The Most Expensive Mistakes People Make After a Car Accident

car accident

Take pictures of everything. | Thinkstock

With oil prices staying low and a car in every garage, Americans are setting new records every year in miles driven. As you might expect, that means the number of accidents and crash deaths continues to rise, as well.

Whether you are an alert, defensive driver or a terror in your new Camaro, the chances of getting into a fender bender or wreck are higher than they’ve been in a decade. In other words, it’s a good time to review your car insurance policy and see what’s covered after an accident.

Likewise, every driver should know how to handle themselves at the scene of a crash. How you respond in the minutes (and weeks) afterward could mean the difference between losing thousands or walking away from the wreck without a dent to your finances. Here are the 10 most expensive mistakes you can make after a car accident.

10. Forgetting to collect evidence

The scene after an accident is usually chaotic, but you need to keep your wits about you if your injuries are not serious. Once you have accounted for the safety of others, take photos of the damage to your car. Also, photograph road obstructions, blind spots, and anything else that might have contributed to the crash. Finally, take down the names and phone numbers of witnesses in case you need someone to testify in court on your behalf.

9. Allowing the other driver to get away

Auto accident involving two cars

Don’t be the victim of a hit-and-run. | RobertCrum/iStock/Getty Images

If you are the victim of a hit-and-run accident, the uninsured motorist coverage in your policy usually will pay for the damage. However, Allstate’s Esurance points out there are five states — California, Colorado, Georgia, Illinois, Ohio, and Louisiana — that don’t allow uninsured motorist coverage to cover car damage.

In other words, drivers in California who took the minimum liability coverage would have to pay for damage to their vehicles. No one plans to be hit by someone who speeds away, but if you have the chance take down the license plate or at least the make and model of the car involved. Maybe the police can stop the driver nearby. Otherwise, you might have a big repair bill on your hands.

8. Failing to call the DMV after a car accident


Your license might be suspended. | Micah Wright/The Cheat Sheet

In most states, you have 10 days to call the DMV and notify officials that you were in an accident if anyone was injured and/or there was significant property damage. Otherwise, you might see your license suspended and have to pay to have it reinstated. While you go through (and pay for) that process, you won’t be able to drive to work or anywhere else. Your transportation expenses will start mounting immediately.

7. Signing a release form

Two cars in crash

Don’t sign anything until you get everything checked out. | Tom Merton/iStock/Getty Images

After an accident, you might get out of the car and find the at-fault driver is very nice and accepting responsibility for the incident.  In some cases, they might even offer to pay your deductible on the spot and present you with a release form to sign. Even if you appreciate the gesture and want the situation resolved quickly, don’t sign anything until you know the full extent of the damage to your vehicle. Once you do, the at-fault driver is off the hook.

6. Assuming things about your insurance

Young man driving a car

Make sure you know what your insurance covers. | aerogondo/iStock/Getty Images

Many insurance policies cover rental car costs in the event your vehicle is damaged and needs repairs. However, every policy is different, and yours might not include this service. Before you rent a car at $100 per day indefinitely, make sure you know it’s covered. The same goes for any other expense you incur after the accident. Be aware which costs will be reimbursed and which will be yours to pay.

5. Settling too early

Car crash in Belgium

Get all the details. | Kurt Desplenter/AFP/Getty Images

When you deal with insurance companies and at-fault drivers, you’ll hear lowball offers to cover damage. In many cases, you won’t feel the insurance company’s offer is enough to replace or even repair your car. Before letting it off the hook, ask for details, and make the company explain the offer in detail. (California’s Fair Claims Settlement Practices Regulations summarizes consumer’s rights.) Make sure you don’t accept before you understand your own financial responsibility.

4. Ignoring personal injury attorneys


If you’re hurt you need someone to fight for you. | Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

Cockroaches often get higher favorability ratings than personal injury lawyers, but you’ll need someone to fight for your rights if you can’t work or function at full capacity after an accident. Before you take the moral high ground and struggle though a complex insurance claim on your own, find out what experienced attorneys think of your case. If you don’t like what you hear, don’t accept the lawyer’s services. But you owe yourself the interview.

3. Saying ‘I’m sorry’

Car accident with two men

Don’t admit guilt. | Chris Ryan/iStock/Getty Images

You might hope to be neighborly and say you’re sorry to another driver after an accident, but the court system could interpret that as an admission of guilt. Instead, don’t say anything, and contact the police. While you wait, remain close-lipped and exchange insurance information with the other driver. (Get their license number and car registration info, as well.) Remember that anything you say could be interpreted another way in court.

2. Taking injuries for granted

lower back

Get any pains checked out. | globalmoments/iStock/Getty Images

With adrenaline flowing and your heart racing after a crash, you might not notice an injury you suffered. Don’t take anything granted at these moments. If you feel any pain whatsoever, ask for medical treatment and have a doctor examine you. Later, as you work through the details of the crash, document any pain or injuries that develop after the fact. You might not realize how badly you were hurt until weeks later.

1. Admitting responsibility

Men arguing car crash

Don’t admit blame before the whole situation is checked out. | Tom Merton/iStock/Getty Images

The most expensive mistake you can make after a car accident is admitting responsibility for the wreck without all the facts. Even when you feel guilty for what happened, there is no way to know all the circumstances leading up to the crash. Maybe there was something in the road that changed the course of your car. And maybe the other driver was intoxicated, though it did not occur to you at the scene of the crash.

Wait until you get all the details and see the big picture before you accept blame for an accident. Doing so prematurely could cost you a fortune and ensnare you in court proceedings that last for years.

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