Money Girl explains how to handle a parking lot car accident so you stay safe, don't break the law, and protect your finances.
Parking lots are busy places, with harried drivers pulling into and out of spaces, pedestrians making their way to and from stores, teenage skateboarders ripping around, and the occasional rogue shopping cart whizzing by.
It’s estimated that one out of every 5 car accidents happens in a parking lot. Most are “fender benders,” which might have you wondering if you should report minor damage to the authorities and your insurance company, or just handle it yourself.
In this episode, I’ll give you 6 steps to follow if you get involved in a parking lot car accident. They'll help keep you safe, prevent you from breaking the law, and make sure you protect your finances.
6 Steps for Dealing with a Minor Parking Lot Car Accident
I remember the very first car crash I got into and, yes, it was in a parking lot. I was backing out of a space and didn’t see the other car coming. Oops.
Even if you’re a very cautious driver, you might return to your car and find it worse off than when you left it. So what’s the right way to handle a parking lot accident with relatively minor damage, such as a dented fender or scratches on the paint?
Here are 6 steps to take if you’re involved in a parking lot car accident:
Step #1: Protect Yourself
The first step is to make sure that you and other people at the scene of an accident are safe. If anyone needs medical attention, call 911.
Step #2: Call the Police
Then call the police and file a report, even if there’s minimal damage to your car and no one appears injured.
That’s because many injuries don’t become apparent until days or weeks following an accident. And later on, if you discover that you were actually injured, it may be your word against the other driver’s without a formal report of the accident.
However, it's possible the police may not come to the scene of a parking lot accident if no one is injured, if the damage is too minor, or if there’s extreme weather in the area, such as a blizzard or severe storms.
Even if the authorities don’t come in person, reporting the accident is still important. Some states require you to report any accident to authorities when damage is estimated to be over a certain amount, such as $500 or $1,000. The authorities can tell you if you might be able to go to the nearest police station or file a report online within a certain amount of time following the incident.
Never get into an argument about what happened or who was at fault—or even admit if the accident was your fault.
Step #3: Gather Information
Once you call the police, start gathering as much information as possible. Get the name of the driver (and any passengers), his or her driver’s license number, insurance information, phone number, and vehicle license plate number.
Never get into an argument about what happened or who was at fault—or even admit if the accident was your fault. The situation can get emotional, so just stick to business and let the other party know that your insurance company will work it out.
If the other person is uncooperative or you believe that he or she doesn’t have auto insurance, just get as much information as you can.
If you hit a parked car and the owner is nowhere in sight, record information about the vehicle and leave a note under the wiper blade with all of your contact information. Otherwise, you’re considered a hit-and-run driver and could face fines or even jail time, depending on the state’s laws.