When the car is drivable, most people go to their carrier's drive-in location, where they get an estimate and a claims check on the spot. Or they can use a direct repair facility, a one-stop option. They'll drive directly to a specified shop affiliated with the insurer, pick up their rental, get a written estimate and have repairs begin.

Your own inability to cover your deductible could delay your repairs. Young observes that 20 years ago he never saw a $500 or $1000 deductible. That's changed.

"In order to try and make insurance less expensive, many people have these very high deductibles and so they can't afford their portion of the repair," says Young. That's why you see so many cars with dents and damaged fenders. Young says many people never get around to fixing their cars.

If your car is a total loss, the insurance company will buy what's left of the car and will pay you the vehicle's value before it got damaged.

"If you disagree with their figure, you have the opportunity to provide additional information that could help, like examples of other comparable vehicles," says Passmore. Even this process is typically completed within 30 days, he says.

Here's what to do when your auto insurer totals your car.

How to speed up your insurance check

  • Exchange contact information and insurance agencies at the scene.
  • Get a police report.
  • Report your accident to your auto insurer as quickly as possible.
  • Use your carrier's drive-in insurance center or try the direct repair program if available. However, you are not required to.
  • Check your rental car coverage. Most policies only provide coverage for 30 days.
  • Find out your state's law for paying a claim.
  • If you suspect your insurance company is violating the "Unfair Claims Settlement Act," talk to your adjuster's supervisor.

If you don't get any satisfaction, file a complaint with your state's insurance department.

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