How to Prepare for a Car Accident

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Crashed Matchbox Crown VicIf losing your job is one of the most traumatic financial disasters you can face, a car accident is a close second. When you take financial cost of an accident, regardless of who is at fault, and combine it with the physical and emotional cost, there’s almost no debate for that second place spot.

This post is part of our Financial Contingency Plan series, which helps prepare you for some of the most jarring financial disasters you could face.

Unlike a job loss, car accidents have little to no warning whatsoever. My friends was recently stopped at a light when a car hit him from behind, causing over $5,000 in damage. It wasn’t, however, the other driver’s fault. He was hit from behind by a car who didn’t realize there was a red light (and at least three cars stopped ahead of him!).

When it’s clear you’re not at fault and there are plenty of witnesses (as was the case with my friend), you have nothing to worry about. It’s all the times where it’s a little ambiguous and the other driver hasn’t claimed immediately responsibility (in writing) that preparation can save you a lot of trouble.

Before an Accident

Review your auto insurance coverages and deductibles. It’s important to know what parts of your vehicle are covered and for how much. While it won’t affect what you will do during an accident, it’s important to review your coverages to you don’t discover bad news.

Prepare your post-accident checklist. Accidents are scary, which is why having a contingency plan is so important. What’s even more important than developing a plan is to write it down on paper, because it’s easier to read something than recall it from memory.

If you don’t have a camera on your phone, leave one in your car. You will always want photographic evidence of the scene of the accident. If you don’t involve the police, or if the police don’t issue a citation or report, it’s often your word against the other driver(s). Having visual evidence will strengthen your case, even though it’s a static moment in time, because it will still tell a story.

Clean out your car regularly, leave a spare empty duffel bag. Not only will cleaning out your car save you some gas, because you won’t lug around all that unnecessary junk, but it’ll save you some headache should you get into an accident. If it’s an especially bad collision, things get slammed around and become missiles inside your own car. Afterwards, if your car is inoperable, you will need the empty duffel bag to put all your possessions before the car gets towed away.

After an Accident

This is what I do after a car accident, I’m not a legal or car accident expert (thankfully) but I think this list covers a lot of the important points. It’s especially important to follow the tips on information collection, under the “Get Driver’s License & Insurance Info” section.

Once you deal with the police and collect all the information you need, it’s time to tend to your vehicle. If it’s operable, you’re lucky, drive away. If it’s not, now’s the time to use that spare bag you put in your trunk to take anything you can fit. When your car is towed, it’ll be taken to the tow operator’s lot where it won’t have much security. They won’t steal anything (usually, since it’s their lot) but that doesn’t stop random people from breaking into your car while it’s waiting for an insurance claim resolution.

Hopefully you will never be in a car accident. If you are, I hope these tips will help you out. If you have any tips or suggestions you’d like to share, please let us know in the comments!

(Photo: orangechallenger)

{ 16 comments, please add your thoughts now! }

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16 Responses to “How to Prepare for a Car Accident”

  1. cubiclegeoff says:

    You somewhat say this, but not fully. I’d have a sheet that has all the questions you need to ask the other driver, plus a spot to write down what you remember happening. It’s much harder to recall something an hour or more later, than it is right away. And it can’t hurt to keep a note that reminds you not to say anything that may place the fault on you, like “sorry”, even if you may be at fault. Simple words that slip out can cause a lot of trouble later.

    • cdiver says:

      I have always kept something like this with my insurance and registration. It has come in very handy in the past.

  2. billsnider says:

    I was once hit from behind by a driver traveling 30 MPH. He said he was day dreaming at the time. I was 21 at the time (and quite innocent).

    My big mistake was feeling sorry for him. I was quick to settle with his insurance agent. I didn’t want to make a big deal about the accident. I told him to pay for a medical check and agreed that they would take my car and fix it.

    Turns out I had a neck problem. It showed up days after the accident. Cost me more than the settlement to get well. They fixed my car for me (sure!). The car rattled (it had only 8,000 miles at the time) and it turned out that the frame was bent. I went through tires like there was no tomorrow.

    Moral of this story? Be VERY slow to settle. Protect yourself from fast settlements if you did not cause the accident.

    Bill Snider

    • cdiver says:

      I was rear-ended by two 14 year old girls in a stolen car high on coke at about 60 mph while I was stopped at a toll booth. They fled the scene by hopping in a friends car that was following them. The only insurance to deal with was my own.

      • Don Coley says:

        Get a boat and the heck with it. Cars are dangerous. It’s that or live in a resort area like Gatlinburg and you won’t need a car. Everything is within 5 miles and you can ride a bike.

  3. Don Coley says:

    I got sick and tired of driving a car. The Cops and their seatbelts and speeding tickets. So I moved unto a yacht. I can go everywhere by boat. I don’t have to haveisnurance, driver’s license and anyone can drive the boat. I don’t have to worry about tags, traffic jams and I can have a mini vacation just by dropping the anchor. Living in an area where there are traffic jams trying to go home each day is so frustrating. With water access I can places faster by boat. Not only that but look at all the bridge tolls.
    I have lived on this yacht for 4 years now and not one ticket. I see a Marine police boat about once a month. You want peace just live on a yacht. I can direct people where they can get a free yacht. It’s a lot cheaper. No land taxes. No grass cutting.

  4. Don Coley says:

    Live close to work and avoid driving all the time. Your life is in the hands of the dude in the other lane. He’s traveling 60 mph. He might be drunk or falls asleep or his tire blows. I’d like to see them build roads and have the lanes separated.

  5. Demonstrable says:

    I’ve been in four car accidents in the past 10 years, and in three out of the four the driver who caused the initial accident drove away. Luckily in the worst accident the driver stopped a few miles away and turned himself into the police so we were able to get his insurance information.

    The repair costs and rental car was covered but I could not convince my girlfriend/her parents (we were in her car) to ask for anything else since they didn’t want to cause a stink or something of that nature.

    Considering the car needed over $12,000 worth or repairs, I thought it wouldn’t be unreasonable to at least have the insurance company also cover some kind of medical check-up to make sure there was no damage to any of us. Also I thought it might be worth it to ask/sue for the potential loss of resale value based on the fact that the car had to undergo such extensive repairs and any future buyer would see that on a vehicle history report.

  6. live green says:

    Accidents are never fun to be in regardless of which side you are on. Great idea with the empty duffel bag, I had to shove stuff in my pockets when I got in an accident.

    I have been in two accidents, both of which were not serious and all parties stuck around and were extremely nice. I guess I have been really lucky after looking through some of the previous comments.

  7. Master Allan says:

    When a hit-n-run drunk driver rear ended me, he first admitted fault through an open passenger side window and then decided to speed off.

    I recommend everyone keeps a notepad and pen. Writing down that full license plate and vehicle description got me an encouraging police report and a successful suit.

    I also like the idea about a disposable camera or cell phone to snap some images.

  8. Shirley says:

    As a senior citizen who cared for aging parents, I realized very quickly just how important that emergency checklist is. Hopefully you will never need it, but if you do, it is invaluable.

    A 3×5 card folded in half will fit in a wallet and could potentially save your life.
    List all meds being taken and any allergies, plus name(s) and phone numbers of people to be called in the event that you are incapacitated.

  9. lisa says:

    Car accidents suck. But I had an accident a few months ago that was entirely not my fault and it actually benefited me financially. I was hit by someone driving a rental car. My car was damaged, but not badly. The rental company insurance paid out 1400 bucks for the cost of repairs. I chose not to repair the car, since it’s older and totally drivable. I was hurt a little in the accident and saw a chiropractor a few times. This was covered by insurance. I also received an check from the rental company insurance for “pain and suffering”, which I didn’t even ask for. In the end, I pocketed about 2700 bucks. Granted, I have a dinged up car and my back hurt for a month or so. Given the financial state I was in at the time, I’ll take it.

  10. Nancy says:

    Two nights ago I ran into a curb, tilting the right wheels inward, front wheel is worse that rear wheel; right side airbag deployed. No other vehicle or person was involved. If I report a claim (eSurance) how will it affect my premium? I’m in California. I had car towed by AAA to a friend’s auto repair shop. Did not call police.

  11. Jim says:

    If your involved in an accident, make sure you take a minute to think about what you will tell the officer regarding the accident. Give verifiable details so your statement will be convincing. Tell the truth, answer questions, but don’t ramble to the officer. The police report will determine who will pay in most accidents. Even if you feel you were at fault, don’t admit it because the other person could also feel they are at fault. In many cases, neither party was paying full attention, otherwise, the collision may not have happened.

  12. Don Coley says:

    a camera on your dash can record license plates. It’s getting so cameras are all over the place. You can’t get away with anything. So many dman cars on the road you will get into an accident.

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