Say it’s March 1 and you have a fender-bender in your car. Just how long do you have to wait to get your insurance check for the damages? Generally you should be riding pretty by April 1.

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At least that’s the goal of most auto insurers — to have your claim paid out on or before the 30-day mark. Of course, there’s no certainty your vehicle will be repaired by then.

But auto insurance rules are made to be broken. The time limit to pay your claim varies by state, according to each state’s “claims settlement provisions.”

When there’s a dispute or larger claim like a total loss, insurers need to assess the damage, which can stretch out the process. A typical fender-bender should be handled and closed fairly quickly.

Most auto insurance companies have direct repair programs and can refer you to one of their shops. The shop assesses the damage and communicates with the insurer for you.

Time is money

When an insurance company snags a new customer, there are costs associated with “acquiring” the new client. There’s advertising, paying the insurance agent their commission, and the cost to produce the policy for the first time. It can take as many as seven years before an insurer can break even on a particular policy, and that’s assuming the customer doesn’t have a claim, explains Passmore.

If they have a claim the insurer will have to keep them even longer — ideally claim-free — to make back its money. So insurers are always better off providing good service and fair settlements in order to retain customers, who on average submit a claim only once every 10 years, according to Passmore.

And if you don’t like the customer service, “There’s a lot of competitions out there that will be happy to take that customer off your hands,” says Passmore. Insurers don’t have much incentive to delay; they want to get claims paid as fairly and quickly as they can.

Staking your claim

Claims against someone else’s policy are a different ballgame.

“Any time you are going through a carrier that you’re not insured with the other party’s insurer, that process has the potential to be slowed down a bit just while the investigation is continuing,” says Dan Young, senior vice president of CARSTAR, North America’s largest multi-shop network of independently owned and operated collision repair facilities.

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.-TheNation