If you or someone you know were recently involved in a car accident, you are likely feeling frustrated and anxious. It doesn’t matter whether it was your fault or not. You certainly weren’t planning on any of this happening, and now you have to deal with the consequences. For what it’s worth, you’re not alone.
More than 5 million auto accidents happen in the United States each year. Even if there were no major injuries resulting from your accident, being involved in a collision can disrupt your routine. It can also cost you time and money. The good news is that you’ll eventually get through this trying time and be able to move on with your life.
Here are some tips to help you move forward.
On the Scene
After an accident, your heart will likely be pounding and your adrenaline will be rushing. First, take a moment to survey the situation. Make sure you and your passengers are okay before you safely exit the vehicle. If anyone is injured, call 911 immediately.
Once you establish that everyone is unharmed or cared for, you’ll want to exchange information with the other drivers involved. This includes:
- Driver’s License
Write down their first and last name, home address, driver’s license number, phone number, and email address.
- Insurance Card
Write down their insurance company, policy number, and Vehicle Identification Number (VIN).
Take pictures of your car, their car, their license plate, and the accident scene.
Unfortunately, the other driver may not stay around to exchange information after the accident—especially if it’s their fault or if they do not have insurance. If the other parties involved do flee the scene, try writing down their license plate number and state. Then your insurance company has some information to help process your claim. If you don’t capture the license plate, you will have a very difficult time identifying the other vehicle and getting reimbursed.
Getting the Police Involved
It may surprise you to hear that getting the police involved isn’t required after an accident, though it can often help. In many cases, such as minor accidents where no one is injured or during inclement weather, the police may not be able to respond to the scene in a timely manner. If the police do not get involved, you should still go to the police station to file an accident report after the fact. It can help validate your claim later on because there will be an official record of what happened.
Wreck Car, Tow Car
If your accident was severe enough, towing may be necessary to clear the area. Often the police will help by calling a tow truck because they work with certain companies on a regular basis. However, you may want to use your own towing company—one that is compatible with your insurance company. This is a discussion you’ll need to have with the officer on the scene. The benefit of going with a towing company that works with your insurance is it may cost less, and the location of the tow yard may be more convenient for you to pick up your car the next day.
Be aware that people’s stories change all the time after you leave the accident scene. In other words, someone may initially admit and then switch their story after they get home. The best way to protect yourself, in addition to getting the police report, is to get bystander witnesses. Try to take down contact information from people who may have seen the accident occur in case you need to call on them to support your claim in the future.
Many parking lots and businesses have surveillance cameras running 24/7. There are also traffic cameras in certain intersections. You’ll want to write down the date and time your accident occurred in case you have to request any video tapes from such cameras. Additionally, you’ll need the police to assist you with obtaining video in most cases.
Filing an Insurance Claim
Never say you’re at fault in an accident. Just state the facts and let your insurance company and car accident attorney decide who is at fault. Every auto accident has different results, so you may want to consider your approach before filing an insurance claim.
If your car was the only vehicle involved in the accident—for example your car struck a curb or scraped a parking garage wall—you can submit your claim to your insurance company. However, if your car was damaged but no other property requires repair, you may choose not to submit a claim at all.
- You can pay out of pocket for minor repairs so that your insurance rates are not affected.
- Or you can submit a claim, pay your deductible, and get your car repaired. The decision is up to you.
If two or more vehicles are involved in a collision, and you believe you’re at fault, you can:
- Choose to wait and see if the other party decides to file a claim. If it’s only minor damage and you’re lucky, the other driver may choose not to take action. However if they do file a claim, it could take a few weeks for you to hear anything. So don’t just assume you are off the hook.
- Don’t wait or wonder. You can always contact your own insurance company and describe what happened. If it ends up being your fault in the accident, you will have to pay your deductible and then your insurance company will help deal with the situation from there.
If the other person is determined to be at fault, you have two options:
- You can file your claim with the other person’s insurance company. The benefit here is that you shouldn’t have to pay anything out of pocket for things like repairs or rental car costs. The downside is that it may take a while to get your car accident settlement because the claim has to process through the other company’s protocol. Since you don’t have a relationship with that company, it can be difficult to find any leverage to speed up the process.
- Alternatively, you can file the claim with your own insurance company, even though you’re not at fault. After paying your deductible, your insurance company will provide you with full support and coverage while the other person’s insurance company works to process the claim. The benefit of going this route is that you save time and hassle, getting your car back on the road. The downside is that you have to pay your deductible. In the end, you should get some or all of your money back, depending on your insurance company and the claim.
“It’s important to know that you are not responsible for determining who is at fault in any auto accident—just provide the facts of the situation and leave the rest to your insurance company,” says Farmers Insurance Agent Dustin Gonzales. “One of the great benefits of having a personal agent is that you can talk through your situation and then decide whether or not you want to file a claim.”
Be patient. Even if you contact the insurance company as soon as possible, it can take a few days to respond and process your claim.
Getting Your Car Repaired
Your best friend isn’t a mechanic? No problem. One of the best ways to find a trusted repair shop to fix your car is through the free myCARFAX app. Not only will myCARFAX help you locate collision repair facilities in your area, it will also help you estimate the cost of your needed repairs. This information can be extremely valuable when you are trying to prioritize and pay for unexpected repairs.
Additionally, your insurance company probably partners with certain repair shops. These approved shops can be helpful because your car can get fixed faster than if you brought your car to a local shop unaffiliated with your insurance company. If you choose a body shop that doesn’t work with your insurance, you will just have to wait a little longer as an insurance adjuster will need to visit the shop and negotiate the work, costs, and coverage. You may also end up paying out of pocket, if the work costs more than coverage.
Not all repair shops use the same parts to repair vehicles. Some use Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) parts—meaning if you drive a Honda Civic for example, you’ll get genuine Honda manufactured parts in the repairs. The alternative would be to get Aftermarket parts. These may cost slightly less than OEM parts because they are not made by the manufacturer of your vehicle. It’s best to ask the repair manager for more information before the work is done so you know what to expect.
Before the Accident
Now that you know what to do after an accident, you probably realize how important it can be to know this information ahead of time.
“I recommend talking with your insurance agent at least once a year to review your coverage,” says Gonzales. “Chances are your circumstances have changed in your life since the last time you updated your insurance. Perhaps your new job makes you eligible for a discount, or maybe you need additional coverage now that you have a new family member living with you. Whatever the case, my job is to help you decide what’s best for your current situation.”
Whether you’re an experienced driver or someone who just got their license, it helps to have a plan before anything happens with your car. Then you can save time and get back on the road faster.
Featured image by Wonderlane via Flickr cc.