What to Do After a Minor Car Accident


A minor car accident should be taken as seriously as any other car accident. What you do after a minor car accident could have an impact on your pocketbook, the cost of your insurance coverage, and much more.

There is no official definition of a minor car accident. Generally, insurance companies and law enforcement consider an accident “minor” if the vehicles can still operate and there are no injuries. If you’re in a minor accident, it’s relatively good news. Things could be a lot worse.

Even so, you should take a minor car accident seriously. About 69% of the 5,250,837 police-reported auto accidents in 2020 were property damage-only, according to the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration.

But even a fender-bender can be a financial hit. The average insurance property damage payout in 2021 was above $5,000.

Aside from car repair costs, an accident that seems minor can become complicated. Issues that can crop up after you’ve left the scene include injuries that weren’t apparent right away, the other driver claiming you’re at fault, the damage to your car being more extensive than you’d thought, and more.

What you do after a minor car accident can mean the difference between a simple, relatively inexpensive resolution or a major hit to your pocketbook, your car insurance coverage, or even a costly and drawn-out court case.

Steps to Take After a Minor Car Accident

If you’re in a minor car accident, focus on the words “car accident,” not the word “minor.” The steps you take after a minor accident should be the same as after any accident. Even what seems like a fender-bender may end up becoming more complicated. What you do after a minor accident can make all the difference.

When in an accident:

  • Move your car out of traffic, if possible.
  • Make sure no one was injured.
  • Call 911 and report the accident. Even if it’s “just a fender-bender” states and insurance companies have reporting requirements, and you want to err on the side of reporting.
  • Exchange information with the other driver, even if they say it’s not necessary.
  • Take photos of the damage to the vehicles, as well as photos of the scene.
  • Get contact information from witnesses.
  • Notify your insurance company (many have an app for this, so it doesn’t require a phone call).
  • Get medical help for any injuries, including any that emerge in the following days.

Do You Have to Call Police After a Minor Car Accident?

Every state requires that police be notified after an accident with injuries or a death. When it comes to minor accidents that only have property damage, states have requirements about reporting, but they’re much more varied.

Most states have a property damage threshold that triggers a requirement to report an accident, though not necessarily to the police. Some allow a report to the bureau or department of motor vehicles. If police make an accident report, or you make one at the station, the DMV will automatically be notified.

In Colorado and Puerto Rico, an accident with any property damage at all must be reported. Other states’ requirements range from $50 in Tennessee to $3,000 in Hawaii. Some states have a lower monetary threshold if one of the drivers is uninsured.

In most states, the damage amount that requires a driver to report an accident is between $500 and $1,500. More than 20 states require an accident with property damage be reported immediately. The others have deadlines ranging from a day to 30 days.

It’s a good idea to report an accident, even you think it’s too minor.

If the accident happens in a busy jurisdiction that doesn’t send an officer to minor accidents, report it at the headquarters of the police, sheriff or state police in charge of the jurisdiction where the accident took place.

Calling the police after an accident creates an official record that includes the other driver’s information, the date, time and location of the crash, license plate numbers and more. All of that will be helpful if you make an insurance claim or if the other driver makes a claim on your insurance.

Even if the accident seems so minor that you don’t plan on filing a claim, injuries may crop up in the hours or days after the accident, the damage to your car may be worse than you initially believed, and you may change your mind. Your insurance company will want that report.

Another reason to call the police after a minor car accident is that the other driver may claim you are at fault, no matter how minor the accident may seem. You’ll want the official record, which will reflect what happened, and so will your insurance company.

If you don’t report an accident as required, by your state, you may be fined, or even lose your driver’s license.

Should I Call My Insurance Company After a Minor Car Accident?

You should call your insurance company after a minor car accident for the same reason you should call the police: you don’t know in the immediate aftermath what issues may result down the road.

Your insurance policy requires you to report an accident in which you may be making a claim. Even if you think the accident is too minor to make a claim, report it anyway.

You may also find that the estimates to repair your car are a higher than what you thought they were going to be. For example, if there’s claim for damage or you weren’t keeping up on how expensive a headlight has become.

You may also not immediately feel an injury that in the days after the accident requires medical attention, or even keeps you ought of work resulting in lost wages.

Even if the other driver is at fault and you plan to file a claim against their insurance, you should notify your own insurance agency as well just in case you’ll need their help. You may need to use some of your own insurance to fill some gaps, or your insurance company may pay some of your bills then go after the other driver’s insurance to get reimbursed.

If you’re certain that you can pay for the damage to your car yourself, you are not hurt, and the other driver won’t file a claim against you, then you can leave your insurance company out of it. You may want to do this if you’ve already had some claims and don’t want your premium to go up or your coverage to be dropped. If you don’t make an insurance claim after a minor accident, just be sure that it won’t come back to bite you financially. If repair or medical bills are higher than you expected, or there’s a claim by the other driver, your insurance may not pay if you didn’t notify them of the accident.

Should I File a Claim for a Minor Accident?

The purpose of car insurance is to cover your expenses if you’re in an accident. If you are in a minor accident, you should file a claim for any damages that your policy will cover. That’s why you have insurance, and it’s less money out of your pocket.

If you plan to sell the car at some point, you may be concerned that filing a claim will affect its vehicle history report, which catalogues a car’s accident history. VHRs are compiled using a car’s vehicle information number (VIN), and the date comes from a number of places, including car repair shops, the DMV, police reports and more. Unless you’re not planning to have the car repaired, reporting it to insurance won’t have any more of an impact than filing the required accident report or getting the car repaired.

Minor Car Damage

Collision insurance covers damage to your own vehicle in an accident, but you’ll have to pay a deductible (usually $500 to $1,000, depending on your policy). If the repairs will cost more than the deductible, file a claim. If the other driver is at fault, file a claim no matter how much the repair costs. You don’t pay a deductible if the other driver’s liability insurance is paying.

Minor Injuries

A broken bone or cut that needs stitches at the emergency room can generate bills in the thousands. Some injuries, particularly to the head, neck and back, can be more serious than they first appear and cause long-term medical issues, loss of wages and more.

Even if your injury is so minor you shake it off and don’t get treatment, if it lingers or gets worse, get medical treatment and notify your insurance company.

If the other driver is at fault, file a claim if you had any medical costs at all, lost time at work, or there were any other costs related to your injury. If you are in a no-fault state, your personal injury protection will pay your medical bills, so file a claim.

Should I Get a Lawyer for a Minor Car Accident

Hiring a car accident attorney isn’t necessary for most minor accidents, particularly when no injuries are involved. But if your insurance company isn’t compensating you for what you think it should, or if the other driver claims you’re at fault, you lose nothing by consulting an attorney.

Most car accident lawyers offer a free consultation. The lawyer will discuss your case with you and determine if you need an attorney. The attorney gets paid on a contingency basis, which means that they get a percentage of your car accident settlement, and don’t get paid if you don’t get a settlement. If the amount of money that’s involved isn’t a lot, they may not take the case.

An attorney can also help out after a minor accident by writing a demand letter to an insurance company, review a settlement, or perform another task associated with your claim. They usually charge a flat fee or hourly rate for this work.

What Is the Average Settlement for a Minor Car Accident?

The average property damage liability insurance claim paid in 2021 was $5,314, according to the Insurance Industry Institute. A liability insurance claim is the amount the at-fault driver’s insurance pays the driver who isn’t at fault.

The average collision insurance payout was $5,010 in 2021. Collision insurance covers damage to your vehicle if you are at fault or don’t make a claim against the other driver’s insurance. It’s optional coverage in most states, so not every driver has it. The deductible most policy-holders pay is $500-$1,000.

The average liability bodily injury payout, on the other hand, was $22,734 in 2021.

Depending on the circumstances of your accident, an insurance claim may pay more than the average, or pay less.

The point of auto insurance is to pay for damages after an accident. When injuries are involved, the cost of an accident goes way up, as does the settlement. But with a minor car accident, a big-money settlement isn’t going to happen. If an accident is minor, it means the damages are relatively low, so the insurance settlement will be, too.

Making sure you follow the right steps after a minor accident, document everything, and get aches and pains checked out, will ensure that you get the right compensation.

Maureen Milliken

Maureen Milliken has a three-decade career as a journalist at daily newspapers and publications that focus on business and consumer finance. She covered several beats during her newspaper career, including local and state news, features on prominent public officials and several years running a sports department. She is a subject expert on topics that include consumer debt, consumer credit, labor issues, financial abuse, rural development, and legal matters resulting from accidents in the workplace and on the roads. She is adept at presenting complicated topics in an easy-to-read format that helps readers understand the topic's impact on their lives … and their pocketbooks!

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