Let’s say you’ve been hit by another driver – from the moment of the collision until the day your car is fully repaired, you want to be sure of a few things:
- The other driver is confirmed at fault.
- You don’t make any costly slip-ups while negotiating with insurance.
- You get the maximum cash payout you deserve, without being dishonest.
Since the other driver’s insurance will be fighting you the whole way, here’s how to fight back!
1. Call the police and get a police report
Calling the police to respond to a minor fender bender may sound over-the-top, but it’s actually an essential step of any auto accident for a few reasons:
- They can keep everyone safe. A police officer can secure the scene of the accident, helping keep you and the other driver safe while you’re moving your vehicles. The officer can also keep you safe from the other driver in case they become aggressive, intimidating, or attempt to flee the scene.
- They can file a police report. You need a police officer on-site to get a police report. A police report illustrating the other driver’s fault is your ticket to an insurance payout; if you file a police report later, the situation becomes your word versus the other driver’s, and getting your dues becomes extremely difficult after that.
To set expectations, you may not actually get a copy of the police report on site. After my recent accident, it actually took 10 days for LexisNexis to release the report – but as I’ll later explain, this delay can actually be good for your pocketbook.
2. Take tons of photos – ideally before moving the cars
After you call the police, and only if it’s safe to do so, take as many photos of the scene of the accident as you possibly can. I mean dozens and dozens.
The idea is to paint a clear picture for anyone who wasn’t there. You’ll be showing these photos to the responding police officer, your insurance company, and their insurance company, so be sure to capture things like:
- The other driver’s license plate.
- The accident from all angles.
- The resulting damage.
- Nearby traffic and road signs.
- The lanes of traffic.
Ideally, you’ll take photos of the cars as they were directly after the impact. This will tell the clearest picture of what happened and who was at fault. Unfortunately, the other driver may impulsively try to move their car out of the road for safety. That’s OK – if possible, try to shoot a video before they move.
What if I have a dashcam? Can I skip this step?
On that note, you’ll still want to take this step even if you have a dashcam recording the whole time. That’s because you may not be able to show the responding police officer what’s on your dashcam, but you can easily show them what’s on your phone. By the time you download your dashcam footage, the police report may already be filed and it’s too late.
3. Say this instead of “I’m sorry”
You’ve probably heard this one before, but you never want to say “I’m sorry” at the scene of a car accident. It won’t immediately put you in handcuffs, but the other driver may be recording what you say, and their insurance company could use it against you as an admission of guilt.
Sounds nuts, but it happens. So instead of “I’m sorry,” say:
“Are you OK?”
Expressing concern for the other driver does not place liability on you, and it’s a disarming gesture in a tense situation.
Even if you think the accident is your fault, you still never want to say any version of “I’m sorry,” or “This is my fault.” That’s simply because you don’t have all the facts. The other driver could’ve run a yield sign, could have been texting, or some other infraction. Who knows?
Point is – you’re not a cop or a lawyer, so who’s at fault isn’t up to you!
4. Say this instead of “I’m fine”
Right after an accident, you might be shaken up but otherwise feel OK.
When the other driver or the police ask if you need medical attention, what do you say? Well, you don’t need an ambulance, so your impulse might be to say “I’m fine.”
But “I’m fine” can actually cost you just as much if not more than “I’m sorry.” Who knew such simple phrases we use every day could be so expensive!
The problem with saying “I’m fine” on the record is that insurance companies can and will use it against you. If it turns out you’re not fine, insurance companies may still have enough evidence to refuse a payout.
Reality check: you might not be fine, even if you feel fine
The other reason not to say “I’m fine” is that you may not be fine at all. Auto accidents release adrenaline which can hide pain and serious injury. You may feel fine, even a little high, but you could have serious neck or back pain emerge days later.
Since you may file a personal injury claim later, instead of “I’m fine,” say this:
“I’m not in need of emergency services at this time.”
Your next step, of course, will be to see your doctor to identify signs of injury resulting from the accident and to schedule a consultation with your attorney.
5. Call your own insurance company (even if it wasn’t your fault)
After you’re hit by another driver, do you call their insurance or yours?
Call your own insurance company first. In most cases, it’s actually legally required, regardless of who was at fault.
They can help you through the claims process
Plus, your own insurance company will be able to guide you through a potentially tricky claims process with the other driver’s insurance. And by passing along all of your photos and video of the accident, you’ll be equipping them to defend you against any claims filed by the other side.
They might ask you for an official statement
Your own insurance company may ask you for an official statement about the accident. Insurance companies cannot legally require a statement from you, but your own provider may require one to stay insured under their policy.
Politely but firmly ask if this is the case. If you’re not required to give a statement to stay insured, just tell them everything they need to know is in the police report.
6. Never make a statement to the other driver’s insurance
Perhaps the sneakiest, nastiest trick in the auto insurance business is when an at-fault driver’s insurance company asks the victim of an accident for a statement.
But whatever you do, don’t give a statement. All they’re trying to do is get you to slip up again so they can pay you nothing, or worse – turn the tables on you.
Invoke the 5th
“The right to remain silent” absolutely applies to insurance negotiations – and the other driver’s insurance company shouldn’t be reaching out to you at all. If they do, you can just politely refer them to your own provider.
Confession: I’ve made the mistake of giving a statement in the past. Thankfully, I got a really bad gut feeling about two sentences in, and told them they should just read the police report or contact my insurance.
I’m glad I followed my gut because I’d already won – they were just calling to get me to screw up.
Make no mistake – insurance companies are not your friend. Most have over a century of experience developing tools and tactics to pay you as little as possible (or even trick you into admitting fault), so when in doubt, go silent and refer to a lawyer.
7. Confirm that your car is “undrivable” so you get a rental
One question you will want to respond to is this one:
“Is your car drivable?”
The first time I heard an insurance company ask me this, I thought they were asking if I needed a tow. My car was banged up, sure, but it still could limp to the repair shop so I told them:
“I think so.”
When insurance companies ask if your car is drivable, they don’t mean mechanically, they mean legally. Legally drivable is very different from “can it make it out of the driveway.”
The bar for legally drivable is set much lower
According to HG.org, a car can be legally undrivable if it meets just a single one of the following conditions:
- Damaged, cracked, or missing mirrors.
- Damaged, missing, or misaligned exterior lights.
- Damaged or missing reflectors.
- Damaged or quiet horn.
- Bent hood.
- Missing bumpers.
- Bodywork with jagged edges.
- Cracked windshield.
- Tires/wheels out of alignment.
- Underperforming brakes.
- And more.
So basically, most auto collisions will render your car legally undrivable in some way.
You want your car to be undrivable
Now, you want to be able to say your car is undrivable because it means the other party’s insurance now has to pay for a rental until your car is fixed. But if you’re concerned about the ethics of saying your car is “undrivable” when all it has is a busted taillight, consider this:
- Driving a damaged car is a safety risk. Even if you’re only missing a taillight or a side reflector, your car is now more dangerous to drive than it was before the accident. Other drivers may struggle to see you at night, and jagged bodywork can pose a huge risk to pedestrians and bikers.
- You could be ticketed for driving a damaged car. If your car isn’t 100% street legal, it’s illegal, and the authorities can pull you over, ticket you, and even impound your car. Even though the damage was caused by another driver, you chose to keep driving the car so you’re on the hook.
In short, you’re not doing anyone a favor by saying your car is legally drivable when it’s not. It’s the auto insurance equivalent of going to the bathroom when you’re choking – for your own safety, let everyone know!
8. Ask for loss of use compensation
Loss of use comp covers the inconvenience of not having your car until it’s fixed. In most cases, a free rental takes the place of loss of use. But here’s what insurance companies won’t always tell you:
You can decline a rental car and get loss of use compensation instead.
For each day you’re entitled to a rental car but you decline it, you’re entitled to a loss of use per diem instead. For example, State Farm’s loss of use per diem is $25. That may not sound like much for a giant, reputable insurance provider – but when insurance situations get drawn out into weeks and months, it adds up quickly.
So as soon as you’re offered a rental, be sure to ask for loss of use comp for every day you don’t take the rental. In the case that your car is undrivable, that’s every single day between the date of the accident and the day you get your car back from the shop.
9. Get a cash settlement
Most insurance providers will tell you to drop your car at one of their approved repair centers ASAP so the shop can just bill the provider directly.
You’ll want to request a cash settlement instead for at least two reasons:
- You can go to your own shop. If you don’t trust the other driver’s insurance, why would you trust any of their “approved” shops? Getting a settlement gives you the freedom to take it to your own trusted shop who will likely do a superior repair job for less. Speaking of less…
- You can keep the change. A small, family-owned shop will likely do the same repairs as a dealer for 40% less money – meaning you get to pocket the difference. Plus, the settlement may include, say, $900 for a new headlight assembly – but if you take the cash and repair your damaged one for $50, that’s $850 in the bank.
Insurance payouts can be a tricky thing, and insurance companies will do anything they can to pay you as little as possible (if anything at all).
But follow these tips, and you’ll get closer to a maximum payout without being dishonest.