7 Steps to Take After a Fender Bender

An accident may be an annoyance, but it’s also a financial transaction.

Red car with front light and fender damage after an accident
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You can, of course, file a police report later (it varies from state to state, but many police departments allow up to 72 hours). But if both cars have left the scene, the information won't be as accurate. Some states require you to report an accident, and you could be cited if you didn't. For instance, in Oregon, if damage to the vehicle you were driving is more than $1,500, you need to file a report. In Ohio, as long as nobody was hurt, you don't have to call the police. Unless you know your state laws well, it's best to call.

You may need to report the accident to the DMV. The fun never ends. Many states require motorists to report car wrecks to the bureau or department of motor vehicles, depending on how much damage was done to the car. Check with your state's DMV or BMV to see if you need to file a report.

[Read: 5 Easy Ways to Save on Car Insurance.]

Make small talk. It's best not to take complete ownership of an accident, even if you believe you were at fault.

If you were at fault, tell the truth, but stick to the facts and don't offer your opinion, at least until you've had a chance to process everything. If you were backing out of a parking space, for instance, you may know that you should have looked more carefully. But you may not be aware until later that the other car was driving too fast, or that the driver wasn't looking carefully either.

"Typically, no driver is 100 percent at fault in a collision," Crowley says.

But if you do say anything you later feel was stupid, don't worry about it. "Regardless of what is said at the scene of the accident, most insurance companies will contact those involved and get a more detailed statement," says Crowley, adding that expressing concern for the other driver is a good thing and won't result in your accepting blame for the collision.

Take photos and gather witnesses. If you have a smartphone, it can be helpful to take photos of the damages, especially if you know you weren't at fault and want to prove it. If you can find eyewitnesses and collect their contact information to give to the police and to your insurance company, even better.

Don't beat yourself up if you make a mistake. Edith Parten, a communications professional at the University of Alabama, was in a fender bender less than two weeks ago when a driver rear-ended her.

"I got out of the car and asked the driver what happened. She said her foot slipped, and she hit the gas instead of the brake," Parten says.

So far, so good. The other driver admitted fault. Then the police arrived and prepared an accident report. Parten even took photos of both cars. But she was rattled and didn't ask the other driver for her insurance information. Still, the police officer said the insurance information would be in the accident report.

[See: 10 Saving Strategies That Can Backfire.]

"Little did I know, it can take up to 15 days to get the accident report," Parten says. "In the meantime, I had to go to the ER and had to get my car repaired because it didn't sound drivable."

As of the time of this writing, she is working out the details with her insurance company because she didn't get the other driver's insurance information.

Still, Parten may take solace that in Pennington's case, the other driver eventually paid for the repairs. It worked out for Breidbart, too, despite the language barriers and the fact that both drivers departed before the authorities arrived. Details around fender benders – just like the fenders themselves – eventually tend to get straightened out.