Auto insurance is the one thing we all have to have, whether we want to or not. In a market where we are constantly bombarded by different companies promising quotes without commitment and huge savings over whatever we’re currently spending picking the right insurance policy can be extremely difficult.
Imagine: You’re driving along, singing with the radio. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, you know you’re going to have a great day and then – SLAM! – you’ve been in a car accident. Your heart is racing, your chest is pounding, and you’re stunned, but alive. Take a second. Relax. Breathe. Clear your head as best as you can, then look around, and get to work. Take out your cell phone and call 911 (unless the police or highway patrol have already arrived and then do the following:
- Retrieve your insurance information. You should be keeping it in your glove box, or clipped to the back of the driver’s side visor. If your insurance kit doesn’t include a form where you can describe and sketch an accident, find some paper, and start drawing. Even better, grab a camera and start clicking. A good idea is to keep a disposable camera – the kind that uses film – in your glove box for just such events. Digital pictures are better than nothing, but are easily altered.
- Stay put. Do not leave the accident scene until you’ve spoken with the police and they’ve told you that you can go. Make sure that the police have your version of what happened, and that you have the name, and phone number of every officer involved. As well, get the accident report number. You’ll need it later. Never assume that the police report will protect you, or that a report will actually be generated – in the case of minor accidents (which means no injuries to people, but doesn’t affect property) they often are not. When asked questions, give answers, but do not offer opinions.
- Trade names, addresses, insurance information, and driver’s license information with the driver of the other car (or cars). If you can get their plate and VIN information, get it. Do not EVER let another driver intimidate you into claiming fault or agreeing to pay anything. If there are witnesses, get their names and contact information, as well.
- Review your insurance policy, and make a note of any questions you might have, then call your insurance company, and do so as soon as possible, even if the accident was minor, and even if you live in a “no-fault” state. Your insurer needs to know about accidents so that they can be prepared when the other driver’s insurance company comes to you for money. As well, if things escalate and lawsuits are involved, your insurance company may provide your legal defense, or act on your behalf to come to a settlement, which they will pay.
Now that you know what to do if you’re in an accident, here are some things you can do to prepare yourself, so that you’re ready if you should ever be in one:
- Review your insurance policy, paying special attention to the conditions of your policy. These enumerate what you are supposed to do in the even of an accident, and while the requirements may seem annoying in the moment, they’re usually not difficult to follow.
- Review the declarations page of your policy. This lists the types of coverage you have, the dollar limits, and refers to any discounts, though it may be by code.
- Note the exclusions in the insuring agreement – these are the items or situations which your insurance does not cover, and you should know what they are.
If anything doesn’t make sense, or if you want additional information, call your insurance agent and ask questions.
After your accident, which hopefully only involved property damage and not bodily injury, and hopefully wasn’t your fault, you will have to deal with repairs. This is where you learn the hard way that replacement cost and market value are not the same things. Your car may well be declared a total loss (“totaled”) but you may receive substantially less money for it than it would cost to buy a new vehicle.
The best advice we can offer you is this: While your insurance company may be paying for the repairs, you are in control of the process. This means:
- Don’t accept a repair job you don’t like, or feel is inadequate.
- Refuse to accept generic parts (but be aware that your policy may say you have to, so check this before you complain).
- Choose the mechanic (within reason). If your favorite mechanic isn’t on your insurance company’s approved list, you can ask them to help you select from those who are approved. You can have them look at the car as well, but you will probably have to pay for this yourself.
Ultimately it’s your car, and your decision how to proceed.
Being in an accident is frightening, and after the fact, you may find yourself feeling shaky when you get back in the driver’s seat. This is normal. You can take heart, however, from knowing that you’ve followed your insurance companies requirements, and kept calm in a stressful situation.