explainer

Everything you need to know about what to do if you're in a car accident.

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries
Thanks to our brand partner, Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries

No-one wants to be in a car accident.

The sinking, sickly knot in your stomach when something goes wrong when you’re behind the wheel is an awful feeling.

If you’ve never been in a car accident, you might not have ever thought about exactly what you’d need to do if you ever were in one.

It’s those nitty-gritty practical details anyone who has unfortunately been in an accident either is grateful they knew at the time when their mind was racing over all the worst case scenarios, or desperately Googles afterwards to try and make sense of what to do.

The latter leaves you exposed to paying too much or accepting blame that’s not yours, things that might not seem important in the moments after a car crash, but can cause a headache for months afterwards. That’s why it’s better to get your head around this stuff before you need it.

To simplify this complicated process we all touch wood we’ll never have to go through, let’s break down exactly what to do if you are in a car accident.

What to do immediately after an accident.

The moments right after a car accident can be scary and your brain might take a second to figure things out. Screenshot this step-by-step list and save it to your favourites (you could print it out too if you like) so you can find it quickly should you ever need to.

  1. If you can, pull over and park your car away from nearby traffic. If your car isn’t driveable, put on your hazard lights and move to safety.
  2. Is anyone hurt? If someone has been injured in the accident, call 000 to notify police and ambulance services.
  3. The NSW Government, Queensland Government and Victorian Government transport websites state you are required to notify police if:
    • A person is killed or injured.
    • There is damage to property or animals.
    • A person fails to stop or exchange information.
    • A driver is believed to be under the influence of alcohol or drugs.
    • There is damage to a car and the owner isn’t there (parked cars).
    • A car needs to be towed.
    • If these variables don’t apply to your crash, you are not required to notify police of the accident. (Drivers should refer to the transport website for the state they reside in, or the state where the accident occurred.)
  4. Exchange information but don’t admit fault, that’s for the insurance companies to assess. The minimum information you will need to collect, and provide to the other driver is:
    • Licence and registration number of other vehicle.
    • Driver’s name.
    • Driver’s address.
    • Vehicle owner’s name and address if the driver does not own the car.
  5. Take notes about the time and date of the crash, where it happened and the road conditions, and take as many photos as possible of the damage to any and all cars involved in the accident.
  6. If required, organise a tow truck to tow your vehicle to either your home or a repairer you trust. You have the right to choose your own tow truck and where they tow your car, you will need to sign and obtain a copy of the Towing Authorisation Form. Check your state’s transport website, roadside assistance website or insurer’s website for more information on towing. If you have comprehensive insurance, the tow truck fee may be covered.
taking-photos-of-a-car-accident
Documenting every tiny detail of your crash will come in handy later, even if you'd rather be doing anything else at the time. Image: Getty.

How to make an insurance claim after a car accident.

After you've made it home safely, with or without your crumbled car, you'll need to contact your insurer.

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But as the NSW Government's Law Access website points out, you don't have to make an insurance claim. Depending on your level of coverage, your policy might require you to pay more in excess than your car's repairs are worth. Making a claim might also affect your future premiums and 'no-claim bonuses'.

If you do decide to make an insurance claim, contact your insurance company - they will talk you through the process step-by-step.

This will require answering many, many questions about exactly what happened (this is why it's important to take notes at the scene), and they may ask you to submit a picture of any damage. The insurance company will contact the insurance company of the other driver involved on your behalf, and from there, will decide who is at fault.

If your insurer or the other driver's insurer is covering your repairs, make sure you're asking about using genuine parts and accredited repairers (more on this in the next section).

Even if they're paying for it, it's still your car and you're the one who has to drive it. For more information on the specifics of insurance claims, contact your insurer.

How to find a repairer and get your car fixed.

Once you've contacted your insurer, it's time to get your car fixed so you can get back on the road safely.

Sadly (and infuriatingly), some mechanics try to rip off women when it comes to car repairs because they expect us not to know about 'car stuff'. Not today, mate.

Ask your insurer if you have choice of repairer, and give your car’s local dealer a call to see what they recommend. Quiz friends, colleagues, family or neighbours for smash repairer recommendations, and Google smash repairers in your suburb. You'll find forums on who's good and who's not - many local smash repair businesses can't afford bad word of mouth, so check out repairers in your area.

The best repairer is always going to be the one who knows the car best, which is why your car’s dealer service centre is a perfect place to start. You could also contact a female mechanic in your city to ask who they recommend.

You're should get more than one quote for fixing your car's damage, but remember there than one kind of repair, and a cheap repair may not be a safe repair.

female mechanic
Good mechanics and repairers are out there, keep looking! Image: Getty.
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When talking to a crash repairer about your car, ask:

  • How much will it cost to fix the damage?
  • How long will it take?
  • Will you use genuine parts and manufacturer approved repair methods?
    • Genuine parts, accessories and servicing are provided by your car's brand (i.e. Holden parts for a Holden), meaning they'll fit your car properly and can assure its performance and protection.
    • Genuine repair methods also ensure the integrity of the vehicle is maintained, meaning it will continue to protect as the maker intended.
    • Non-genuine or counterfeit parts might fit or be modified to fit, but they can’t promise the same performance and protection and are not subject to the same testing.
    • Cheap parts might be, well, cheap, but they will cost you in the long run, either in future services, or by putting you, your passengers or other road users at risk in future accidents.
    • You can find out more about what genuine parts are and how to make sure they end up in your car on the Genuine Is Best website.
  • Are you accredited? Which automotive bodies are you associated with?

Once you've found a repairer who satisfies all these criteria, all that's left to do is book the repair and move on with your life.

What you can do to prevent an accident.

Some accidents are unavoidable. Factors like other drivers on the road, weather conditions and just being in the wrong place at the wrong time are hard to prepare for.

Then there's the obvious things - driving safely, not speeding, wearing your seat belt and so on. But one of the less obvious things is what most of us see as an expensive chore - but it's always worth it.

Yep. Getting your car serviced.

Again, making sure you get the job done right for your car's service comes down to finding a well-recommended mechanic. Ask them about using genuine parts, because making sure your car is serviced or repaired with the correct parts for your specific make and model will ensure your car runs as the manufacturer intended. Your vehicle maker's dealership is the best option to ensure your car is serviced with genuine parts and following the correct repair methods.

Many of us tend to put off services because they're inconvenient and can be costly - the cost of getting a regular service is nothing compared to the cost of fixing your car if you're in a preventable accident, or worse, if you're hurt in one.

Yes, the aftermath of a car accident is a bit of a long and fiddly process, and you'd much rather be tucked up in bed eating your stress away.

But accidents happen. Knowing your rights and what to do next is power.

Federal Chamber of Automotive Industries

Genuine parts, accessories and dealer servicing ensure cars protect and perform as the manufacturer intended. There’s a good chance your vehicle is being fitted with non-genuine parts. We have partnered with Mamamia to produce a content series to make sure people making automotive decisions are empowered to make the right decisions for their drive, because nobody knows a car as well as the people who made it.

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