In a Car Accident? Here’s What Comes Next
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Your heart is beating uncontrollably. Your palms are drenched in sweat. Your mind is reeling. You just had your first car accident. Everything happened so quickly, you think.
Being in a car accident can be chaotic and traumatic, and the stress of the situation can leave you feeling as though you didn’t cover all of your bases. You might start wondering whether you took the correct steps in order to rectify the situation in a timely and efficient manner.
Below, we’ve broken down everything you need to know if you’ve been in a car accident. We’ll take a look at the steps you should take immediately following an accident, as well as how to file an insurance claim, how to get your car repairs done, and how to finance your car repairs.
5 steps to take after a car accident
You might be in shock following your car accident, but it’s important to stay as focused as possible in the immediate aftermath of the accident. The minutes and hours following an accident are important not only for ensuring the health and safety of everyone involved, but also for making sure any insurance claims are handled appropriately.
Below are five steps you should take immediately following a car accident.
- Make sure you and everybody else involved in the accident are OK. This step is critical. Before worrying about any potential damage to your vehicle, you need to worry about yourself and others involved in the accident. Check yourself for any injuries. Once you’ve determined that you are OK, check others involved in the accident. If you believe you or anyone involved has sustained an injury, call 911 immediately for medical attention.
- Contact the police. Contacting the local police or highway patrol after a car accident is always a good idea, even if you were just involved in a minor fender bender. It’s important to do this because without an official police report, the various parties involved in an accident can distort or twist the situation when they report what happened to their insurance agent.Getting an official police report will make the entire process smoother, regardless of who was at fault.
- If possible, move to a safe spot. If your accident took place in a crowded intersection or on a congested freeway, it’s important to move to a safe spot, as standing outside of your vehicle on a crowded road is incredibly dangerous. If your vehicle is driveable, try to move it to a safe area without any passing traffic. If it isn’t driveable, remain in your vehicle until help arrives, or move to a safe spot without your vehicle.
- Exchange information with the other drivers involved in the accident. While at the scene of the accident, you should exchange as much information as possible with the other drivers involved, said Dorman Willms, an associate insurance agent with Nationwide based in Waukegan, Ill.“Exchange all of the information possible with the person you’re involved in the accident with,” he said. “Name, address, phone number, insurance company, policy number, and the year, make and model of each vehicle.”Willms said you should also take note of the damage on each vehicle, as well as whether or not the vehicles are driveable. Take as many pictures as possible that document the damage done to each vehicle.
- Contact your insurance agent. Willms said it’s important to contact your insurance agent as soon as possible. If you cannot call right away, make sure you call at least within the first 24 hours of the accident. Contacting your insurance agent early is important, as it will jumpstart the process of facilitating claims for any medical care and car repairs.
How to file an insurance claim
Immediately following your accident, you should contact the police so they can come to the scene of the accident and file a police report. While you’re waiting for the police to arrive or while they’re on site writing the report, you should contact your car insurance agent to begin the process of filing a claim.
Below are steps you can follow when filing an insurance claim:
- Call your insurance agent. This person’s contact information is likely located on the back of your proof of insurance card.
- Provide your insurance agent with as much detail as possible. No detail is too small when reporting information on a car accident to your agent. This means you should tell them exactly when the accident happened, where the accident happened and what caused the accident. Willms said if the police respond, you should also tell your agent what the responding police department was and the police report number, in addition to the name of the police officer, his or her badge number and his or her phone number.
- If your car isn’t driveable, let your agent know. Depending on your insurance policy, your agent might be able to facilitate transportation for you in the event that your vehicle is not driveable. They might also be able to help you get your car towed, and can begin the process of securing you a rental car.
What happens after you make a claim
Once you report the accident to your car insurance agent, an official claim will be started, and you will be assigned a claims specialist (also referred to as a claims adjuster or claims representative). Willms said you should expect to hear from this claims specialist within 24 hours of reporting the accident to your insurance company.
Your claims specialist will help you with every step of the process moving forward, from arranging your rental car to helping you figure out your vehicle repairs. In addition, the claims specialist will be the one communicating with the other parties involved in the accident in order to settle the claim.
Willms said the process and timeline for a claim will be similar regardless of who was at fault.
Who pays for what, however, will differ. In most cases, it works like this: If the other driver was at fault, their insurance company will cover the cost of any damages to your vehicle. In addition, if the other driver was at fault, any medical bills you incur as a result of injuries from the accident will be paid for by the other driver’s insurance company. If you were the one at fault, your insurance company will cover all damages and you will pay your deductible. (If the other driver was at fault but did not have car insurance, your insurance company will cover the cost of your damage, but you will have to pay your deductible.)
Deductibles vary. Some people will have a deductible of just $50, while others will have a deductible of $1,000. The deductible depends on the type and cost of your insurance plan.
Getting your car repaired
Following an accident, you might feel an impending sense of anxiety about whether or not you can afford your car repairs.
Car crash repair costs can be an expense many people are not prepared for. The average car repair bill is $500 to $600, according to data from AAA, and many people don’t have this much money sitting around in an emergency fund. In fact, research from AAA found that 64 million Americans cannot afford an unexpected car repair without going into debt.
Car repairs can be pricey, but the cost of simply owning a vehicle can be, too. The cost of maintaining one’s vehicle (and making any necessary repairs) can be upwards of $1,000 per year, depending on the make, model and age of your vehicle. Add in things like gas, registration, insurance, depreciation and licensing, and the annual cost of car ownership can top $10,000.
Below, you’ll find everything you need to know about getting your car repairs done, all while keeping cost-effectiveness a priority.
1. Contact your insurance company
Once it’s time to schedule auto repairs, you should begin by contacting your insurance company. Some insurance companies will require you get your repairs done at a specific shop. Allstate, for example, will have a list of pre-approved shops where you can bring your car to get a quote. Other companies, such as Nationwide, will let you choose the shop you take your vehicle to.
2. Find an auto body shop
If your insurance company has a list of pre-approved body shops for you to consider, you can skip this step.
If you don’t have a list of pre-approved shops to consult, it’s important to do your due diligence and research shops in the area to find a mechanic that works for you. Get quotes from several places, and look up online reviews. If you know someone who recently had their car repaired and was pleased, ask them for a referral.
3. Assess the potential costs
To determine whether you’re getting a fair price on a repair, you should consult a list of average car repair costs, such as this one from Liberty Mutual. You can also use this car repair estimator tool from Consumer Reports. You simply input information on your vehicle and the type of repair, and you’ll see what the average cost of that repair is in your zip code.
For example, let’s say you have a 2013 Toyota Prius that needs a headlamp bulb replaced. In Chicago, the cost should be somewhere between $296 and $388. If you’re quoted something significantly higher than this, you should consult another body shop.
4. Consider your financing options
If your insurance company doesn’t pay out your claim or you’re stuck with a high deductible, you might not have enough money saved in order to finance your car repairs.
Before you start worrying about going into debt over these costs, know that there are several financing options you can consider. Below, we’ve broken down the top financing options worth pursuing if you cannot afford your car repairs.
Get a personal loan. A personal loan can be a great option for consumers with good credit, as the process for securing one is fairly simple and quick and the interest rate can be low. Most personal loans are unsecured, meaning you don’t need to put anything up as collateral. Personal loans also come with a fixed interest rate, making your monthly payments predictable.
Keep in mind that personal loans aren’t a great option for consumers with poor credit, as they could face high interest rates.
Open a credit card with a low interest rate. Another option worth considering is a credit card with a low interest rate. If you have good credit, you will likely be able to obtain a credit card with a decent interest rate that could be lower than the interest rate on a personal loan. If you can find a credit card with a 0% introductory interest rate, that’s even better — just make sure you’ll be able to pay off your balance within the introductory rate time frame.
If you have less-than-stellar credit, you might struggle to obtain a credit card with a decent interest rate. Compare interest rates between personal loans and credit cards to find the right option for you.
Take out a home equity loan. If you hold significant equity in your home, you could consider financing your auto repairs with a home equity loan (HEL) or home equity line of credit (HELOC).
There are pros and cons to taking this route. If you’re diligent when repaying the loan, this could be a beneficial option, as you’re borrowing against yourself and you’ll likely get a low interest rate.
But if you bite off more than you can chew, you’re putting a lot on the line. Credit cards and personal loans are unsecured, meaning nothing is used as collateral in the event that you cannot make your payments. With HELs and HELOCs, however, your home is on the line.
Ask the auto shop doing your repairs about setting up a payment plan. It’s fairly uncommon, but some auto body shops will offer payment plans. Check with the shop where you’re getting your repairs done to see if they offer a monthly payment plan. If they do, this could be a good path to pursue, especially if you have poor credit and would struggle to acquire a credit card or personal loan with a good interest rate.
Unexpected car repairs can be stressful, but they don’t need to send you into a tailspin. Armed with the right knowledge and tools, you’ll be able to handle these repairs in a timely and efficient manner, all while keeping your finances top of mind.