What Should You Do If You’re In A Car Accident

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Getting into a wreck is every motorist’s nightmare. Even the most cautious drivers get into fender-benders. In the spirit of “be prepared,” here are some steps to take if you’re in a car accident.

Assess the Situation

An accident occurs suddenly. You might be shaken, perhaps even injured, but you’ll need to stay calm, collect your thoughts and proceed accordingly. If you, your passengers or the occupants of another vehicle are hurt, call for an ambulance.

Police Lights

Call the Police

Even if there’s only minimal damage, you’ll need to file a police report for legal and insurance purposes. If both vehicles are drivable, you might be asked to head to the nearest police station to file a report. Otherwise, you’ll want to stay at the scene until an officer arrives. Be sure to jot down an officer’s name and badge number in case it’s needed later.

Exchange Information with the Other Driver

You’ll need to exchange information with the other party. Get his or her full name, address and telephone number. Obtain the name of the other driver’s insurance company and the policy number. Write down the year, make and model of the other vehicle, and both its vehicle identification number (VIN) and its license plate number. Legal experts suggest you keep all discussions with the other parties to a minimum. Never admit guilt or liability to anyone at the scene.

Document the Facts and Take Photos

You’ll need to provide details about the crash for the police report and insurance purposes. Jot down this information while it’s fresh in your mind. Include the time of the accident and the address or intersection where it occurred. Note the direction of your car and the other vehicle, the approximate speed at which you were driving and any external circumstances that might have affected the situation. Take pictures of the damage and the vehicles’ positions from multiple angles using your smartphone.

Move Your Car Off the Road

If the vehicle is drivable, get it out of harm’s way by pulling it to the side of the road or into an adjacent parking lot. Take your insurance and registration information from the glove box. If you need a tow, remove any personal belongings from the vehicle. Remove larger pieces of wreckage from the street if it’s safe to do so. Stay close to your vehicle and do not leave the scene, even if there is little damage and the other driver waves you off. Leaving the scene of an accident is a criminal offense.

Get Witnesses

Talk with any witnesses to the accident and write down their names and contact information in case an insurance adjuster or law enforcement official needs to contact them later. Verify that they saw what happened and see whether they’ll agree to cooperate, if necessary.

Call Your Insurance Company

Contact either your agent or the insurance company’s claim department while you’re still at the scene. Depending on your coverage, they might be able to arrange for towing and provide a rental car if your vehicle is disabled. You might be able to report a wreck and upload images of the damage via an insurer’s website or smartphone app.

If you’re sure the incident is 100 percent the other driver’s fault, you can choose not to contact your insurer and let the other provider handle the situation. That said, there’s always the risk that the motorist might not have been truthful about having coverage. A safer bet is to contact your insurer, even if you’re not at fault, to protect yourself. You usually can get compensation (minus your deductible) quicker this way. Your company then will proceed to collect damages from the other company and will often pay back the deductible after the claim is settled.


Contact an Attorney

If you or any of your passengers were injured in the wreck, consider calling an attorney to ensure you’ll be fully compensated for out-of-pocket health care costs along with any loss of income and other damages. Be wary of quick settlements from the other party’s insurance company, as some long-term physical effects might not surface immediately. Injury attorneys usually work on a contingency fee basis, which means they only charge for services if you get a settlement. If you’re at fault, you may need a lawyer to defend you in court.

Getting a Settlement

If your vehicle is severely damaged, it might be considered a total loss. This happens when the cost to fix it is more than its current resale value. In this case, the car will be towed to a salvage yard, and you’ll receive a check for its value. It’s a good idea to check online to see what an equivalent replacement costs to ensure you’ll be fully compensated. Our used car listings here at CARFAX can be a great help in this regard.

If the vehicle can be repaired, you likely will be asked to take it to a shop that’s approved by or is partnered with your insurer. This might not be an absolute requirement, depending on your policy, but you might get quicker service and ensure you won’t be stuck with out-of-pocket charges. If you’ve downloaded the free myCARFAX smartphone app, you can quickly and easily locate repair shops and estimate the cost of needed repairs.

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in October 2014. It has been completely updated for accuracy and comprehensiveness. 

By | 2018-10-24T21:05:19+00:00 September 14th, 2018|Safety|28 Comments


  1. Christophe Carlier March 16, 2015 at 2:24 pm - Reply

    This is such an important topic because you never know when you will get in an auto accident when you are on the road. We need to know what to do when this happens because there are many people who are unsure. I never knew that more than 5 million car accidents happen in the United States every year. We should always be sure to get their personal information and take photos. Also, we should try and keep calm even though it may be difficult and get through all the steps necessary. Thanks again.

  2. Doner & Castro March 24, 2015 at 11:29 am - Reply

    Great post, when you are in an accident you get shocked and forget about the little things like checking your surroundings to see if there are any cameras or checking to make sure you take pictures of the scene!

  3. A1 Mobile Mechanics Sydney April 29, 2015 at 8:32 am - Reply

    Wow!! Such a helpful article, as most of the people are unsure about what to do after getting into an accident and how to move forward with their life.

  4. Alex Jennings May 22, 2015 at 12:08 pm - Reply

    I was recently in a car accident that left me debilitated for a couple months. The hospital bills added up, and I wasn’t getting a response from the other person’s insurance company. It’s very important that you hire a personal injury lawyer, if you’re ever seriously hurt. When I hired mine, the insurance companies become more cooperative, and I received the coverage for my medical bills. It was one of the best decisions of my life!

    Alex Jennings |

  5. Deanna R. Jones May 26, 2015 at 3:57 pm - Reply

    I liked your tips for filing an insurance claim after getting in a car accident. I’ve thought about what to do if I’m in an accident, but I’m not confident about what I need to do about filing a claim with an insurance company. You’re right, it seems like a good idea to state the facts to the insurance company to get the result that they think is fair.

  6. Katie Jones May 26, 2015 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    This article is full of great tips! Of course, you want to make sure you are up-to-date with your auto insurance policy and not lagging behind. I would also agree with looking for other witnesses as they can best help your situation since both sides can have different reports of what happened. Definitely take down their number.

  7. Jane Fox May 26, 2015 at 1:46 pm - Reply

    This is some really good advice. You’re spot on in saying that you should never admit fault in an accident; that’s what the police and car accident lawyers are for. It can be confusing as to what to do after an accident, but you’ve provided a good starting point.

  8. car accident research May 28, 2015 at 7:37 am - Reply

    Thanks for the advice. It is good to know you should never admit fault to the insurance company…

  9. Fitz June 10, 2015 at 9:39 am - Reply

    Hello, and thank you for sharing you advice and information on what to do if you get in a car accident. I agree and think it is very important to have good car insurance in case an accident arises. I think it’s good to research the different car insurance companies and make sure you are getting the policy and plan that best fits your needs.

  10. Douglas Brown June 12, 2015 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    My wife just got in an accident and, although it was not terrible, caused a lot of headache to work through all of the details. Like you said, now that we know what to do after an accident, we’re going to prepare for the next. Of course it would be better if it doesn’t happen at all, but that’s what preparation is for: the unknown. Thanks for the tips and advice.

  11. Emily Smith August 4, 2015 at 8:20 am - Reply

    Thank you so much for these tips on what to do if I get in a car accident. I think I’ll print this article off and put it in my car just in case an accident does occur. I like the tip to use a towing company that is compatible with your insurance company. That way you will be reimbursed for the cost of towing. I will definitely do that if I get in an accident.

    • Bill August 5, 2015 at 6:24 am - Reply

      Printing this article out for future reference is a great idea, Emily!

  12. Lily de Grey August 4, 2015 at 3:19 pm - Reply

    This is a well-written article, Bill! Thanks for sharing this with us—it’s been very informative and enlightening! I’ve always been concerned that if I was in a car accident, I wouldn’t know what to do—especially who to call to tow my car! I’m glad that you were able to clear that up for us; I’m glad that the police are so helpful throughout the process!

  13. Dmart August 23, 2015 at 3:25 am - Reply

    helloo,i have a quick question dont both parties have to give up their insurance information regardless of who’s fault it is? i had scratched a car and i was giving him my information and he had refused to give me his how does it work?

  14. Daniela Adams September 2, 2015 at 3:22 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the helpful information. I got into a minor car accident recently for the first time in my life. When it happened, I literally had no idea what to do, so I just started calling my friend. Thankfully he knew what to do, and he took the pictures and everything. So glad I had him there. Now I have to deal with the insurance, and at least I know what to do this time.

  15. Alex Lane September 11, 2015 at 11:40 am - Reply

    Thanks for walking us through what may be necessary in these scenarios. One time when I was in a wreck I was very grateful that knowledgeable people were around to help me through the situation. The police officer handled things very calmly and professionally. He even helped arrange getting a tow truck on seen quickly. Then the driver of the tow truck helped me get the car to a mechanic of my choice. Despite the scary scenario, possessing this knowledge, or having the help of those who do, allows things to be resolved much quicker. Thanks for educating us!

  16. ricardo garcia November 1, 2015 at 10:45 pm - Reply

    I was involved in an accident this past Friday Oct 30 2015. I was waiting behind a car and in front of the car there was a truck, we were all waiting for a red light to turn green. Out of nowhere comes a suv really fast and hits my car from behind….it hit it so hard that my car flew and hit the one in the front…me and my mother had to leave in an ambulance the only thing I got from the police before we left was a paper to pick up the police report..my car got towed because it broke the radiator and it was smoking all over the place..what should I do now pleas somebody answer

  17. Lynch November 4, 2015 at 9:07 pm - Reply

    Report it to your insurance, keep track of medical appt and out of pocket expenses related to the accident. Consider getting a lawyer within the next week. Check the lawyer out through yelp and your state bar association. Interview or consult with a couple of attornies. Pick one that has reasonable fees, very experienced, great reviews, you have a good rapport, will really work for you, gives good advice and solid direction and seems positive and confident. Don’t settle to early.

  18. Wendy Cartright December 17, 2015 at 6:04 pm - Reply

    I was in my first car accident two nights ago, if you can even call it a car accident. A truck backed into the side of my car and dented the back passenger-side door. There are large scratches around the dent as well. We didn’t call the police but we exchanged our insurance information. Thankfully, their insurance is going to cover our damages. Now I just have to find a good repair shop.

  19. Stephanie December 29, 2015 at 2:18 pm - Reply

    I was in an accident on December 14, 2015 and it was due to someone speeding and hitting my car from behind. The driver hit me so hard that my car went into the next block and I had to get control of my car in order for it to get away from the other lane. My children inthe back seat was pushed forward and well my car was totaled. I’m so thankful we are alive and even though we suffered injuries, I can share this story. The hard part comes now that I’ve turned in my rental and have no transportation. Talk about stressed…

  20. Nicole February 8, 2016 at 6:18 am - Reply

    So 5 months ago, I was involved in a accident and the other person told me that since it was a lil dent not to worry no insurance and no police are going to be involved that he would go to the body shop in the 2 weeks after it happened . Now 5 months later he is trying to put insurance involved which at right at all he didn’t get the information he needed all he did was take a picture of the insurance card and left .. so is he at fault for not keeping his word and not getting the right information? And he want leave me a lone either
    Is there a limit of time for that?

  21. Trisha February 9, 2016 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Can anyone tell me if it is legal for the tow company to give insurance info to a party not involved in anyway?

  22. Kim May 31, 2016 at 7:18 pm - Reply

    Hello, this is Kim Anderson with Kenmore Law Group, a law firm practicing in the area of auto accidents. This is a really good article regarding what to do after an accident. I am writing an article for our website about the same topic and I will quote you in my article. When the article is published, I will be in touch to let you know where to find it.

    • Bill June 1, 2016 at 11:25 am - Reply

      Thanks Kim! I look forward to reading it.

  23. Nicole August 19, 2016 at 9:03 pm - Reply

    My 20 year old son was in an accident today. A school bus had flashers on so my son and car in front of him were stopped. The bus turned lights off and proceeded to go than slammed on breaks turning flashers back on. This caused cars to slam on breaks and my sons car hit back of vehicle. The guy didn’t want to involve police but took pictures, got my sons ins information and drivers license information. My son was so scared and shook up that he didn’t get any info or pictures. The guy said he’d have his vehicle looked at(scratch) but what does my son do in the mean time?

  24. Skylar Williams September 23, 2016 at 10:16 pm - Reply

    You mentioned that I should talk with my insurance at least once a year to talk about coverage. I don’t think I’ve ever done that, I really should. I’m curious about all of this because my sister recently got in a wreck and she’s scrambling to know what to do.

  25. Thomas Cormack October 6, 2016 at 12:24 pm - Reply

    I was recently in a parking lot accident. While waiting to turn onto another aisle of the parking lot a car backed out of her parking space and it the left rear side of my van. We both got our and surveyed the damage. My van was undamaged (very low speed impact). Her tail light was shattered and left rear bumper dangling. She acknowledged fault, I saw it was no problem on my side. I was in a hurry trying to beat a mailing deadline for escrow papers. So, we left without exchanging information. Even though I still cannot see any damage to my vehicle, I am now feeling like I should have taken the time to exchange info. and am in a quandary as to what to do to remedy this situation. I live in Kern County in Southern California. I welcome any advice.

  26. jo December 11, 2016 at 10:17 pm - Reply

    I just recently hit community wall(wood) in night while am parking my car front bumper got damaged and wood has broken smaller part..so what to do for wall broken to whom I contact ?if I leave it will it cause any problem?

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