Hundreds of minor car accidents occur every day in the United States. These accidents usually result in no injuries and very little, if any, damage to the cars involved. Sometimes, the damage may be no more than a dent or a scratch — cosmetic flaws that it might not make sense to fix, if the cost of making the repair would exceed the amount of value added to the vehicle.
When these kinds of minor vehicle accidents occur, do you need to report them to your car insurance company?
From a contractual point of view, the answer is yes. Nearly all auto insurance policies contain a contract clause that requires you to report any and all accidents to the insurer. However, this contract clause is difficult for insurance companies to enforce in every situation. If no injuries or serious damage occurred, you and the others involved in the accident may not even call police to investigate the scene.
Even if a police report is filed, most police precincts do not forward this information to the drivers’ insurance companies. However, in most cases, you should report even minor accidents to your insurance company. Here are some of the factors that may play a role in your decision.
The Extent of Vehicle Damage or Injuries
If anyone is injured in the accident, you should report the accident to your insurance company no matter how minor the injury appears to be. After a car accident, it’s normal for adrenaline and confusion to mask the true extent of an injury, making it appear less harmful than it really is.
Also, some very common car accident injuries — like soft tissue damage caused by whiplash — can take several days to manifest completely. You may feel fine immediately after the accident occurs, only to find a few days later that you have serious neck or back pain. As a result, it’s best to report any accident that causes injuries.
If no one is injured and the damage to both vehicles is minor, you and the other driver may decide between you not to report the accident to either insurance company, instead paying for the damage out of pocket or leaving the vehicle as-is.
If the other driver is clearly at fault in the accident, you should file a claim with your insurance company rather than accept the other driver’s promises to pay for the damage to your vehicle. Many auto insurance policies allow you to recover the amount of your deductible from the other driver if you were clearly not at fault in the accident.
Where the Accident Occurred
An accident that occurs between two or more vehicles on a public street should be reported to your insurance company. Many car accidents, however, occur on private property like parking lots, or involve only one vehicle on private property, such as when a vehicle owner backs into his own fence or garage door.
Since most drivers who get into an accident on private property assume some share of fault, you may not benefit from reporting the accident to your insurance company.
On the other hand, if you have comprehensive coverage, reporting the accident may ensure you receive the funds you need to fix your vehicle, especially if you’ve hit a stationary object.
Also, if you hit something on your own property and need to file a homeowners’ insurance claim to fix the damage, you should also file an auto insurance claim, especially if both your homeowners’ and auto insurance are handled by the same company.
Changes in Your Premiums
Most people who hesitate to report a minor car accident do so because they fear their insurance premiums will increase if they report the accident. It’s true that auto insurers take into account the number of claims you make each year while calculating your premium for the next year, and it’s also true that additional claims will most likely cause your premium to increase if you were at fault.
Therefore, if you are certain you were at fault in the accident, you may be tempted not to file a claim with your auto insurance company.
However, not filing a claim solely because you’re worried about changes in your premiums is a bad idea. First, if you were at fault, you may have received a ticket or citation at the scene of the accident. This ticket will appear on your driving record, which your auto insurance company will also review when deciding whether to renew your coverage – and at what price – next year.
If the insurer realizes that you were at fault in an accident you never told them about, it could cause your premiums to skyrocket. Worse, it could also cause your insurer to decide not to offer you coverage at all, leaving you to shop the insurance market – with a tarnished record.