Do I have to report a car accident to my insurance company?

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Joel Ohman
Founder, CFP®

UPDATED: Sep 26, 2016

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Here's what you need to know...
  • State laws differ on what you must report.
  • Generally, you do not need to report accidents with minor damage and no physical injury to your insurance company.
  • If you are involved in a crash, there as some key steps you can take to protect yourself.

If you’ve been driving for any length of time, it’s quite likely you been involved in at least one accident. For most of us, accidents are minor, consisting of nothing more than a bent fender or scratched door panel. That said, allow me to ask a few questions:

  1. Do you have to report every car accident to the insurance company?
  2. Do insurance companies care that you’re involved in an accident if your car wasn’t damaged?
  3. Is it a good idea to withhold information about an accident from your insurance.

Continue reading to for the answers to these questions.

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State laws vary in terms of accident reporting and insurance claims. But it’s safe to say that very few states, if any, require that absolutely every accident be reported.

Keep in mind that even if you do not inform your insurance company of an accident, they will eventually find out if a police report is filed.

Police reports become a matter of public record and will be uncovered during the next routine check your insurance provider conducts.

What can car insurance companies do if the law doesn’t mandate reporting an accident?

It’s not uncommon for state law to indicate that no reporting is necessary following a minor accident void of personal injury or significant property damage.

In fact, it’s very common for drivers to be involved in a minor accident and both go on their way without reporting it to anyone.

But insurance companies vary in their reporting requirements based on who they are covering and to what extent the policy covers a vehicle. Some insurance policies specifically spell out the fact that every accident must be reported to them, regardless of how minor.

While they have no means of legal enforcement, they can certainly refuse to pay a claim if a non-reported accident becomes an issue in the future.

They also have the freedom to drop customers who pose a significantly higher risk or have a track record of routinely failing to report accidents.

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What are the reasons some people fail to report accidents?

  • The most common cause of failure to report car accidents to the car insurance company is a fear that it will cause a rise in rates.
    • While this certainly is a possibility, in accidents that can be deemed the fault of the other driver your insurance rates probably will not go up significantly.
    • The unfortunate thing is that if an insurance company finds out about unreported accidents at a later date, your insurance rates will almost always go up.
  • The second most common reason for failure to report accidents rests in the fact that the driver involved was breaking the law or practicing some other sort of negligence.
    • For example, a driver who caused an accident while using a cell phone may prefer to pay damages on the other vehicle out of pocket, rather than incur the possible consequences of reporting such an accident to the insurance company. This is especially true in states where it’s illegal to use a hand-held device while driving.

Is there a specific procedure I should follow in reporting an accident to my insurance company?

Vehicle insurance claim form

There is no specific, legal procedure for filing a claim with your insurance provider, but most car insurance companies agree on a few practical things you should always do:

  • Do not admit fault at the scene – This is first and foremost. Allow the police to do a thorough investigation where they can officially determine fault. Admission of fault during the heat of the moment may come back to bite you later on.
  • Make a diagram – Most insurance companies recommend that you draw a detailed diagram of the surrounding area and the accident scenario. Taking pictures at the accident scene is also a big plus.
  • Gather witness statements – Finally, getting statements from witnesses always helps in defending your position. The point is this: the more information you can provide your insurance company when reporting on accident the better off you’ll be.

Reporting every accident to your car insurance company is not necessarily legally required, but it’s still a good idea. It is true that honesty is the best policy, and that even applies where car insurance is concerned.

Drivers who are careful to maintain an open and honest relationship with their insurance companies are more likely to get favorable rates and good service.

Regardless of whether or not you’re required to report every accident to the insurance company, you can find the best car insurance rates by typing in your ZIP code now!

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