What to do after a car accident

If an accident occurs, your first responsibility afterward should be to make sure the vehicle is turned off and to check on yourself, your passengers and the other drivers involved.

Are there any injuries? Is anyone complaining of pain? Even if an injury appears minor, it’s often best to call an ambulance, as internal injuries may have occurred. Calling 911 is the recommended course of action for anything more serious than a fender bender.

After checking on everyone's safety, administering first aid and calling emergency services if necessary, check out the accident scene. If on the highway or in a busy section of roadway, consider moving vehicles to the shoulder if it’s possible and can be done so safely, to avoid the risk of any secondary accidents from occurring.

MORE: What to Do Following a Car Accident

If the vehicles are inoperable or cannot be moved safely, make sure you and other vehicle occupants are safely away from traffic. Even if it's a minor crash, don't assume everything is OK.

Additional steps to take

If you have a camera or a smartphone handy, it can be helpful to take pictures of the accident scene and any damage to the vehicles. Photographing vehicle license plates can also be easier than writing the information down.

The drivers also can make some notes and a rough drawing to explain how the accident took place. This will also help them remember certain facts later on. The notes can include the name of the street and cross street, the direction the cars were traveling and any additional information, such as signs, lights, road conditions or barriers.

Drivers need to stay at the scene until police file a complete report and ask questions. A police report is needed for legal purposes even in the case of a minor incident, since other physical or medical damage may go unnoticed during the incident. Insurance companies also will need a copy of the accident report.

Filing a claim

In the event of an accident, call your insurance company as soon as you can, even if the damage appears to be minor. Correctly repairing something like a scraped or cracked bumper cover can easily exceed the cost of a typical deductible.

According to BMV.org, you may need to also file a claim if your vehicle has been vandalized, stolen or damaged during a non-accident-related event.

Before calling your insurance agent, exchange insurance information with other drivers involved, if applicable, and names, addresses and phone numbers.

When you file a claim, your insurance agent will ask several questions that can be found on your insurance cards, including policy number and your end and start date with the policy. Most insurance companies offer the option of filing a claim online, on an app on your smartphone or over the phone with an insurance representative.

After all the information is exchanged, your insurance company will provide details of what you should do next, which often includes finding a body shop to get an estimate, meeting with an insurance adjuster to go over all of the facts of the case and to help determine who was at fault and discuss a cost estimate.

If your car needs to be taken to an auto body shop, it's important to note that drivers do not have use the body shop their insurance company recommends. Any licensed body shop will know how to submit insurance claim paperwork.

Shop around for several quotes, and choose the body shop that offers a competitive quote along with a good reputation.

Modern vehicles are built to take the brunt of the impact and protect passengers but not all the damages that occur may be visible. More so, damage to some hidden sections of the car, such as the impact absorbers underneath the bumper covers, may render the vehicle unable to safely handle a second collision. Having your insurance company cover the cost of repairs, minus your deductible if applicable, can help ensure your vehicle is repaired correctly.

MORE: Will My Car Insurance Rates Go up after I File a Claim?

Calling a towing service

Nothing induces a feeling of helplessness more than standing at the side of the road with a disabled car.

Whether your car has been involved in an accident, popped a tire or suffered a breakdown, you want to make sure your car is transported safely to a repair shop. In the case of an accident, emergency services and first responders will likely dispatch tow truck to the scene. But if you've been involved in a solo accident, a breakdown (such as a flat tire or engine trouble) or a slide-off in bad weather, you'll most likely need to call for a wrecker yourself. 

Whether you're ready ahead of time or stranded on the road, check Angie's List for member ratings and reviews of towing service companies.

Unfortunately, towing scams are common. Some companies will advertise towing fees as low as $35 but will add an additional $3 or $4 a mile that the customer wasn't told about in advance.

Some unscrupulous companies will charge expensive daily storage or administration fees on top of what the customer was already quoted.

The nationwide average for a tow is $109, while a reasonable daily storage fee is $20 to $30 a day.

RELATED: How to Hire the Right Towing Company

How to find an auto body repair shop

When your car’s body is damaged, you want to have it repaired as quickly as possible. But don’t just bring your battered vehicle to the first auto body repair shop you find. Take the time to search for a reputable auto collision repair shop that can guarantee quality repairs.

1. Get estimates from several body repair shops

If it’s an insurance claim and you’re responsible for selecting the auto body work provider who will do the work (insurance companies and policies vary), you’ll want to get three or four estimates from several shops. Many auto body repair shops offer free estimates, but some may charge a relatively small fee.

Insurance companies have agreements with some body shops that give them better prices on services, but it's the driver's decision where to take the car. Don't succumb to pressure to choose a body shop.

When looking for a body shop, check certifications, reputation and ask questions, such as how long will the repair take?

RELATED: Do You Have to Use the Body Shop Your Insurance Company Recommends?

2. Learn more about the body shop and their work

Reviewing a company’s reputation among its past and current customers has never been easier with online review sites. Seek out customer feedback and check out the company's history of online reviews.

Insurance companies will often provide lists of preferred body work providers. It’s also a good idea to check with neighbors, friends or family about their experiences, if any, with local auto collision repair shops.

3. Play 20 questions

Save yourself the time and frustration of finding hidden costs or a hidden catch after the work is completed by asking the right questions upfront. Have the repair workers been trained, certified or recognized by the vehicle manufacturer? Does the auto collision repair shop install salvaged, used or aftermarket parts to save money? What kind of warranty comes with their work? Do they provide loaner vehicles or have rental cars on their lot? How secure is the shop and the lot? How long will the repair take? Getting the answers to these questions can help prevent unwelcome surprises.

4. Check industry credentials

Always check an auto body repair shop’s credentials before giving it your business. Many states have their own auto body industry associations and examples of national associations include the Independent Auto Body Association (IABA) and the Society of Collision Repair Specialists (SCRS). Ideally, the auto body shop’s technicians will carry ASE certification from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence. Other industry recognized certifications include those from I-CAR, the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair.

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