What do I do if my car got rear ended? (3 Vital Tips)

If your car gets rear-ended you should make a report to your insurance company, file a police report, and write down detailed information regarding the accident.

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UPDATED: May 18, 2022

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Written By: Laura BerryReviewed By: Joel OhmanUPDATED: May 18, 2022Fact Checked

Here's what you need to know...

  • If you are rear-ended you should report it to your insurance company even if it seems minor
  • Some car problems don’t show up right away but will show themselves down the road
  • It’s a good idea to file a police report as well because things could be worse than they appear at first
  • If the other driver leaves the scene, write down important information and give it to the police

If you are rear-ended in a car accident, it is important that you exchange car insurance information with the person who rear-ended you even if you don’t notice any immediate damage to your vehicle.

Don’t allow the other person in the accident to convince you that you don’t need to file a report with the insurance company, even if they offer to pay cash for your damage.

The reason you must exchange car insurance information is that there is always the possibility that you could have an injury that doesn’t present itself right away.

In addition, there may be more damage to your vehicle than is immediately noticeable and you don’t want to have to foot the bill for that.

If you don’t get the other driver’s information, there is always the possibility that if you have an accident in the future, the adjuster will notice that you have prior damage to your car. If this is the case, the insurance company can refuse to pay for damage that occurred in a previous accident.

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#1 – When in Doubt, Call the Police if Your Car Gets Rear-Ended

You’ve just been rear-ended on the road. Now, what should you do? The laws vary in each state, but in most cases, there are allowances for not calling the police. The general rule is that you don’t have to call the police if there are no injuries and there appears to be no damage over the specified amount of money.

The table below shows the damage cost threshold and the deadline for filing a police report in each state.

StateDamage ThresholdDeadline
Alabama$500 (from uninsured motorist)30 days
Alaska$2,00010 days
Arkansas$100030 days
California$100010 days
ColoradoAny damage10 days
Connecticut$10005 days
Florida$500As soon as possible
Illinois$1500 ($500 when involving an uninsured motorist)10 days
Iowa$15003 days
Kentucky$50010 days
Louisiana$5001 day
MarylandN/A15 days
Massachusetts$10005 days
Minnesota$100010 days
Mississippi$50010 days
Missouri$5005 days
Nebraska$100010 days
NevadaAll crashesImmediately
New Hampshire$100015 days
New Jersey$500Immediately
New Mexico$500Immediately
New York$100010 days
North Carolina$1000Immediately
North Dakota$1000 (except crashes with undomesticated animals are not required to be reported)Immediately
OhioAll crashesImmediately
Oklahoma$5006 months
Oregon$150072 hours
PennsylvaniaWhen vehicle is disabled5 days
Rhode Island$100021 days
South Carolina$100015 days
South Dakota$1000 for one party or $2000 total per accidentImmediately
Tennessee$50Immediately (property damage in excess of $400 must be reported in writing within 20 days)
Texas$1000Reported in writing within 10 days
Utah$100010 days
Vermont$30003 days
Washington$7004 days
West Virgina$1000Immediately
Wisconsin$1000 ($200 for government property)1 day
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The problem is there is no guarantee that the damage that has occurred won’t be higher than what you imagine. Cars cost a lot of money to fix. A bumper replacement can easily cost over $1000, so if in doubt, make a police report.

You might think that a damaged bumper and scratched paint is a $300 problem when, in truth, it could very well be a $1200 problem depending on the type of car and the availability of parts and paint.

And even if you have 10 days or more to legally file a report, you’re better off calling the police right away.

What’s more, your insurance company always wants you to call the police after an accident. This helps to corroborate that the accident was not your fault and also provides an additional witness at the scene.

If the cost of the damage is higher than initially thought, not having a police report could slow down the claims process, as the claims adjuster will need to investigate and ensure that no further damage occurred after the accident.

What’s more, the adjuster could determine that you aren’t eligible for a payout at all.

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#2 – Eyewitness Statements Aren’t Crucial If Your Car Gets Rear-Ended

The truth is that in most cases a car being rear-ended is a cut-and-dry case for the police. Your car is hit in the back, so there is no denying what has happened.

Even if the other driver claims that you stopped short and caused the accident, you will be found not at fault.

The reason for this is that every state actually has laws about how close you should be to another vehicle while driving. This space varies from one car length to three car lengths.

This following distance provides the opportunity for a driver to stop should the driver in front of them stop short for some reason.

Now, if there are witnesses at the scene, it may be important to show you stopped quickly because there was an obstacle or a danger present.

Overall, however, the police don’t require this information and neither does the insurance company, especially when the other driver is found to be at fault.

#3 – Write Down as Much Information as Possible if the Other Driver Leaves the Scene

If the at-fault driver doesn’t want to provide their insurance information and insists on paying outright for the accident, then you must call the police and let them handle it for you.

While it isn’t illegal to simply accept payment for an accident, once you do this, you have no recourse if there are other problems in the future.

If you do call the police for a minor accident, you can expect that there is going to be a wait time, especially if the accident occurs during high traffic times where many accidents occur.

If the other driver leaves the scene, simply write down the following:

  • their license plate number
  • the make and model of the car
  • any descriptive information that you can remember

Provide the above information to the police.

If the other driver leaves and the police cannot find them based on the information that you have provided, then your insurance company may pay for the damages to your vehicle if you carry the right kind of insurance.

In this case, collision coverage would be necessary to pay for damages to your car.

#4 – What if you’ve rear-ended someone else?

What if the situation is reversed and you’ve rear-ended someone else? What if you’ve rear-ended a cop?

These situations are not much different than someone rear-ending you. You must follow the same steps and procedures, and you should notify your insurance company. In the event that the car you rear-ended was a police car, you should expect that to be present at the scene for a bit of time. The officer will have to call in and report the incident, and other officers will be dispatched to the scene to investigate what happened.

If you’ve been at fault in the accident, your insurance rates will likely go up.

At the end of the day, we know that your car is one of the most valuable assets you have in your possession. We encourage you to take the appropriate steps to protect yourself and your car in the event of an accident.

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Editorial Guidelines: We are a free online resource for anyone interested in learning more about auto insurance. Our goal is to be an objective, third-party resource for everything auto insurance related. We update our site regularly, and all content is reviewed by auto insurance experts.

A former insurance producer, Laura understands that education is key when it comes to buying insurance. She has happily dedicated many hours to helping her clients understand how the insurance marketplace works so they can find the best car, home, and life insurance products for their needs.

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Written by Laura Berry
Former Insurance Agent Laura Berry

Joel Ohman is the CEO of a private equity backed digital media company. He is a CERTIFIED FINANCIAL PLANNER™, author, angel investor, and serial entrepreneur who loves creating new things, whether books or businesses. He has also previously served as the founder and resident CFP® of a national insurance agency, Real Time Health Quotes. He has an MBA from the University of South Florida. Jo...

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Reviewed by Joel Ohman
Founder & CFP® Joel Ohman

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