What to do if you hit a parked car

Don't leave the scene if you hit a parked car and can't find the owner. State laws vary, but what happens if you hit a parked car and drive off is serious, including fines and jail time. 

To prevent that, follow these steps.

1. Attempt to find the owner

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

It's usually a misdemeanor charge with a hefty fine if you're convicted. In some states, if you hit a parked car and leave the scene, you might serve jail time or 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, Nevada. "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 owner of the damaged car.

If the law isn't enough to keep you there, consider this: Odds are good someone saw you hit that car. It might be a bystander 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, 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. Leave a note

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

If there's no one around and you need to leave, you should leave a note. "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 what happened

If you were driving someone else’s vehicle when you hit a parked car, you must leave the name and address of the car’s owner as well. You can also include insurance company information. Keep the note simple, and don't say anything about fault.

Tuck the note securely under the windshield wiper.

According to the California Motor Vehicle Code, the note must be in a "conspicuous location.” 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.

What happens when you hit a parked car and drive off without leaving a note?

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. You will also want to document what damage was there when you left so other damage can't be blamed on you.

4. Look for witnesses

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

5. Call the police

If there is significant damage, you should call the police. Most states have laws that require a police report if the damage reaches a certain threshold. If you're not sure, it's best to call, Make sure to call the non-emergency line and not 911.

6. Call your insurance company

Behnke recommends reporting the incident to your insurance company as soon as possible so they can expedite the claims process, even if you don't have contact information for the other car's driver yet. If you left insurance information on the note, they may have contacted your insurance company directly.

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.

What to do if you hit a parked car and there's no damage

Even if there's no visible damage, you should still leave a note. There may be damage you aren't able to see that the owner notices later. If you hit a car, regardless of whether you think you did any damage, you are legally required to leave your contact information. Take photos, even if you don't see any damage, of the part of both cars where contact was made.

Will my insurance go up if I hit a parked car?

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.

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 by 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 by even more.

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 not renew your policy at the end of the term because you’re viewed as a risk.

What to do when someone hits your parked car

Now that we've covered what to do if you hit a parked car, we'll look at what to di in a hit-and-run parked car situation. What should you do if you find yourself in a situation where you walk to your car and find it dented? Parking lot hit-and-run accidents are common. Here are five things you should do when someone hits your parked car:

1. Collect information from the other driver if possible

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 the following information:

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

If you've been the victim of a hit-and-run on a parked car and the other driver is nowhere to be found, you will need to take additional steps listed below.

2. Check for witnesses

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

You may be able to obtain coverage of the accident from a nearby surveillance camera. Ask nearby businesses if they have footage.

3. Take photos and video

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. A video of the area surrounding the incident can also be helpful. Drivers are generally required to carry liability insurance, which covers accidents in which they are at fault, so document your damage.

4. Contact the police to report a hit-and-run

If someone has hit your car in a parking lot and left the scene, you should call the police. Remember that leaving the scene of an accident is a crime. Your insurance company will want a police report, and the police can help you track down security footage and hopefully find the culprit. 

5. Contact your insurance company

Even if you think the driver of another car is to blame and their insurance should pay, you should contact your insurance company. They will help you to navigate the claim and work with the other person's insurer. Your insurance company will also handle the claim in the event of a parking lot hit-and-run.

If you have collision coverage, can't find the other driver or are having difficulty with their insurer, your insurance company will pay for the damage. You’ll likely have to pay your deductible. If the other driver is uninsured, your uninsured motorist coverage may also kick in.

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 will not pay for the damages if you report the accident weeks later.

Do I need parked car insurance for a parking lot accident?

Parked car insurance is a term commonly used to refer to comprehensive-only coverage. This type of coverage is designed for a car in storage and 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 damaged when parked on your property. You can't park it on a street or public lot since it's not covered to be driven anywhere.

To qualify for parked car insurance, your vehicle normally must 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.

Auto insurance FAQs

Do you need insurance if your car is parked?

Even if your car is parked or in storage for an extended period, it’s still recommended that you maintain insurance coverage.

If the vehicle has an active registration, most states require that it maintain minimum levels of liability insurance coverage. Even if the vehicle is not registered, 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.

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 a 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 with a parked car?

If someone hits your parked car and leaves, your collision or uninsured motorist 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 hits my parked car?

If you can 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 pulled a hit-and-run, your insurance policy might be foot the bill.

Does insurance go up if someone hits your parked car?

If you file a claim with your insurance to get the repairs covered because there is no other driver to cover it, then your premium may go up as a result.