Fender benders are minor car accidents that typically occur when you're driving at low speeds, such as when your car is rear-ended, hit when backing out of a parking spot or driveway, or tapped by a distracted driver. While these types of accidents (thankfully) rarely result in serious injury, they can cause quite the logistical headache: dealing with insurance information, police reports, the DMV—you get it. Follow these steps to make dealing with the aftermath of your collision as easy as possible.
1. STAY CALM AND MAKE SURE YOU’RE NOT HURT.
Your heart may be racing and your palms starting to sweat, so take several slow, deep breaths and try to stay calm. You’ll need to think clearly and act methodically to effectively deal with the situation. Make sure you and your passengers are not injured, paying special attention to your head, neck, and legs for any signs of injury. If you or your passengers are hurt, call 911 to get medical attention.
2. GET THE OTHER DRIVER’S 411.
Depending on where the fender bender occurred, determine whether it’s safer for you to stay where you are or move your car over to the side of the road. Although your first instinct might be to apologize to the other driver, don’t say sorry. If the other driver decides to commit insurance fraud or sue you in the future, your apology will be an admission of guilt. Instead, ask, “Are you alright?” Then exchange your full name, address, phone number, and car insurance info, including your insurance company’s name, phone number, and your policy number (this information should be on your insurance ID card).
3. TAKE COPIOUS PHOTOS AND NOTES.
Besides exchanging information, you should also take photos of the accident scene, the positions of the cars, any damage to your car and the other car, and license plate numbers. Your insurance company may later ask you questions about details you hadn’t even considered, so the more photos you take, the better. Also jot down the make and model of the other driver’s car, the time and date of the fender bender, and the exact location (address or cross streets) of the accident. Sketch a diagram of which direction and what speed you and the other driver were traveling right before the collision. And if anyone saw the fender bender, ask if you can get their names and contact information so they can act as eyewitnesses.
4. CALL YOUR CAR INSURANCE COMPANY.
Call your car insurance company (the number should be on your insurance card) to report the accident. If the other driver suggests you exchange money without telling your insurance companies, politely decline and instead follow protocol. Your insurance company will advise you on whether you should call the police, how to fill out a claims form, and what repair shops you can bring your car to, if necessary.
5. CALL THE POLICE…
If injuries occurred or the damage due to the collision is more than a certain monetary threshold, you should call the police after you call your insurance company. Whether you're contractually obligated to report the accident varies by state, so it’s best to play it safe by calling the police. Getting a police report of the accident can protect you against fraud and serve as evidence if the other driver falsely claims you were at fault. Even if you only see minor scratches on your car, the actual cost of getting your bumper repaired could be much higher than you anticipate.
6. …AND THE DMV, IF NECESSARY.
Similarly, you should call the DMV to ask if you need to report the accident to them. This varies by state as well, but generally if injuries occurred or the damage to either car is above a certain threshold, you’ll have to report the collision to the DMV. More monetary damage often occurs between two cars of mismatched size, such as a compact car and an SUV, so keep that in mind when trying to estimate the damage.
7. MONITOR YOURSELF CLOSELY TO MAKE SURE YOU’RE TRULY NOT INJURED.
According to Consumer Reports, adrenaline can mask symptoms of a more serious injury, so keep a close eye on yourself in the days following the fender bender. Examine your body in a full-length mirror and watch out for any soft-tissue damage that can take a day or two to show up. If you have any pain or dizziness, see your doctor.