What to do after a car accident

Information verified correct on December 3rd, 2016

AccidentI’ve had a car accident … now what? Step-by-step car insurance and accident guide

Have you been involved in an accident and not sure what to do? This guide provides a list of steps to follow if you’re ever in a motor vehicle accident, from securing the scene to making a claim with your car insurance provider.

Steps after being involved in a car accident

Secure the area

  • Do you or anyone else require medical assistance? If anyone is injured, call 000 immediately for an ambulance.
    • Apply first aid if you know how and make the person comfortable
    • If spinal or head injuries are suspected, don’t move them under any circumstances and wait for the ambulance to arrive
  • Is the surrounding area safe? Make the area safe to prevent another accident from occurring. Secondary accidents account for many of the accidents that occur on Australian roads.
  • Is the car safe? Make sure that there are no hazards such as leaking fuel or debris lying on the road.
  • Is the car still running? Make sure engines are switched off.
  • Can you move the vehicles? If it’s safe to do so, you should move the vehicles involved in the accident to the side of the road and put on your hazard lights.
  • Have you called the police? Call the police if someone has been injured or if there is third-party property damage where the owner is not present. The police should also be notified if there is any suspicion of drugs or alcohol being involved in the accident.

Collect information

The next step is to exchange details with other drivers involved in the accident. Details you should exchange include:

  • Full name
  • Residential address
  • Mobile phone number
  • Driver's licence number
  • Registration number
  • Insurance details (including name of insurer and policy number)

Ideally, you’ll have a notepad and pen in your glovebox for this purpose. You could also take notes on your phone. Some insurers also now have mobile apps to help with the accident-recording process.

If you have your mobile phone, take photos of the accident scene. As well as the scene itself, these pictures should include the damage to your car, damage to other vehicles and any third-party property damage.

Call your insurer

If possible, call your insurance company from the accident scene. They will be able to talk you through the process and advise you of your next step. You will usually be advised to not admit liability to anyone.

This is because you may be in a state of shock or may not be fully aware of the circumstances of the accident. It is not up to you or anyone else at the scene to determine fault, which should be left to the police and insurance companies to decide at a later date.

Even if no one is hurt or the damage is only minor, you should still report an accident to your insurer. This is the other party involved may decide to make a claim against you, or you may develop an injury or discover further damage to your vehicle at a later date.

Looking for your insurer's contact details? List of claims contact numbers for Australian car insurers

Take care of your vehicle

If your vehicle is damaged, you will need to determine whether it is roadworthy before driving it away from the scene of the accident. Damage may be obvious in the form of a flat tyre or punctured radiator, but other damage may be harder to determine, such as steering or brake problems. Check your vehicle over thoroughly before driving it. If there is any doubt about its roadworthiness, do not drive it away from the scene.

If your vehicle is not driveable, tow trucks attending the accident may try to talk you into taking your vehicle to a panel shop they are affiliated with. Do not let yourself be talked into anything you don’t understand or trust.  Under no circumstances should you sign a contract, as it may be committing you to having your vehicle repaired at a particular panel shop.

Ask your insurer what you should do. You will generally be directed to an approved panel shop, which the tow truck should take your vehicle to.

Police Assistance Line

If your vehicle requires towing from an accident where the police were not called to attend, you must report the accident to the Police Assistance Line on 131 444 after leaving the crash site.

Making a claim

The final step after an accident is to make a claim with your insurance company. If your vehicle was towed to a panel beater approved by your insurer, repairs will usually be authorised fairly quickly.

On the other hand, if your vehicle is driveable after the accident and only needs minor repairs, your insurer may require you to obtain at least two quotes (sometimes three) from different panel shops, from which they will choose the lowest quote.

Whether you choose to make a claim at all will depend on the cost of repairs compared to any excess you must pay (the amount you must contribute to a claim) and the effect a claim would have on your no-claim bonus. Many people choose not to make a claim on repairs under $1,000 for these reasons.

Case Study

In a rush one morning, Maurice attempted to overtake a bus but was clipped from behind as he changed lanes. The collision resulted in a broken back window and dented to the body of his car.

What immediate steps did Maurice take following the car crash?
  1. Recorded the bus drivers details, the licence plate of the bus, the bus route and time
  2. Wrote down what happened
  3. Contacted his insurer and provided them with the details of the crash. They advised him to take my car to a mechanic so that they could asses the damage
What happened next?

Maurice was confident that all the damage to the back window and body would be repaired with no problems. If not, he expected to receive a pay-out of $9,000.

After both the damage to the car and its salvage value was assessed, it was determined the car would be a total loss (a write-off). This meant that Maurice received pay-out of $7,000, after an excess of $2,000.

What challenges did Maurice face making a claim?
  • Not understanding the terminology
  • Not being able to get the car repaired
  • Not understanding how his insurance policy made the distinction between paying for repairs and a cash payment
Tips from Maurice for those who have been involved in an accident and need to make a claim?

Make sure you read your product disclosure statement (PDS) and understand the terminology to avoid frustration and confusion when making your claim. Understanding the following terms would lead to less confusion when making a claim:

  • Salvage value. This is how much the insurer can get for selling off your damaged car or its parts.
  • Total loss. This is when the insurer decides to write-off your car.
  • Excess. This is the amount you are charged when you make a claim.

Pay-out breakdown

BreakdownFigures
Insured car amount $9,000
Salvage value$4,500
Difference$9,000 - $4,500 = $5,000
Quoted cost of repairs$7,000
Excess$2,000
Total loss and payout$9,000 - $2,000 = $7000

Post-accident recap

The main things to ensure after an accident include making sure:Police

  • The area is secure and everyone is safe
  • Those who are injured are attended to and an ambulance is called
  • The police are called if necessary
  • Your insurer is contacted as soon as possible
  • Everyone involved exchanges information

One final thought: Stay calm. Getting angry about an accident, even if it is not your fault, is not productive and will only make the whole process more difficult. The best thing you can do after an accident is to go through the steps listed here and let the insurance companies argue the legalities of the situation at a later date.

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Claims contact numbers for Australian car insurance companies

  • 1300 Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 467 872
  • 1cover Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 885 996
  • 1st for Women Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 362 721
  • AAMI Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 22 44
  • Toyota Car Insurance claims contact number: 137 200
  • Allianz Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 10 13
  • Apia Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 50 50
  • Australian Post Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 885 996
  • Australian Unity Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 734 729
  • Best Buy Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 304 341
  • BingleCar Insurance claims contact number: 1300 735 640
  • Budget Direct Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 139 591
  • Bupa Car Insurance claims contact number: 132 480
  • Calliden Car Insurance claims contact number: 03 9006 1280
  • Catholic Church Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 655 001
  • Cgu Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 24 80
  • Cil Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 112 481
  • Coles Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 265 374
  • Comminsure Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 2423
  • Cota Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 651 77
  • Dodo Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 855 996
  • Elders Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 554 184
  • GE Money Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 885 996
  • GIO Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 14 46
  • Guild Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 988 988
  • Ibuyeco Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 558 225
  • Just Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 13 26
  • MHIA Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 676 700 (After hours 1800 620 601)
  • Mitsui Sumitomo Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 105 381
  • NRMACar Insurance claims contact number: 131 123
  • Ozicare Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 360 066
  • Progressive Car Insurance online claims contact: Online claims service
  • Qbe Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 068 985
  • Raa Car Insurance claims contact number: (08) 8202 4575
  • Rac Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 17 03
  • Racq Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 7202
  • Ract Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 27 22
  • Racv Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 19 03
  • Real Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 19 48
  • Resilium Car Insurance claims contact number: 131 437
  • Retirease Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 304 345
  • Sgic Car Insurance claims contact number: 133 233
  • Sgio Car Insurance claims contact number: 133 233
  • Shannons Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 46 46
  • Suncorp Car Insurance claims contact number: 13 25 24
  • Swann Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 657 318
  • TIOCar Insurance claims contact number: 131 TIO
  • Tokio Marine and Nichido Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 229 272
  • Vero Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 888 073
  • Virgin Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 662 884
  • Westpac Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 502 077
  • Wfi Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 934 934
  • Woolworths Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 10 1234
  • Youi Car Insurance claims contact number: 1300 253 403
  • Zurich Car Insurance claims contact number: 1800 019 774

Picture: Walter, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (image cropped)
Picture: Highway Patrol Images, licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (image cropped)

Richard Laycock

Richard is the senior insurance writer at finder.com.au and is on a mission to make insurance easier to understand.

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