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How to settle car accident privately

By Posted : June 23, 2020

Car Accident

It seems like a no-brainer that you would call your insurance agent after a car accident. If it’s serious, it is a no brainer. But there are some instances when people bang up or bruise their car, and rightly or wrongly, declare to their friends, family and the insurance gods – “This is when not to file an auto insurance claim.”

Is not telling your car insurer about a car accident a good idea?

Well, it depends on your point of view. In a typical year, nearly 6 million car accidents are reported to the police. Most of them, 70%, are categorized as property damage, meaning there were no injuries or fatalities.

In other words, fender-benders.

These minor accidents occur in parking lots, residential streets and even driveways, and while they are reported to police, fender-benders are not always reported to the insurance companies of the drivers involved. Which, it should be noted, is perfectly okay and not considered unethical.

What to do in a minor car accident with no damage

Instead of filing a claim, sometimes the drivers work out an agreement to settle the matter between themselves. The reason, of course, is to prevent a claim from wrecking the at-fault driver's car insurance rates for the next few years.

This route can be full of pitfalls, but done right, it makes an expensive nuisance a less expensive nuisance.

When not to file an auto insurance claim

While there are plenty of reasons not to involve your insurer with a fender-bender, many drivers keep their mouths shut hoping to avoid a premium increase.

What will one claim do to your premium? Hard to tell. The rate jump will vary by insurer and state.

Drivers in Minnesota, California, Louisiana and Michigan get hit with the highest increases for one at-fault accident, while those in New York, Hawaii, South Carolina and Alaska see the lowest, compared to the rest of the country, based on a rate analysis by Insurance.com.

In fact, some insurance companies might not raise your rates at all - but most will.

How much more you pay for coverage after an accident depends on your insurance company’s guidelines and your state laws. Many other factors also come into play, chief among them are the type of car you drive, your age, where you live and your credit history. Having said that, below you’ll see the national average increases for common accidents for a full coverage policy, based on data provided by Quadrant Information Services.

How an accident affects car insurance rates

Accident claimAverage rateAverage rate after claimDollar increasePercentage increase
1 At-fault property damage accident under $2K$1,430$1,796$36626%
1 At-fault property damage accident over $2K$1,430$1,880$45032%
At-fault bodily injury accident$1,430$1,889$45932%
2 At-fault property damage accident over $2k$1,430$3,002$1,572110%

Multiple claims in a short period of time are a big red flag to insurers. According to Kristofer Kirchen, president of Advanced Insurance Managers, based in the Tampa/St. Petersburg, Florida area. "Multiple claims on your record will indicate to an insurer that you are not prudent or are simply inept behind the wheel. This can lead to a big rate increase or more likely, non-renewal."

Even an inquiry can impact your rates.

"An inquiry could end up on your claim history even if you don't make a claim," says Penny Gusner, Insurance.com consumer analyst. "A record that shows one accident but three inquiries in the last three years indicates a risky pattern and could result in a rate increase or cancellation."

In almost all cases, the rate increase is going to stay in effect at least three years.

How to get your car fixed after an accident without insurance

A fender-bender is a two-person affair, so you both need to be on the same page before you proceed. If the other person wants to get his or her insurer involved, it's highly likely that yours will be notified at some point in the process – and at that point, you’re probably best off just saying, “OK, let’s tell our insurers.”

Sure, you can suggest that you don’t, but if the other driver is determined to file a claim, that’s their right. But there’s nothing wrong with your not wanting to tell your insurer. You aren’t doing anything wrong by keeping your mouth shut.

Or more to the point -- reporting an accident to your insurer is not a legal requirement, says Brian Rauber with the Rauber Insurance Agency in Gladstone, Missouri. "Policyholders are not legally required to report all accidents to their insurer. It is common for drivers involved in minor accidents to work out a settlement between themselves," says Rauber.

Any accident you choose to settle outside the insurance system should be a simple one, says Insurance.com Editorial Director Michelle Megna. "The second that fault is in question or someone feels a twinge in their neck, I would advise handing the other driver your information and let your insurance company do its job," she says. "But a broken tail light? Perhaps pull out your checkbook for that minor damage."

That's assuming you have the money to fix somebody else’s car, if it’s agreed that this was your fault. Making promises to pay that you later can't keep is a recipe for an insurance claim or a court date down the road.

Another thing to consider – if it was the other motorist’s fault, do you think they’ll actually pay for your fender bender? If you get the sense that they may struggle to pay for your minor damages, then you may want to just get this resolved and file.

Avoiding the pitfalls

Once you've agreed to settle up privately, what should you do next? Document.

"Document, document, document," says Kirchen. "The proof is in the documentation. If something goes awry you still have some means of recourse. Ultimately, in court, the person who has the proof will win if the other party only has hearsay."

Snap photos of both vehicles before you move them as well as close-ups of the damage on both cars.

You may want to forgo the photos if you are at fault. Thomas Simeone with Simeone & Miller in Washington, D.C., says, "Take photos of the vehicles and the accident scene if they will help you. If they will not, do not create evidence that can be used against you."

Now you also may want to call the police. A police report is the ultimate documentation if you end up in court. In most cases, the police will determine fault based on their research of the accident scene. At the very least the cops should provide you with a Driver Exchange of Information form.

But sometimes, if there was no serious damage, and if nobody was hurt, you’ll find that the police won’t come. It depends on the police department’s policy and probably how busy they are that day. That can also be a decent sign that you may want to handle the accident without involving insurers. So if you're of the mindset, "no accident no police report" or "minor fender bender no police report," your instincts are probably right.

After all, if the police doesn’t feel your car accident is worth coming out for, maybe it is something you should just work out with the other driver.

Now, if the police do end up coming, don’t worry that they might notify your insurer. "There is not much likelihood that your insurer would learn of the accident. Police reports are only distributed to insurance companies by request," says Rauber.

Again, Simeone looks at the other side of the equation. "If you were at fault, do not attempt to obtain a police report -- it will only provide documentation against you."

Your state may require an accident report for accidents above a certain threshold.

Kirchen suggests getting the at-fault driver to sign an agreement admitting liability and promising to pay.

No matter what, be sure to have the following information before you leave the scene:

  • Name, address and phone number of the other driver
  • Driver's license number - consider snapping a photo with your phone
  • Name, phone number and policy number of the other driver's car insurer, just in case

Repairing your car

Coming to an agreement at the accident scene is only half the battle.

Expect some back and forth before you come to a final resolution. Setting a deadline is important; the longer it drags on, the more complicated a claim will become if you have to go to the other driver's insurer. If an agreement cannot be reached, or you lose confidence in the other person's ability to cover the damages, file a claim with the driver's insurance company immediately.

To begin, Kirchen recommends getting three estimates. "It is very possible the estimates will come back higher than either party expected. Unseen damage can often be expensive," he warns.

If the estimate is too high, it may be time to get the insurance companies involved. Again, it isn’t illegal or wrong to try and work things out on your own, and so nobody will hold it against you that you first explored how to get your car fixed after an accident without insurance companies involved.

The range of acceptable agreements is wide and will be unique to your particular situation and accident, but the innocent party can reasonably expect a rental car for extended repairs, use of original-equipment manufacturer (OEM) parts, and the right to choose the repair shop.

Putting car accident behind you

When the car is ready to get back on the road, there should be some final paperwork, especially if you are at fault. The at-fault party will want to ensure that the repairs end the incident.

Kirchen recommends getting the other party to sign a release of claims, more casually known as a paying out of pocket for car accident form.

"This ensures that the other party cannot come back to you saying they want to be paid for diminution of value or that they suddenly have injuries," he advises.

Simeone, once more, looks at the other side of the coin. "If you are the one injured and receiving money, try to avoid signing a release, so that you have the right to seek more money at a later date, if necessary."

Still, if you are injured, you probably should call your insurer instead of putting this experience in the “when not to file an auto insurance claim” bucket. There is a reason we pay for insurance, after all. It is there to alleviate our financial suffering in case of a wreck, and even fender benders can be pretty costly.

So, really, you don’t want to have a knee-jerk reaction either way. There are times you definitely want to look into how to get your car fixed after an accident without insurance. There are also certainly occasions when your insurer should take the wheel and steer you through the headaches of getting a car repaired. Either way, do what seems to make sense, and don’t let fear guide you. Even when you leave your car after a fender bender, make sure you remain in the driver’s seat.

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