Be Prepared: What to Do After a Car Accident

You’re driving along, minding your business, when suddenly – BAM! You’re in a car accident. Your heart’s racing, your mind’s spinning, and you’re unsure what to do next. Please take a deep breath because I’m here to guide you through the crucial steps to take after a car accident.

I’ve been there, and I know how overwhelming it can be. But with a little preparation and know-how, you can handle the situation like a pro. Ready to learn what to do when the unexpected happens? Let’s go!

What to Do After a Car Accident

Steps to Take Immediately After a Car Accident

No one ever expects to be in a car accident. But the reality is it happens every single day. In fact, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, a car crash occurs every 60 seconds in the United States. I’ve been in a few fender benders myself over the years. And let me tell you, even a minor accident can leave you shaken up and unsure of what to do next.

Check for Injuries, Move to a Safe Location, Call the Police, Exchange Information, Document the Scene, Avoid Discussing Fault

The first thing you need to do after any car accident is make sure everyone is okay. Check yourself and your passengers for injuries. If anyone is hurt, call 911 immediately and request emergency services. Once you’ve confirmed everyone’s safety, if possible, move your vehicle out of the way of traffic to a safe location. Turn on your hazard lights to alert other drivers. Even if it seems like a minor accident, you should always call the police and file an official report. This will be important for insurance purposes later on. When the responding officers arrive, cooperate fully but avoid admitting fault or apologizing for the accident. Stick to the facts of what happened. Exchange contact and insurance information with the other driver(s) involved. Be sure to get them:

  • Full name and contact information
  • Insurance company and policy number
  • Driver’s license and license plate number
  • Type, color, and model of vehicle

While you’re at the scene, document everything you can. Take pictures of the damage to both vehicles from different angles. Get the names and contact info of any eyewitnesses. Note the exact time and location of the crash, road, weather conditions, and any other relevant details. The key is to gather as much information as possible at the scene. However, avoid discussing fault with the other driver or accepting blame for the accident. Even a simple “I’m sorry” can be used against you later. Let the insurance companies determine fault after reviewing all the evidence.

Gathering Important Information at the Scene

When you’re in a car accident, your heart is racing, your adrenaline is pumping, and it’s hard to think straight. But there are some key pieces of information you need to gather before you leave the scene.

Driver’s License and Insurance, License Plate Numbers, Contact Information of Witnesses, Photos and Videos

First, the driver’s license and insurance information must be exchanged with the other driver. Snap a picture of their license, insurance card, and license plate with your phone for a clear record. Make sure you get them:

  • Full name as it appears on their driver’s license
  • Driver’s license number and expiration date
  • Insurance company name and policy number
  • Vehicle make, model, year, and license plate number

Look for any potential witnesses to the accident. Get their names and contact information in case their statement is needed for the insurance claim or police report later on. Witness testimony can be powerful evidence in disputed liability cases. Take tons of photos and even video of the accident scene and vehicle damage from all angles. Get close-up shots of the point of impact and any skid marks on the road. Capture the position of the vehicles, road signs, and traffic signals. The more visual evidence you have, the better. Don’t rely on police photos alone. They may only take a few quick shots. To protect yourself, it’s important to document your own evidence at the scene. Those photos and videos will be invaluable during the insurance claims process.

Filing an Insurance Claim After a Car Accident

After the initial shock of the accident wears off, it’s time to consider filing an insurance claim. This can feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve never done it before. But the sooner you get the ball rolling, the better.

Contacting Your Insurance Company, Providing Necessary Documentation, Understanding the Claims Process, Determining Fault, Negotiating with Insurance Adjusters

Your first step is to contact your insurance company as soon as possible after the accident. Most policies require you to report the crash within a certain timeframe. Have your policy number and the accident information ready when you call. Or better yet, start the claim using your insurer’s mobile app or online claims portal. Many companies now allow you to upload photos and other supporting documentation from your phone. The insurance adjuster assigned to your claim will walk you through the process. Provide them with the police report number, photos and videos from the scene, the other driver’s insurance details, and any medical records if you were injured. The more evidence you have, the stronger your claim will be. The adjuster will investigate the accident to determine the fault. This is where that documentation comes in handy. Each state has different rules for determining fault, but it typically comes down to negligence. The insurance companies will review the evidence to decide who was at fault and how much each party will pay. If you disagree with the adjuster’s initial offer, don’t be afraid to negotiate. You can question their damage estimate and ask for a higher settlement amount. If you’re not confident handling negotiations, consider hiring an attorney specializing in car accident claims. Remember, the insurance company aims to pay out as little as possible. But if you have solid evidence and advocate for yourself, you can get the compensation you deserve for your vehicle damage and injuries. Stay organized, be persistent, and don’t settle for less than you owe.

Getting Your Vehicle Repaired After a Collision

After a car accident, one of the most pressing concerns is getting your vehicle repaired and back on the road. The process can feel overwhelming, especially if you’ve never dealt with vehicle damage.

Assessing the Damage

The first step is to assess the extent of the damage to your vehicle. If unsure, have it towed to a trusted repair or auto body shop for a professional evaluation. They’ll provide an estimate of the repair costs. In some cases, the damage may be so severe that the vehicle is considered a total loss. This means the cost to repair it exceeds its actual cash value. If that’s the case, your insurance company will likely pay out the car’s value rather than cover repairs.

Choosing a Repair Shop

You have the right to choose where you want your vehicle repaired. Your insurance company may recommend certain shops, but the final decision is yours. Look for a reputable shop with experience working on your make and model. Read reviews and ask for recommendations from friends or family who’ve had good experiences. Once you’ve chosen a shop, let your insurance company know. Based on the estimate, they’ll work directly with the body shop to cover the repairs.

Understanding Repair Costs

The cost to repair your vehicle after an accident can vary widely depending on the extent of the damage. Generally, the body shop will provide a detailed estimate broken down by parts and labor. Remember that as the shop gets into the repairs, they may discover additional damage that wasn’t visible during the initial assessment. This can increase the total repair costs. The shop should notify you and your insurance company of any changes to the estimate. Don’t hesitate to ask questions if you have concerns about the repair costs or the work being done. You have the right to understand exactly what’s being done to your vehicle and how much it will cost.

Rental Car Coverage

If your vehicle will be in the shop for an extended period, you may need a rental car to get around. Many auto insurance policies include rental car coverage, but the specifics can vary. Some policies only cover a rental for certain days, while others have a maximum dollar amount they’ll pay. Contact your insurance company to find out what your policy covers and how to arrange a rental car. They may have preferred rental companies they work with or require you to pay upfront and submit for reimbursement. If you don’t have rental coverage, you may still be able to get a rental car, but you’ll be responsible for the cost out of pocket. Some repair shops have relationships with rental companies and may be able to help you get a discounted rate. The key is understanding your coverage and making arrangements for a rental car as soon as possible so you’re not left without transportation while your vehicle is being repaired.

Dealing with the Aftermath of a Car Accident

The aftermath of a car accident can be chaotic and stressful, even if you weren’t seriously injured. There’s so much to deal with – getting your vehicle repaired, handling insurance claims, and just emotionally processing the trauma of the event.

Handling Medical Bills

If you were injured in an accident, one of your top priorities would be getting the medical care you need. But medical bills can add up quickly, even with health insurance. Your auto insurance policy may include medical payment coverage or personal injury protection, which can help pay for your medical expenses up to a certain limit. If the other driver was at fault, their insurance policy may also cover your medical bills. Keep track of all your medical expenses related to the accident, including hospital bills, doctor visits, medications, and ongoing treatment like physical therapy. If you file an insurance claim or pursue legal action, you’ll need this documentation. If you struggle to pay your medical bills, talk to the hospital or doctor’s office about setting up a payment plan. Some providers may also offer discounts for uninsured or underinsured patients.

Dealing with Lost Wages

Injuries from a car accident can also impact your ability to work, leading to lost wages. Depending on the severity of your injuries, you may need to take time off or leave your job altogether. Your auto insurance policy may include lost-wage coverage, but it likely has limits. If the other driver was at fault, you may be able to recover lost wages through their insurance company or by filing a personal injury lawsuit. Document any time you miss work due to the accident, including doctor’s appointments and recovery time. Get a letter from your employer verifying your normal wages and the time you’ve missed. If you cannot return to your previous job due to your injuries, you may need to look into disability benefits or vocational rehabilitation to help you find new employment.

Managing Stress and Trauma

The emotional impact can be significant even if you walk away from the accident without serious injuries. It’s normal to feel shaken up, anxious, or even depressed after a traumatic event like a car crash. Give yourself time to process your emotions, and don’t hesitate to seek help. Talk to friends and family about how you’re feeling, or consider seeing a therapist who specializes in trauma. Relaxation techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or gentle exercise can also help manage stress and promote healing. Remember, everyone copes with trauma differently. There’s no “right” way to feel after an accident. Be patient with yourself and prioritize your emotional well-being as you navigate the aftermath.

Considering Legal Action

Sometimes, you may need to consider legal action after a car accident. This is especially true if you’ve suffered significant injuries or property damage and the insurance company is not offering a fair settlement. Consulting with an experienced car accident attorney can help you understand your legal rights and options. They can review your case, gather evidence, and negotiate with the insurance companies on your behalf. If necessary, an attorney can also file a personal injury lawsuit to seek compensation for your medical bills, lost wages, pain and suffering, and other damages related to the accident. Remember that there are time limits for filing a lawsuit, known as the statute of limitations. In most states, you have two to three years from the accident date to file a claim, so it’s important to act quickly. Dealing with the aftermath of a car accident is never easy, but knowing what steps to take can help you navigate the process and protect your rights. Don’t hesitate to seek help from medical professionals, insurance experts, and legal advocates as you work towards recovery.


Check if anyone's hurt. If so, call 911 right away.

Safety first, then call the police. Swap information with others involved, snap photos for evidence, report to insurance ASAP, and see a doctor.

Pull over safely to avoid blocking traffic or causing more accidents.

Gather everyone’s contact details and get statements from any witnesses around.