Picture this: You’re pulling into a parking space and your toddler throws a cookie, which hits you in the head, causing you to flinch. Your car swerves a little and the front bumper hits the car in the next space. Congratulations, you just caused a fender bender.
Fender benders aren’t serious auto accidents, but they can be stressful and potentially expensive. If you drive enough, chances are you’ll eventually be involved in a fender bender. Before one occurs, it’s smart to learn the steps you’ll need to follow and whether your insurance will cover the damage.
What Is a Fender Bender?
The term “fender bender” typically refers to a low-speed car accident, often involving more than one vehicle, that results in minor damage. The term is not limited to a damaged fender, or bumper, but could apply to minor damage to various parts of a car. Fender benders can occur on the road or on private property.
While usually minor, the cost of repairs could be much higher than expected. Depending on the vehicle, repairing damage from a fender bender could cost anywhere from $700 to over $3,000, according to data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS).
Below are a few examples of fender benders:
- You park in a mall parking lot next to a large vehicle that obstructs your view. While backing out of the space, you don’t see another car coming and back into it.
- While at a stoplight, the driver behind you accelerates too soon and hits your car’s back bumper.
- Someone forgets to set the emergency brake in their car while parked on a steep driveway. While stopped at the end of their driveway, the car rolls down and hits your vehicle.
- While trying to switch lanes in traffic, your front bumper brushes against the back bumper of another vehicle.
What You Should Do After a Fender Bender
Fender benders may cause headaches, but they don’t usually cause serious injuries or damage. When a fender bender occurs, you can get through it quickly and easily by taking the same steps as with any other type of car accident.
Find Out If Anyone Is Injured
First, determine whether you and your passengers, as well as the driver and passengers of the other vehicle, have been injured. If someone is hurt, don’t move them unless leaving them in the vehicle poses a danger. Call 911 immediately.
Examine the Damage
Examine your car and the other driver’s vehicle to evaluate the damage. If you have a cellphone with a camera, take pictures and videos of the damage. Also take a photo of the other car’s license plate and pictures of anything in the area that may have caused or contributed to the fender bender. For example, if you or the other driver swerved to avoid a pothole, take a photo of the pothole.
Call the Police
Even if the accident is minor, with no injuries and little physical damage, always call the police. Police protocols may vary by state or city. For instance, in Sacramento, California, police will only respond to a traffic accident if it involves injuries, collision with public property, alcohol- or drug-impaired drivers, or a hit-and-run driver. If the police department in your area doesn’t respond to minor traffic accidents, the 911 operator or police dispatcher may direct you to the nearest police station, where you can fill out an accident report. If a police officer does come to the scene of the accident, get their name and information, too.
Laws in some states require you to file an accident report. You may have to file one within a certain number of days following the fender bender. This depends on where you live and if the accident involved injuries or a certain amount of property damage, usually over $500 or $1,000.
Move Your Vehicle, but Only If Necessary
If the police say they will respond to the scene, don’t move your vehicle. However, if leaving your car where it is could cause another fender bender, or injury to you or other people, move your car to a safe place. If you must move your vehicle, first try to take a few photos of the accident.
Exchange Information With the Other Driver
You and the other driver should exchange the following information:
- First and last name
- Home address
- Date of birth
- Driver’s license number and expiration date
- License plate number
- Make and model of vehicle
- Phone number
- Email address
- Name of insurance company and car insurance policy number
- Contact information for insurance company or insurance agent
If anyone on the scene witnessed the accident, get their names and contact information, too. Later, you can pass along eyewitness contact information to your insurance company or include it in an accident report.
Don’t rely entirely on accident photos. At the scene, take notes about how the accident occurred. Write down conditions that may have caused the fender bender, such as poor visibility due to rain or snow. Recording these details at the scene may help jog your memory later when filing an insurance claim or police report.
Minimize Conversation With the Other Driver
Be polite, but only converse with the other driver when exchanging information. Avoid making comments such as “I didn’t see you” or “I’m sorry,” which the other driver may interpret as an admission of guilt. Many cellphones are equipped with voice and video camera apps, so avoid making incriminating or inflammatory comments that may be recorded. If a police officer arrives, give a truthful account of how and why the accident happened.
Contact Your Insurance Company as Soon as Possible
Contact your insurance company or agent without delay. It’s important to inform your insurer of the fender bender before the other driver or their insurance company does. A claims representative can explain your policy’s coverages and the claims process.
Some car insurance companies offer mobile apps that allow you to take photos and file a claim all within the app.
How You Can Prepare Before the Next Fender Bender
Although you can never know when a fender bender will occur, you can take a few steps to help prepare for one in advance.
- Review your car insurance coverage: If you only carry liability coverage, your policy will only cover the other driver’s injuries and vehicle damage—it won’t pay to repair your car. If you have collision coverage, your policy may pay for damage to your vehicle. Collision coverage isn’t required by law, but some states require all drivers to buy uninsured/underinsured motorist coverage. These types of coverages can help pay to repair your vehicle if an uninsured or hit-and-run driver causes an accident.
- If you don’t have all the coverage you need, contact your provider to beef up your protection: Keep in mind that car insurance is subject to deductibles. For minor fender benders with little damage, you may choose to forgo a claim and pay for repairs out of your own pocket if the cost is less than your deductible.
- Know your state and city traffic laws: State and local traffic laws vary. Do a little research to find out how and when you need to file an accident report.
- Keep helpful items in your car: When driving, carry a cellphone equipped with a camera or a compact camera. Make copies of your insurance card and place them in your glove compartment. Keep a pad of paper and pen in your car for taking notes.
The Bottom Line
Fender benders can happen, especially when you least expect them. Being prepared with car insurance information, a cellphone with a camera, notepad and pen, and more can help make dealing with this type of low-speed car accident easy.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
What should I do if someone claims a false injury in a fender bender?
Unfortunately, fender bender fraud can happen so it’s smart to thoroughly document the scene of a car accident. Take photos and video of all vehicles involved in the fender bender. If someone makes a false injury claim, let your insurance company and the court handle it.
Can you go to jail for a fender bender?
Typically, fender benders aren’t a jailable offense. But if you leave the scene of the crime prematurely, you could be subject to misdemeanor or felony charges. This is especially true if the accident caused bodily injuries or property damage over $1,000. The penalties for serious misdemeanors and felonies vary by state but can include fines and jail time.
What should I do if my teenage child is in a fender bender?
Teen drivers should follow the same steps as adults when a fender bender occurs. They should assess and document the damage, contact the police, exchange information with the other driver, and contact the insurance company. They should also contact their parents or guardians, as well as the owner of the vehicle if it’s not theirs.
What should I do if I get in a fender bender with someone with no insurance?
If an uninsured motorist causes a fender bender, follow the same procedures as with all accidents. When hit by an uninsured driver, it’s very important to contact the police to file an official report. If you live in a no-fault state, which requires personal injury protection (PIP) coverage, your insurance should help cover your injuries. Your policy may also cover car repairs if you carry uninsured/underinsured property damage coverage. Even if you don’t have these coverages, contact your insurance company and let a professional deal with the other driver.