Car Insurance: What To Do If Your Car Gets Damaged

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car accident in France

Being involved in a car accident or having your car damaged is stressful enough as it is, but it can be so even more if you're not in your home country. How should you act if this happens? And how should you proceed to report the incident? And what about the French claims compensation system? All the answers to these questions and more are in the following guide, to provide you with the tools to calmly apprehend a car accident.

First off - what is considered car damage?

Car damage (in French sinistre automobile) includes all forms of damage both physical and material inflicted on a driver during a car accident, and for which the said driver can be compensated in accordance with his or her insurance contract.

To be more specific, the French insurance law defines car damage as:

“[…] Any damage caused to third parties, which engage the insured person's responsibility, resulting from damage or a set of damages having the same technical cause, which can be attributed to the activities of the insured person guaranteed by the contract, and which gives rise to one or more claims."

Car damage is therefore not the accident itself, but the consequences of it.

In order for your damage claim to be validated, you have to do the following:

  1. Be able to identify the cause of the damage and give proof of it if possible
  2. Send off a claim for compensation filled out with care
  3. Be able to take the necessary measures to avoid future similar incidents

Do not start getting your car repaired right away! Wait until you've notified your car insurer of the accident - you'd run the risk of being refused your compensation!

Car damage: examples

car accident

The French car insurance system separates damages into different categories, which each give the right to a specific compensation. We thus recommend that you get familiar with the different types of damage categories which are set up as follows:

  • Road accidents: defined as a collision between two or more vehicles, or with a pedestrian or an animal. They may cause damage to those involved and their vehicles.
  • Theft: as soon as you notice the theft, immediately report it to the police. They'll help you determine whether your car was stolen or simply taken to the pound.
  • Glass breakage: this can be caused accidentally or intentionally. Breakage of your optics, mirrors and windshield is covered by most insurance contracts.
  • Fire: whether its origin is criminal, mechanical or electrical, a fire is classed as damage as it can wreck your vehicle.
  • Vandalism: defined as voluntary damage caused by a third party. You must file a police report before you declare this incident to your insurer.

Always check whether all these incidents are covered in your contract! If you hold third-party insurance, this may well not be the case, and with some contracts, you may still be responsible to pay for some of the damage yourself.

Declaring car damage in France

How to declare a car accident

Accidents are traumatic and we never know how we're going to react in such a situation - but it's always best to have some of the best practices in mind and try to apply them if ever caught up in one.

 The first thing to do is obviously to check that you and others in your vehicle are OK and aren't injured. Call the emergency services at 112, or get someone else to if you can't.

 Then, you should contact your insurer. Their number can be usually found on your insurance sticker on your windshield. Explain what happened, then your insurance provider will tell you what to do.

 To increase your chances of getting compensated fully, make sure you provide all the evidence you can. We recommend you take photos of all the vehicles involved, the accident scene and any elements of the surroundings (ground markings, traffic signs...) that could serve as proof. Also, collect testimonies from witnesses and third-parties if you can.

 Finally, you should fill out an accident report (your insurer should have provided you with a blank copy, for you to keep in your car). Make sure you fill it out carefully, so as to help your insurer determine your degree of responsibility, the amount of damage and how to compensate you.

However big or small the damage, you must fill out this report - even if no one is injured or if the damage looks insignificant or near to invisible!

How to declare theft, vandalism, fire or glass breakage

You'll have to inform your insurance as soon as you become aware of damage to your vehicle - whether it was parked indoors or outdoors at the time of occurrence.

First off, head to the police station to make a statement. If your car was stolen, you'll have 24 hours to report it and collect the deposit receipt that you'll need to send to your insurer.

Whether or not you are then compensated and to what extent will depend on what coverage you have - third-party insurance only won't always include your specific issue. For instance:

  • You need to add glass breakage insurance to your plan, or opt for a multirisk insurance type of plan, to get refunded in the case of damage to your windows, mirrors or windshield.
  • Car theft insurance provides compensation if for a stolen car (whether or not you end up getting it back) or in the event of a car break-in, so long as you have the supporting evidence.
  • In-car theft insurance will cover your personal belongings (laptop, cellphone, keys, handbag, SatNav, radio....) that get stolen from your car. The only things this won't include are your identity papers and those of the vehicle.

Coverage exclusions - a word of notice Legally speaking in France, an item will only be considered stolen if there are traces of tampering or vandalism on/in the vehicle. This means that if you forget your keys on the ignition, don't lock your car or leave your car window wide open with valuables on display in your car, chances are your car theft insurance will refuse your claim. It's thus always best to double-check you've left your car parked in secure conditions, and read through your contract to be sure what is and isn't covered.

The Constat à l'amiable

If you're involved in a car accident involving one or more third parties, you'll have to fill out what is known in France as a constat à l'amiable, or amicable accident report. While you'll certainly be in a state of shock or emotional turmoil and may not be able to think straight, do your best to follow these steps:

  1. Fill out the front. Both you and the other party involved need to complete and sign this part. Check all the boxes applying to the accident and write the corresponding number of boxes checked, in order to avoid any later modification.
  2. Draw the incident and its circumstances: vehicle positions, marks on the ground, signage, sign, road works, trees or other natural elements that came into play... Draw everything that had an impact on the accident with as much precision as possible.
  3. Fill out the back. Only you have to fill out this part, as it's about your vehicle.

Remember to always have two constats à l'amiable forms in your vehicle to save time!

car accident

If you and the other party disagree on what happened and who is responsible, you can refuse to sign the other party's statement and make your disapproval known in the "Observations" box. Make sure to send your own version of events to your insurer.

Also, take note of the other driver's license plate and car model if they refuse to sign the statement or if they flee from the scene, and consider taking the contact details of any witnesses who could support your version of the facts.

Do this right away, as your statement needs to be sent off to your insurance, along with all the supporting proof, within 5 days in order to be considered for compensation.

The online Constat à l'amiable

You may find that your French insurer gives you the option to fill out an accident statement online instead, either via their app or on their website. Your statement will be automatically sent off to your insurance and you receive a copy of it by email. This option is extremely convenient and will save you a lot of time!

Got into an accident without a third party involved? That's not an issue, you can still complete a report alone and explain the situations in detail for your insurer to determine if you're eligible to compensation.

How long does it take to report a car claim?

This varies from one insurer to another. If in doubt, re-read your contract to make sure you know and respect the deadlines. Respecting this allotted time is crucial to avoid your provided to refuse your claim and classify it as dismissed.

As a general rule of thumb, here are the generic car insurance report deadlines per type of claim:

  • 5 days maximum for glass breakage, vandalism or fire
  • 10 days maximum for a natural disaster-related claim (provided a decree has been issued by your départment, declaring the disaster),
  • 2 days for theft

The time limit is counted down from the moment you become aware of the damage.

What documents should I send to my insurance to declare a claim?

Along with your car insurance report, you will need to send off these other documents to your provider:

  1. The filled-out constat à l'amiable
  2. A complaint (for theft or vandalism)
  3. Photos of damage to the vehicle(s) involved, the place and any other relevant detail
  4. Testimonies from witnesses, if applicable
  5. A letter requesting compensation

Car damage insurance letter: a template in French

You can report car damage to your insurer by either calling them, going in an agency or sending a letter. The latter is the method we recommend, as it ensures that your request will be taken into account, as your letter has to be sent by registered post with acknowledgement of receipt.

We've made things a little easier for you by giving you a template of the car damage declaration letter to send to your insurance company HQ. Remember to include your contract nº, the out-of-court report if applicable and any other supporting documents.


[Surame and Name] [Name of City, DD/MM/YYYY] [Address] [Postcode] [Phone number]

Contrat d’assurance n°[Your contract number]

[Name of your insurance provider]

[Insurance provider's address]

[Postcode and City]

Objet : déclaration de sinistre automobile

Lettre recommandée avec accusé de réception

Madame, Monsieur,

Je dispose d’un contrat d’assurance auto [your contract n°] pour mon véhicule [car brand + model], immatriculé [car plate n°]. Par la présente lettre, je souhaite déclarer un sinistre automobile dont j’ai été victime le [time and date of accident OR of when you discovered the damage].

Lieu du sinistre:

[Address of where the incident haphpened]

Circonstances détaillées du sinistre :

[Describe the accident in detail, in French, to the best of your ability: position and movements of the vehicle(s) and any third-parties involved, road signs, environment, applicable highway code...]

[If necessary, write about any issues encountered with the third-party: non-compliance, a dispute about what happened or who is responsible, third-party fleeing... as well as any witnesses at the scenes and their contact details.]

Dégâts constatés sur le véhicule

[List off all the damage you witnessed as a consequence of the accident. Mention whether your car can still be used or not.]

Lieu où se trouve le véhicule actuellement :

[Mention where your car is now parked. If at a repair shop or garage, write its contact details, and whether you're still using it (this information is required for the intervention of an expert later on).]

Je joins à ce courrier les éléments suivants : [List the documents that apply and that you are including in your envelope],

  • [The Constat à l'amiable],
  • [Photos of the car and of the accident],
  • [Written testimonials and contact details of the witnesses],
  • [Copy of your police complaint or legal claim],
  • [Copy of your out-of-court report or theft report]…

Je vous remercie pour l’attention que vous porterez à ma déclaration et vous prie d’engager le plus rapidement possible la procédure d’indemnisation. Je vous prie d’agréer, Madame, Monsieur, l’expression de mes sentiments les meilleurs.

[Name and Surname] [Your Signature]


How will a car accident or damage impact your insurance?

Inevitably, a car accident or damage will, unfortunately, increase your insurance premium. The penalty percentage that'll be applied to your premium depends on the accident:

  • If you were responsible for the accident, a 25% increase in your penalty rate will apply
  • If you were only partially responsible, it will increase by 12.5%

If you hold a bonus of 0.50 (the highest there is) for over 3 years, you'll stay at that same rate and avoid penalty during the first accident you are responsible for. In the same way, in order to re-earn a neutral coefficient, you will have to wait until you've driven for 2 years without causing another accident.

Not sure what your bonus/penalty rate is? You can find it on your due notice or your information statement, but if in any doubt just ask your insurer!

Beware of your contract termination! If you have the misfortune of being involved in 3 consecutive accidents, three auto claims in a row, regardless of your responsibility, you run the risk of getting your car insurance contract cancelled.