June 24, 2024
Do you need a car insurance photo inspection?

Your insurance company may request a photo inspection of your vehicle before you can get physical damage coverage or as part of the claims process. Taking photographs of a vehicle can help insurers evaluate the condition of the insured vehicle, avoid fraudulent claims, assess the vehicle’s value and estimate claim payouts. Bankrate’s insurance editorial team looked into state photo inspection laws — including New York’s new law waiving inspection requirements — to help drivers navigate this step in the insurance shopping process.

 

Do you need a car insurance photo inspection?

You may need a photo inspection of your car for insurance purposes if:

 

You live in Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Rhode Island or New York and want to get physical damage coverage on a used vehicle

You’ve filed a physical damage claim with your auto insurance provider

Pre-insurance photo inspections

Five states require car insurance companies to get a photo inspection of a used vehicle before comprehensive or collision coverage can be issued. This inspection, often referred to as a CARCO inspection in reference to the company that oversees them, establishes the condition of the car at the time coverage is requested and helps insurers price coverage correctly and avoid fraudulent claims. By taking photos of any existing damage, your insurance provider is blocking the possibility that you’ll file a claim for damage that happened before your coverage kicked in with them.

 

While this inspection adds an extra step to the insurance buying process, it may pay off: by reducing fraud, pre-insurance inspections can reduce the average cost of coverage. Fraudulent claims cost insurers money, which trickles down to policyholders in the form of higher premiums.

 

Only five states currently require this type of inspection prior to getting comprehensive and collision coverage: Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. However, a change to New York’s car insurance photo inspection law, in effect as of May 15, 2024, allows insurers to waive this requirement by filing a waiver form with the state insurance regulator.

 

Claims inspections

In the case of insurance claim inspections, an adjuster may conduct a photo inspection in order to document and evaluate the extent of the damage and provide an accurate estimate of your payout. This inspection ensures that your claim only covers damage caused by the incident that triggered the claim and not pre-existing damage.

 

In some cases, an insurance adjuster will come to your home, the accident scene or a repair shop to conduct a photo inspection. In other cases, you may be able to conduct the inspection yourself by using your smartphone to take pictures and send them to your insurance company.

 

How much does a vehicle photo inspection cost?

There’s typically no charge for a car insurance photo inspection, whether it’s performed prior to getting coverage or as part of the claims process. In states that require a pre-insurance inspection, CARCO performs inspections at designated locations free of charge.

 

How to get a pre-insurance photo inspection

If your insurer has instructed you to get a photo inspection as a prerequisite for a full coverage policy, start by locating a CARCO inspection site near you. You’ll typically find them at local repair shops that have undergone a certification process.

 

Once you’ve found a local inspection site, bring your vehicle in. You can expect the inspection to take about 15 minutes, and you won’t need any documentation in most states. Florida drivers need to bring just one document: their vehicle registration.

 

The inspection is a fairly quick process: a CARCO inspection will perform a visual inspection of your car for rust, body damage, anti-theft systems and other key information. They’ll add this information to a state inspection report along with your car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) and a general description of the car. Next, they’ll take photographs of the vehicle to get a visual record of the car’s condition for your insurance company.

 

When the inspection is complete, you’ll get a copy of the report for your records, and the inspection site will submit a copy to your insurance company. It may be a good idea to follow up with your insurance provider to ensure that they received your inspection report — if the inspection isn’t recorded by your insurer by the set deadline, you could lose coverage.

 

Which states require a photo inspection?

Only five states currently require insurance companies to mandate pre-insurance photo inspections for policyholders: Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York and Rhode Island. However, a new law in New York taking effect in May 2024 allows insurers to waive this requirement.

 

Florida

Section 627.744 of the Florida Statutes lays out requirements for pre-insurance inspections for motor vehicles. You may be exempt from inspection requirements if:

 

You have been insured for two years or longer with a policy including physical damage coverage.

You are insuring a new, unused car.

Your vehicle is 10 years old or older, as determined by reference to the model year.

You are renewing your insurance policy.

There are no authorized inspection facilities within 10 miles of the municipality where your vehicle is garaged.

If your insurer does require a photo inspection, you can’t be made to pay more than $5 in fees — but in most cases, you should be able to get an inspection for free. Your inspection will include a record of:

 

The car’s vehicle identification number (VIN)

The presence of certain accessories

The locations and description of existing vehicle damage

Florida law does permit insurers to defer inspection requirements for 30 calendar days or to opt out of the inspection program entirely by filing a manual rule with the state insurance office.

 

Massachusetts

Massachusetts pre-insurance inspection requirements are established in 211 CMR 94.00. Inspection requirements can be waived in the following circumstances:

 

New, unused motor vehicles may be exempt from inspections if the insurer is provided with a bill of sale or a copy of the transfer of ownership for (RMV Form 1) along with a dealer invoice or window sticker.

The policyholder is an existing customer of the insurer or already has physical damage coverage.

The vehicle is a temporary substitute being used due to the breakdown or repair of the applicant’s own car.

The vehicle is leased for less than six months.

No authorized inspection sites exist within five miles of the city or town where the vehicle is garaged.

The inspection would cause serious hardship for either the insurer or the vehicle owner.

The photo inspection must include at least two color photographs of the vehicle and a close-up color photograph of your car’s VIN on the driver’s side door jamb, along with additional photos of any pre-existing damage. Insurers may defer inspection requirements for 10 calendar days, but if your inspection isn’t conducted in time, your insurance company can suspend physical damage coverage until you complete the inspection and pay your premium.

 

New Jersey

Title 11, Subchapter 36 of the New Jersey Administrative Code lays out requirements for pre-insurance inspections. This type of inspection is required whenever an insurer writes a new policy or endorsement for physical damage coverage and may be a condition of renewal if your car has been in an accident or otherwise damaged. The inspection may be waived if:

 

You’re insuring a new, unused vehicle and can provide a copy of the bill of sale, the window sticker or the dealership invoice/contract.

Your vehicle is more than seven model years old.

Your policy is being renewed or issued by an insurer within the same affiliated group.

Your vehicle is a temporary substitute.

Your vehicle is leased for less than six months.

You have been continuously insured with the same insurer or an affiliate for four or more years.

Your insurance coverage is being transferred from one company to another, and your previous insurer shares a copy of the inspection report.

New Jersey allows insurers to defer inspections for seven calendar days. If you haven’t completed your inspection by the deadline, your physical damage coverage will be suspended at 12:01 AM on the next day, and a notice will be sent to any lienholders. If you get the inspection done and pay your premium, the coverage can be reinstated.

 

Rhode Island

Rhode Island‘s regulations for pre-insurance photo inspections can be found in 230-RICR-20-05-5. Inspection requirements may be waived if:

 

The vehicle is new and unused, and you can provide a copy of the bill of sale, window sticker or dealer invoice.

You already have physical damage coverage from the insurer.

The vehicle is a temporary substitute.

The vehicle is leased for less than six months.

The inspection would cause serious hardship for either you or the insurance company.

Insurers may defer your inspection for 10 business days. If the inspection isn’t completed by the specified date, your physical damage coverage will be suspended, part of your premium may be refunded and your insurer will inform your lienholder of the coverage suspension within three business days.

 

What you need to know about the new New York vehicle photo inspection law

New York has required photo inspections for physical damage insurance coverage since the 1970s — but a new law could change that for many New York drivers.

 

Assembly Bill A3172A, signed into law by Governor Kathy Hochul as the “Auto Insurance Consumer Relief Act” in November 2023, allows insurance companies to waive pre-insurance New York vehicle photo inspections for some or all vehicles. The law takes effect on May 15, 2024, and will be in force until 2027, although experts expect to see it extended past that scheduled sunset.

 

What does this mean for New York drivers? It may simplify the process of getting insurance and shouldn’t affect car insurance rates. However, since the law’s just rolling out, you may still need an inspection if your insurer hasn’t filed for a waiver with the state’s insurance regulators.

 

“Under the new law, which goes into effect this month, inspections will be optional, so policyholders are not needlessly being required to have a photo inspection of their vehicle. Importantly it will also help alleviate the tens of thousands of customers a year from needing to have their comprehensive and collision coverage reinstated as the law has dictated that this coverage be cancelled if the photos are not taken in time. Insurance companies are thrilled to deliver this win for drivers in New York and be able to best serve our policyholders.”

— Ellen Melchionni

President of New York Insurance Association (NYIA)

How does the car insurance photo inspection affect insurance claims?

Photo inspections can affect your insurance claims in a couple of ways:

 

If your state requires pre-insurance inspections: If you fail to get a state-mandated photo inspection, your physical damage coverage could be suspended, making it impossible to file a comprehensive or collision claim.

If you need a photo inspection during the claims process: A photo inspection required during the claims process will help to determine your insurance payout by creating a record of claimed damage and eliminating pre-existing damage from your claim.

A photo inspection helps to reduce insurance fraud and ensure that your claim covers the damage caused by an accident or other incident. By managing the costs associated with claims, photo inspections can help to bring down the overall cost of insurance.

 

What happens if I don’t get a photo inspection?

In Florida, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York or Rhode Island, failure to get a photo inspection required by your state’s laws will result in suspension of your physical damage coverage until you can complete the inspection. In most cases, you should be able to reinstate coverage by getting the inspection done and paying your premium, but you won’t be able to file a claim for any damage incurred while your coverage was suspended.

 

If you don’t get a photo inspection required by your insurer as part of the claims process, your claim will likely not be accepted.

 

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