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What to do if you get into an auto accident

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

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When exchanging information with another driver, get their driver’s license number and car insurance information. Take a photo of the damage on the scene. Image by Erik TJallinks via Flickr cc.

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).
  • Photos
    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.

Other Witnesses

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.

surveillance cameras stores
Think nobody was nearby to witness the accident? Think again. Could there be a surveillance camera around? Image by JBrazito via Flickr cc.

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.

Single-Party Claims

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.

  1. You can pay out of pocket for minor repairs so that your insurance rates are not affected.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.

29 thoughts on “What to do if you get into an auto accident”

  1. 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. 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. 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. 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. 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.

  6. 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.

  7. 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.

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

  9. My brother was recently in an auto accident. Since it was his first one he didn’t really know what to do. It is important to be calm and first survey the situation, but then get as much info as you can, like you said. Hopefully it never happens again, but if it does we’ll be sure to remember the tips you shared.

  10. 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.

  11. 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.

  12. 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.

  13. 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!

  14. 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?

  15. 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.

  16. 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!

  17. 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

  18. 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.

  19. 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.

  20. 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…

  21. 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?

  22. 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.

  23. 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. 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. 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. 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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