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July 21, 2023

In a Fender Bender? Here Are the 9 Things You Need to Do

While it’s unknown exactly how many fender benders (minor car accidents) there are each day in the U.S., since many are not reported to the police, one thing is for certain—car accidents are common and more frequent than many people realize.

Fender bender between two cars
Written by

Matthew Oliver

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 32,000 people are killed, and two million are injured annually from motor vehicle crashes. While these numbers are startling, to say the least, thankfully, most crashes are some fender benders, and drivers and vehicle occupants can walk away largely unscathed. That said, knowing what to do if you are involved in a vehicular accident is imperative.

What you need to do if you are involved in a fender bender 

A fender bender can be a nerve-wracking experience for anyone, leaving us shaken and uncertain about the following steps to take. It's only natural to feel a surge of adrenaline as the unexpected collision jolts our senses, triggering our body's innate fight-or-flight response. Our heart rate quickens and the sympathetic nervous system kicks into high gear, preparing us for action in the face of stress or injury. 

In such moments, it can be challenging to maintain composure and think clearly amidst the chaos. That's why understanding what to do in the aftermath of a fender bender becomes crucial, as it empowers us to navigate the situation calmly and confidently. But before we get into what to do, let’s level-set on the common causes of a fender bender and why it is so important to remain as calm as possible.

The common causes of a fender bender 

A fender bender may sound like a minor incident compared to a full-blown car accident, but they are both considered accidents. The distinction lies in the severity of the collision. While fender benders are typically less severe and result in minimal damage, they are still classified as car accidents. Regardless of the extent of the damage, any time two vehicles collide, an accident has occurred.

Fender benders happen more frequently than we might realize, unfolding daily on our roads. The causes of these incidents are often similar to those leading to more serious accidents. 

According to an article by The Levin Firm (or just about any law firm that has published an article on accidents), several common factors contribute to both car accidents and fender benders. Here are some of the key causes:

  • Distracted driving, including texting, talking on the phone, or other forms of inattentiveness behind the wheel
  • Speeding, exceeding the posted limits and reducing the driver's ability to react in time
  • Tailgating, or following too closely, leaving inadequate space to brake in case of sudden stops
  • Reckless driving, such as weaving through traffic, changing lanes without signaling, or ignoring traffic signals and signs
  • Adverse weather conditions, like rain, snow, or fog, that reduce visibility and make the roads more hazardous
  • Driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs, impairing judgment, reaction time, and coordination

Understanding these common causes can help us be more aware and vigilant while driving, reducing the likelihood of being involved in a fender bender or more severe accidents. And, avoiding fender benders can help keep your insurance premiums down and any legal considerations off your list of things to worry about.

Even a simple fender bender can increase your insurance premiums

Being at fault in even a simple fender bender can have legal and financial implications. If you cause a fender bender and damage someone else's car, your car liability insurance is designed to cover their repair expenses. Similarly, if someone in the other vehicle sustains injuries, liability insurance typically covers their medical expenses (except in no-fault insurance states) and provides a legal defense in case of a lawsuit.

From an insurance standpoint, the consequences of a fender bender can result in increased premiums. According to an article published by Car & Driver, citing information from Insurance.com, minor car accidents and fender benders are typically subject to the same surcharge, regardless of whether the damage amounts to $200 or $2,000. If your annual premium is $1,500, you can anticipate an increase to around $2,062 per year. Depending on your insurance provider, this elevated rate will likely remain in effect for three to five years.

Insurance.com offers valuable insight: if you find yourself in a minor accident where the claim amount is equal to or less than your deductible, it may be worth considering paying for the damages out of pocket. The rate increase resulting from filing a claim means you're paying for the repairs out of pocket regardless.

Knowing the potential impact on insurance premiums can help you make informed decisions after a fender bender. Assessing the extent of the damage, weighing it against your deductible, and considering the long-term financial implications can guide you in choosing the best course of action.

9 immediate steps to take after a fender bender 

After a fender bender, acting swiftly to ensure proper incident documentation is crucial. Immediate steps must be taken to exchange information with the involved drivers and capture photographic evidence of the damage. These actions can greatly assist in the insurance claim process and provide a clear record of what occurred. Here are the nine key steps to take:

  1. Ensure safety—Move your vehicle to a safe location, away from traffic, if possible, to prevent any further accidents or disruptions.
  2. Check for injuries—Assess yourself and others involved for any injuries and seek medical attention if needed.
  3. Contact the authorities—Depending on the severity of the fender bender and local laws, contact the police to report the incident and request their presence at the scene.
  4. Exchange information—Exchange contact, insurance, and vehicle details with the other driver(s) involved, including names, phone numbers, addresses, insurance company names, policy numbers, and license plate numbers.
  5. Document the scene—Take clear photographs of the damage to all vehicles involved, capturing different angles and perspectives. In a world where almost everyone has a mobile device, this should be a relatively easy thing to do. However, if you do not have a phone with photo capabilities, keep a disposable camera in your glove compartment for access if needed.
  6. Gather witness information—If there are any witnesses present, collect their contact information in case their statements are needed later.
  7. Notify your insurance provider—Contact your insurance company to report the fender bender and provide them with accurate and detailed information about the incident.
  8. Stay calm and cooperative—Remain calm, avoid admitting fault, and cooperate with the other parties involved, law enforcement, and insurance representatives.
  9. Contact roadside assistance—If your vehicle is not in drivable condition or if there are safety concerns, such as a flat tire or engine damage, it's advisable to contact roadside assistance for help. Additionally, if you are unsure about the extent of the damage or need professional guidance, reaching out to roadside assistance can provide you with expert advice and assistance in getting your vehicle towed or repaired.

Assessing the damage after minor car accidents 

Assessing the extent of damage after a minor car accident is critical in helping you understand the implications and determining the necessary actions to take. While a fender bender may appear to result in minimal damage on the surface, it's essential to evaluate the vehicle's condition thoroughly. This assessment can help identify potential hidden damages and guide you in deciding whether professional repair services are needed. Here are the key points to consider when assessing the damage after a minor car accident:

  • External inspection—Carefully inspect the exterior of your vehicle, checking for visible dents, scratches, paint transfer, or any other noticeable damage. Pay close attention to the bumper, lights, mirrors, and other vulnerable areas.
  • Internal examination—Open the doors and trunk to inspect the internal components for any signs of damage or misalignment. Look for issues with the doors' functionality, alignment of panels, or any unusual noises.
  • Fluid leaks—Check under your vehicle for fluid leaks, such as oil, coolant, or transmission fluid. Leaking fluids can indicate damage to essential systems and should be addressed promptly.
  • Functional components—Test the functionality of various components, including headlights, taillights, turn signals, brakes, and any other features affected by the accident. Ensure that all switches, buttons, and controls are working correctly.
  • Alignment and suspension—Pay attention to any vibrations, pulling to one side, or steering wheel misalignment while driving. These signs could indicate problems with the alignment or suspension system.
  • Frame inspection—If the impact is significant or you suspect damage to the frame, it's advisable to have a professional mechanic or body shop examine the vehicle for structural integrity. Frame damage can have long-term effects on safety and performance.

Remember that even minor damage can have underlying issues. If you have any doubts or concerns about the damage assessment, consult a professional for a thorough inspection. 

Reporting a fender bender 

Reporting a fender bender involves two main aspects: notifying the authorities and filing an insurance claim. While the need to report the accident to the police or authorities may vary depending on local laws and the severity of the incident, involving them when there are injuries, significant damage, or disputes regarding fender bender fault determination is generally recommended.

Contacting your insurance company

When filing an insurance claim, gathering and documenting all necessary information is essential. This includes details of the accident, such as the date, time, and location, as well as the involved parties' information, including names, contact information, and insurance details. Additionally, photographic evidence of the damage, witness statements, and any other supporting documentation can strengthen your claim.

Obtaining a police report

The role of a police report in a fender bender cannot be understated. It provides an unbiased, third-party perspective on the accident, offering valuable insights into the sequence of events and potential factors contributing to the collision. This report holds significant weight and credibility for both insurance companies involved. Your insurance provider and the at-fault driver's carrier will likely request a copy of the police report to assist in their claim investigation and assessment.

Fender bender body shop selection

After a fender bender, deciding whether to get your car fixed can be a point of contention. It's easy to dismiss minor damage and consider pocketing the insurance money. However, even seemingly minor damage can have consequences, such as decreased car value and compromised driving safety. With that in mind, it is generally not recommended to forgo repairs. Here's what to consider when selecting a reputable collision repair center:

  • Research and certifications—Take the time to research and identify collision repair centers that are reputable and certified by recognized industry organizations. Look for certifications such as I-CAR (Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair) or manufacturer-specific certifications, which indicate the shop's commitment to meeting high-quality repair standards.
  • Warranties—Consider the warranties offered by the repair center. Reputable shops often provide warranties on their workmanship and parts, which can give you peace of mind in case any issues arise after the repairs are completed.
  • Customer reviews—Read reviews and seek recommendations from friends, family, or online platforms to gauge previous customers' experiences. Pay attention to feedback regarding the shop's professionalism, communication, and the quality of their repairs.
  • Request multiple estimates—Contact different collision repair centers and request estimates for the repair work needed. This allows you to compare pricing, services offered, and the estimated timeline for completion.
  • Compare options—Evaluate the estimates received, considering factors such as the shop's reputation, the estimate's clarity, and the overall value provided. It's important to balance cost and quality, ensuring that the repair center offers reasonable pricing and excellent service.

Fender bender rental car options

Exploring rental car options becomes crucial for temporary transportation when your car is in the shop due to a fender bender. Rental cars and transportation services are commonly utilized in such situations. 

But, before you go and rent a car, ensure you understand the rental car coverage provided by your insurance policies. Review your policy details to determine if rental car expenses are covered and what limitations or requirements exist. Knowing your coverage helps you navigate the process smoothly and avoid unexpected expenses. 

Negotiate with the insurance company to ensure proper reimbursement if rental car coverage is included. Provide necessary documentation such as repair estimates, rental car receipts, and any other relevant information to support your claim. Effective negotiation can help you receive the appropriate reimbursement for your rental car expenses during the repair period.

Warning graphic of a fender bender

Preventing future fender benders 

Preventing future fender benders requires a proactive approach to driving and maintaining your vehicle. Implementing a few key strategies can significantly reduce the chances of being involved in such incidents. 

Here are some essential steps to consider:

  • Defensive driving techniques—Practice defensive driving by staying aware of your surroundings, anticipating potential hazards, and maintaining a safe following distance. Obey traffic rules, use turn signals, and be mindful of other drivers' actions.
  • Maintain vehicle safety features—Regularly inspect and maintain your vehicle's safety features, including brakes, tires, headlights, and windshield wipers. Properly functioning safety features can help prevent accidents or minimize their impact.
  • Perform regular maintenance—Adhere to the recommended maintenance schedule for your vehicle. Routine inspections and servicing can address potential mechanical issues before they contribute to accidents.
  • Stay alert and avoid distractions—Avoid distractions while driving, such as texting, talking on the phone, or engaging in other activities that divert your attention from the road. Approximately 3,000 people lose their lives to distracted driving accidents yearly.
  • Minimize fatigue—According to research conducted by the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety, it was estimated that approximately 328,000 crashes occur annually due to drowsy driving. This staggering figure is more than three times the number reported by the police. So, get enough rest before embarking on long drives and take breaks as needed to avoid fatigue. Fatigue can impair judgment and reaction times, increasing the risk of accidents.
  • Adhere to speed limits—Over the past 20 years, speeding has consistently played a significant role in approximately one-third of all motor vehicle fatalities. In 2021 alone, it contributed to 29% of all traffic-related deaths. Speeding not only puts the life of the speeder at risk but also endangers the lives of others sharing the road. Respect speed limits and adjust your speed according to road and weather conditions. Speeding significantly reduces your ability to react to unexpected situations.

Be prepared if a fender bender happens to you

Being involved in a fender bender can be a stressful experience, but by following the necessary steps, you can navigate through the aftermath more smoothly. First and foremost, immediately assess the situation, ensuring safety and checking for injuries. Exchange information with the other driver(s), document the scene and notify your insurance provider promptly. 

Even after a minor accident, assessing the damage is crucial to identify potential hidden issues that may impact your car's value and safety. Reporting the incident to the authorities and obtaining a police report provides an unbiased perspective that can greatly assist in insurance claims. Additionally, selecting a reputable collision repair center, understanding rental car coverage, and negotiating with insurance companies for reimbursement are essential aspects of the process. 

You can significantly reduce the chances of future accidents by staying prepared and implementing fender-bender safety precautions, such as defensive driving, vehicle maintenance, and avoiding distractions. Remember, being proactive and informed is vital in avoiding fender benders and ensuring your safety.

For more auto advice on topics such as car safety and auto refinancing, RateWorks has you covered with our insights blog.