What To Do After a Car Accident

From minor scratches to major injury accidents, you’re always facing some level of risk when you sit behind the wheel. However, most people aren’t prepared to react when an incident occurs. The purpose of this guide is to offer some tips that will help you avoid costly mistakes if you are involved in a traffic accident.

Among other useful topics, we will discuss what to do after an accident, including what to expect when you file a claim with your insurance company. Let’s get started.

What To Do If You Are Involved in a Car Accident: a Checklist

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If you are involved in a car accident, stop Immediately. Move only if it is safe to do so, and then follow these steps:

  • Call 911 if someone is injured.
  • Call the police. Although in some areas, police authorities may respond to every accident scene, you should attempt to notify the police. Remember that most insurance policies require notification to the police within a specified time period if the accident is a hit-and-run.
  • Get the following information from all drivers, passengers, and witnesses: names, addresses, telephone numbers, and driver’s license numbers.
  • Make sure to get license plates and vehicle identification numbers. Ask to see the other people’s driver’s licenses and vehicle registrations to corroborate the information.
  • Nowadays everyone carries a smartphone with a camera. If you have one with you (or a camera), take photos of the damage and the accident scene, making sure to include traffic controls and visual obstacles.
  • Contact your insurance agent and/or your insurance company and notify them of the accident immediately.
  • Remember that if anyone is injured or the vehicle damage exceeds $750.00, you are required to report the accident to the California DMV (Department of Motor Vehicles) within 10 days. Failure to do so may result in the suspension of your driver’s license.

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Frequently Asked Questions About Car Accidents

Q. What happens after I file an insurance claim following an accident?

A. After filing a claim, your insurance company will get in touch and ask for a detailed account of the accident. There will be an investigation and the insurance company may take a written or recorded statement. An examination under oath can sometimes be requested and other drivers and witnesses may also be contacted during the process. If you have medical payments or an uninsured motorist claim, you will be asked to document your losses (for example, injuries, medical expenses, lost wages, etc.)

Q. What should I do if no one from the insurance company contacts me after reporting the accident?

A. After reporting the accident, a representative from the insurance company should contact you within a reasonable period of time (although in some cases, it can take the insurance company up to 15 days to contact you). If no one contacts you, give your agent or insurance company a call. If they fail to assist you even after getting in touch with them, contact the California Department of Insurance.

Q. How do insurance companies evaluate vehicle damage after an accident?

A. When an automobile accident happens, insurance companies evaluate damage to the vehicles through qualified adjusters or appraisers whose job is to inspect vehicles and write a corresponding estimate.

In some cases, additional damage is uncovered during the repair process. When that happens, the repair or body shop will contact the insurance company to get approval for the additional cost of repairs. The insurance company may send an adjuster to inspect the additional damages.

Q. What is Actual Cash Value (ACV) in auto insurance?

A. Simply put, Actual Cash Value, or ACV, is how much your car is worth today, considering depreciation. In California, actual cash value usually means fair market value, unless specified differently in your policy. That is, the amount of money a prospective buyer and seller are willing to pay for an item when they are reasonably knowledgeable about the asset.

Q. What happens with the balance of the car loan when an accident occurs?

A. If you have an accident in a car you are financing or leasing, you are responsible for the balance of the loan, even if the vehicle is considered not repairable. If your claim payment doesn’t cover the remaining loan balance, the bank or financing institution will still ask you to pay the difference.


Many people learn about this the hard way. If you want to prevent headaches, you can purchase a type of insurance known as “gap insurance” that will help you in that situation.

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Q. The check is made under whose name?

A. The check for the claim payment can be made in your name as well as that of any lienholder (for example, a bank or finance company). If the car is considered repairable, the insurance company may also be included.

Q. Will the insurance company pay for a rental car while mine is being repaired?

A. Yes, but only if you have a coverage known as rental vehicle coverage. Check your policy for details and to learn more about the limits of the coverage.

Q. What is the salvage value?

A. Salvage value refers to the value of your damaged vehicle if you total it.

Q. What is subrogation?

A. Subrogation, or “subro,” is the right an insurance company has under your policy to recover from the driver who caused the accident the amount of money the company paid you to cover the damages. For example, if the other driver is at fault in an accident that damages your car, your insurance company will ask the other driver to reimburse the money the insurance company paid on your claim. Note that your policy requires that you cooperate with the company’s subrogation efforts and you cannot do anything that jeopardizes the company’s right of subrogation.

Q. Is the insurance company required to help me recover my deductible?

A. It depends. The insurance company must let you know if they intend to pursue subrogation (see the question “What is subrogation?” above). If they do pursue subrogation, they are required to pursue your deductible as well. If their efforts are successful, most companies will reimburse you according to the recovery. For example, if 100 percent of the claim is recovered, you will receive 100 percent of your deductible; if the recovery is 50 percent, you will receive half (50 percent) of your deductible. if the insurance company does not pursue subrogation they must let you know so that you pursue your deductible on your own.

Q. If I insure my car in California, will it be covered outside the state?

A. In most cases, auto insurance policies provide coverage in other U.S. states/territories and even Canada. If the insurance requirements in the state where you are traveling are higher than your policy limits, your company will meet the higher requirements. However, you should always check your out-of-state coverage before you travel.

As for countries other than the U.S. and Canada, most standard policies do not provide coverage in Mexico. If you plan to drive your car in Mexico, it’s advisable to buy a separate coverage to get protection.

Q. Will my insurance cover a newly acquired vehicle?

A. Most auto insurance policies offer automatic coverage for a vehicle that replaces a vehicle already on your policy, but you should notify your insurance agent as soon as possible when this happens. In that situation, the coverage normally is the same coverage you had on your previous vehicle. If you fail to notify your insurance company of the newly acquired vehicle within the specified time, the vehicle will be uninsured

If you want additional coverage for extra protection, most policies require you to notify your insurance agent within a certain time period.

3 Things You Should Avoid After a Car Accident

Refrain from entering into arguments with other drivers and passengers.

Do not, under any circumstance, sign documents or statements about fault or promising to pay for the other party’s damages.

If the other party offers to pay your deductible, don't sign anything.

Some Important Tips

Set some time aside to read your policy, if possible, today. Don’t wait until after an accident.

If you don’t understand your policy or the claims procedure, don’t hesitate to contact your agent and/or company for clarification.

If you have an accident, call the police. If there are injuries, call paramedics.

Get as much information as possible at the accident scene (see the checklist at the top of this article) and relay that information to your insurance company.

Immediately notify your agent and/or insurance company of an accident.

Cooperate with the insurance adjusters and investigators.