Car accidents are traumatic experiences, but knowing what to do after a crash will not only make things easier if you have to make a claim, it’ll make sure you stay on the right side of the law, and could even save lives.
What to do after a car accident
1. Assess the damage
It’s important to act quickly after car crash, so stop and check for injuries to anyone involved and call the emergency services if necessary.
2. Call the emergency services
If no one is injured but the road is blocked, or someone leaves the scene without leaving their contact details, dial 999 and get the police involved. Failing to stop after a car crash is an offence under the Road Traffic Act, and can land offenders with a £2,500 fine and up to 10 penalty points on their licence.
Even if it’s just a minor bump, you still need to notify the police, so make sure you contact them on the non-emergency 101 number within 24 hours.
3. Exchange contact details
If you’re involved in a car accident, you are obliged to leave your name and contact details with anyone else affected by the incident, whether you’ve crashed into another vehicle or someone else’s property, and whether or not they’re actually on the scene at the time.
If you hit a parked car, for instance, you should leave your details in a note on the windscreen.
If there are other people involved and you might need to claim on your car insurance or theirs, make sure everyone exchanges the following details:
- Car registration numbers
- Names, addresses and telephone numbers
- Car insurance details (not everyone will know who they’re insured with, so you may have to get insurer details later on).
4. Assess the scene
If possible, take photos of the scene and any damage done immediately after the incident. If you can’t take photos, a sketch will do. And make a note of the following:
- The colour, make and model of all the vehicles involved
- The date and time of the accident
- A description of the weather conditions, the state of the road and any street lighting
- A list of damage done to any vehicles and property, and any injuries sustained by drivers, passengers and pedestrians.
Try to avoid taking responsibility for the accident at this point, at least until you know exactly what happened. If it turns out you weren’t actually to blame, admitting you’re at fault at the scene can complicate the claims process.
When to contact your insurer after a car accident
Get in touch with your insurer as soon after the incident as possible - you don’t have to call them from the scene, but if you’re making a claim there is a limit on the amount of time you have to report an accident, or a stolen or vandalised vehicle.
Each insurer sets its own time limit, but try not to leave it any longer than 24 hours, if possible.
What to tell your insurer
It may be worth noting down what you want to say before you pick up the phone, as what you say at this point can affect the success any claim. Make sure you tell the whole truth and give your insurer the full facts – if you’re not completely honest about what happened, you could be charged with insurance fraud.
Finally, gather together your insurance policy documents before calling your insurance company if you can. Having the right paperwork handy should help you get through to someone who can help you as quickly as possible.
What happens when you claim on your car insurance
If you decide to make an insurance claim, your provider will send you a claim form, which you need to fill in and return along with any supporting evidence, such as photos taken at the scene of the accident.
Make a copy of the form before you send it back to your insurer, and bear in mind that it could be a while before you hear back from them. Car insurance claims are rarely straightforward, particularly if there’s conflict over who was at fault.
If your vehicle has been badly damaged, a claims assessor will be sent out by your insurer to estimate the repair costs and provide you with a list of approved garages.
Don’t be tempted to take your car for repair before this visit, as your insurer may refuse to pay out and you could lose any courtesy car entitlement if you don’t use an approved repairer.
If your car is written off, your insurer will pay out a sum equal to its value before it was damaged or stolen, but this value may well be less than you were expecting, particularly if it’s a relatively new vehicle.
If you feel the valuation is too low, you can make an appeal to your insurer. If you’re still unhappy after an appeal, you can take your case to the Financial Ombudsman Service.
If it’s proven you were not at fault for the accident, you shouldn’t have to pay any excess on the repairs as your insurer should claim these costs back from the other party.
When to avoid making a car insurance claim
It’s not always worth making a claim on your car insurance, especially if there is only minor damage to your car and the repairs will cost less than the total excess on your policy.
Even if the repairs cost a bit more than the excess, it’s worth considering how a claim will affect any no claims discount (NCD) you’ve built up. If you have a long history of claim-free driving, losing some or all of your NCD could work out costlier than paying for the repairs to your vehicle.
If you’re not making a claim, you still need to tell your insurer if you’ve been involved in an accident, or if your car has been criminally damaged. Make it clear you’re only providing information and don’t want to make a claim.
Remember, if you don’t make a claim on your insurance, your NCD should remain intact.
If you don’t inform your insurer of an incident and details of the accident come to light at a later date, you could have your cover cancelled and find yourself accused of insurance fraud.
How a car insurance claim can affect the cost of cover
When you make a claim on your insurance, you automatically lose all or a portion of any NCD you have accrued. You will usually see your entitlement cut by two years, but each insurer has its own policy on this. This could increase the cost of your cover significantly when it comes to renewal, and it will be important to shop around to find the best deal.
Even if your no claims discount is protected - and even if you decided against putting a claim in – you may still see a price increase at renewal. This is because insurance companies use data analysis to determine risk, and this affects the cost of cover.
Once you’ve been involved in one motoring incident (or have been a victim of car crime), it’s statistically more likely to happen again, which means you’ll pay more for cover.