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A car backing into a parked car.

Whether you hit a parked car or your parked car was hit, it's a common situation. In fact, most hit-and-runs involve a parked car. Many of the accidents happen in parking lots. Many people aren't sure what to do if they hit a parked car when no one is around.

So what to do if you hit a parked car? And how does it impact your car insurance? If you’re involved in an accident with a parked car, there are some things you’ll want to do. 

Below we'll explain what to do if you hit a parked car, or you find damage to your car when it has been parked.

  • If you hit a parked car, it's important to stay and put your contact information where the vehicle’s owner will see it.
  • If you're at-fault, or if you had to file a claim in the case of a hit-and-run incident, it's very likely that your insurance premium will increase.
  • If you hit a parked car, take pictures, look for witnesses and call your insurance company.

What to do if you hit a parked car?

If you're not sure what to do if you scratch a parked car or hit it and leave a dent, simply follow these steps:

1. Don't leave the scene without doing anything

What happens if you hit a car in a parking lot and leave?

Hitting a parked car doesn't make you a criminal but leaving the scene of an accident is against the law in every state and can be considered a hit and run. A conviction can net you a misdemeanor charge and a hefty fine. In some states, if you hit a parked car and leave the scene, you can serve jail time, be required to perform community service and police may suspend your license and/or registration.

"Getting into an accident is not a crime," says attorney Chip Siegel of Las Vegas. "Leaving the accident is where the crime comes in."

Hit-and-run charges also can add as many as six points to your license, depending on your state's points system. It could also disqualify you from jobs that involve driving. In California, you are legally required to try to find the damaged car's owner. If you aren't able to locate the car's owner, you must leave a note.

If the law isn't enough to keep you there, consider this: Odds are good someone saw you hit that car. It might be an actual person or one of the millions of surveillance cameras in the U.S.

Law enforcement may look at the available evidence, including camera footage, to find the offender--you--and that's where the trouble really begins. "You might get away with it," Siegel says, "but that's not been my experience."

“If the police have to hunt you down, you'll not only pay fines, but the other driver's insurance company might go after you for costs, including legal and investigative fees," says Stephanie Behnke, Mercury Insurance claims innovation director. "It can be a very expensive decision for the perpetrator and could lead to jail time… You're going to spend more money cleaning it up. Just financially, it doesn't make sense to leave."

tip iconTIP If you were convicted of a hit-and-run accident, your rates could go up significantly," says Loretta Worters, a vice president at the Insurance Information Institute. "And if you had priors on top of that, you might not even be able to get coverage," she says. "Every state is different, but you can expect rates to probably double."

2. If no one arrives, leave a note

A note left on a car windshield after hitting a parked car.

Keep it simple. "Nobody wants to [leave a note]," Siegel says. "Everyone's afraid."

But if you backed into a car or sideswiped it in the parking lot, do it anyway. Most states require that your note include this information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Contact number
  • Explanation of accident

If you were driving someone else’s vehicle at the time of hitting a parked car, you are required to leave the name and address of the car’s owner as well.

Behnke recommends that your note include your insurance information if you have it handy. Don't say too much, such as explaining how you weren't paying attention when you hit their bumper. Anything you leave in the note can be used against you later when insurance companies are settling.

After being a responsible citizen and writing the note, tuck it securely under the windshield wiper.

According to the California Motor Vehicle Code, the note must be in a "conspicuous location.” And no matter how tempted you are to write it with a felt-tip pen and leave it to ruin in the rain, don't do it. In New York, per the New York Vehicle and Traffic Law, failing to leave contact info can result in a $250 fine and up to 15 days in jail.

Though you might try to tell yourself that the other driver’s insurance will foot the repair bill if you leave the scene, think again. You don’t know whether or not the vehicle has collision insurance. Even if the other owner has uninsured motorist coverage, their insurance company is unlikely to cover them unless it can verify that you are uninsured.

3. Take photos

Take pictures of the damage to both cars and the license plate number of the other car.

Small "dings" can cost up to $1,000 to repair so if there is visible damage you’ll want to document that.

4. Look for witnesses

Allstate advises looking for possible witnesses. Get their contact information and write down or video their description of what happened.

5. Call your insurance company

Behnke recommends reporting the incident to your insurance company as soon as possible so they can expedite the claims process.

Your property damage liability coverage will pay for the parked car’s damage and your collision coverage will cover your car after you pay your deductible.

Your next question is likely – will my insurance rates go up? The insurance company will view it as an at-fault accident, but whether they increase your rates depends on the insurance company’s surcharge schedule and what the state allows.

You can expect to see your rates rise if:

  • The damage reaches the company’s chargeable accident threshold.
  • You were ticketed in the accident.
  • You’ve had multiple claims over a short time period.

parked car hit insurance claim

In those cases, your rates may go by 20 to 40% of the insurer’s base rate, which is the Insurance Services Office’s standard. The base rate is the average rate charged in the state before discounts, other adjustments and an insurer’s claims-processing fee. If the damage reaches the company’s chargeable accident threshold, multi-car policies will likely increase 20% for the first two vehicles on the policy and 40% for a single-car policy, according to the ISO.

However, many insurers don’t follow ISO guidelines and may increase rates higher.

Whether you file a claim with your insurance company for the cost of the repairs depends on the damage and your deductible. You are responsible for the cost of repairs to your vehicle before the deductible amount is reached.

This means that if your deductible is $1,000 and the damage is only $750, you should pay out-of-pocket and not file a claim. You should also keep in mind that your rates may rise if you file a claim under collision. If your damage is only slightly above your deductible amount, you may want to pay for the repairs yourself rather than paying the deductible and potentially see your rates rise.

If you have filed multiple claims in a short period of time, your insurer may even not renew your policy at the end of the term because you’re viewed as a risk.

What to do if someone hit your parked car

Now that we've covered what to do if you hit a parked car, let's turn the tables around. What should you do if you find yourself in a situation where you walk to your car and find it dented? Here are five things you should do when someone hits your parked car:

1. Collect information from the other driver

If you witnessed the accident or the driver waited for you to arrive, the first piece of advice is don’t get upset. Road rage incidents can escalate quickly. The other driver likely didn't mean to hit your car and is as freaked out as you.

Instead, calmly collect his or her information:

  • Name
  • Address
  • Contact number
  • Explanation of accident
  • Insurance company

2. Check for witnesses

Whether you witnessed the accident or not, check the area for any potential witnesses. Collect their contact information in case police and/or insurance company wants to contact them during an investigation.

Regardless of the presence of witnesses, you may be able to obtain coverage of the accident from a nearby surveillance camera.

3. Take photos

A man taking photograph of parked car that has been hit.

Take pictures of the damage to both cars and the license plate number of the other car. You’ll want to take photos of your vehicle before driving away. It’s OK to take the snap with your camera phone. Drivers are generally required to carry liability insurance, which covers accidents in which they are at fault, so document your damage.

4. Contact police

Many states require you to call the police when your vehicle is involved in an accident. If there is any noticeable damage, you should contact the police. They can take a report and may know if there are any security cameras in the area. Plus, witnesses are more apt to answer questions from a police officer than you.

5. Contact the insurance company

If the other person is totally to blame, notify his or her insurance company. If the other driver hit your legally parked car, then the other driver’s insurance should pay for the damage. If they don’t resolve the issue or are an uninsured motorist, then contact your insurer so they can begin the claims process.

Your insurance will cover the damage in that instance if you have a collision policy, but you’ll likely have to pay your deductible. Whether your rates go up depends on your state and the company’s internal guidelines – and whether you have had multiple claims in a short period of time.

Even if it's a minor accident, don’t let the driver talk you into settling the issue yourselves without going through insurance. The person may renege and your insurer is not going to pay for the damages if you report the accident weeks later.

What is parked car insurance? And will that help?

Parked car insurance is another name for comprehensive-only coverage. This type of coverage is designed for a car that is in storage and is not being driven. It doesn't include any of the legally required coverage to be on the road.

This type of policy will only cover you if your car is scratched when parked on your property. You can't park it on a street or public lost since it's not covered to be driven anywhere.

To qualify for parked car insurance, your vehicle normally needs to be in storage for at least 30 days. You'll also need to own the car — so if you're leasing your ride, you're out of luck.

Frequently asked questions: Parked cars and insurance

Do you need insurance if your car is parked?

Even if your car is parked or in storage for an extended time period, it’s still recommended that you maintain insurance coverage, says Sarah Jacobs, vice president of personal lines product at Nationwide Insurance.

If the vehicle has an active registration, most states require that it maintain minimum levels of liability insurance coverage, she says. Even if the vehicle is not registered, she says, insurance coverage could provide protection in the event that the vehicle is stolen or damaged – such as in a hit-and-run accident or if a tree limb falls on the vehicle.

It’s important to discuss your situation with a licensed agent who can advise you on the best coverage to meet your needs, Jacobs says.

Does where you park your car affect insurance?

It can. If you park your vehicle in a more secure area, such as a covered indoor garage or parking lot, the insurance company sees that as lower risk. In turn, it might offer a discount on your car insurance policy.

Along the same lines, where you live also can impact the cost of your insurance premium. If you live in an area or neighborhood that is known to be a higher risk for claims, then that could equate to a higher cost of car insurance.

Does insurance cover a hit-and-run parked car?

If someone hits your parked car and leaves, and you aren't able to pin them down, your collision or uninsured motorists insurance may be able to cover the costs of any damage to your vehicle. You'll need to look at the nitty-gritty of your policy to determine the coverage amounts and deductibles.

Whose insurance do I call if someone hit my parked car?

If you're able to exchange contact information and insurance details with the driver who hit your car, you'll need to reach out to their insurance provider. As they were at fault, they are liable and their insurance will most likely cover the damage.

If they're uninsured, or if they hit your car and pulled a hit-and-run, your insurance policy might be able to foot the cost of the bill.

Does insurance go up if someone hits your parked car?

Let’s say in the case of a hit-and-run incident the driver who dinged your car left no trace. If you have collision insurance or uninsured motorists insurance and need to file a claim with your insurance to get the repairs covered, then the price tag of your premium will likely see a bump.

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