made years after the incident can become problematic is that the insurance company needs to verify how the damage was done and to make certain that other damage wasn’t done since the incident that you are trying to slip in and get repaired under this claim.
Will your rates go up? Not always
For future reference, keep in mind that it might have been possible to make an auto insurance claim without your rates going up (but your insurer would have wanted to know who was at-fault and gone after him to recover the money they paid out).
While one minor accident and claim may affect your rates with some auto insurance providers, others won’t rate on an accident if it’s not your fault and/or if the accident is so minor that the repair costs are under a certain monetary amount (such as $1,000). State laws even sometimes dictate this. (See “If you’re not at fault, will your rates go up?” for more details)
However, if the damage were minor enough we’d recommend paying for it yourself, if you fail to go after the at-fault party, and save your auto policy for big items.