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By Jonathan Kurdell

You’ve just had a fender bender and don’t want your insurance rates to go up. Should you strike a deal with the other driver or let the insurance company handle it?

If You Hit Them
Though the fear of a rate hike might prompt you to offer to pay for the damage yourself, there are pitfalls.  The damage might be worse than it looks.  Or the other driver might get an inflated estimate just to pocket some extra cash.  Months or years later, the other driver (or their passenger) may claim to have been injured.  Your insurance company may refuse to cover it because you didn’t notify them in time, leaving you to face an injury lawsuit on your own.

Paying for damage yourself will cost you.  Filing a claim may not.  In Connecticut, the limit that companies are allowed to increase rates is $1000.00 in (property or collision) claims over a 39 month period.  If the accident is minor, and it’s your first in a long time, your rate is probably safe.

If They Hit You
When you’re the victim, you need to gather evidence to prove that the other driver was at fault. That includes obtaining a police report.  You also need to see the other driver’s license and insurance card. Write down the driver’s name and address and the insurer’s contact info immediately.  Call the other driver’s insurance company right away to report the claim and verify that coverage is in effect.  Don’t worry about your insurance rate going up.  It won’t as long as you weren’t at fault and your company did not pay the claim.

Be wary of dealing with the other driver directly. They may offer to pay for the damage out of their own pocket. If the estimate comes out higher than expected, they could tell you to search around for a lower estimate. Or they could tell you to go to a repair shop where a friend or relative works. But a car mechanic trying to save his relative or friend money may do inferior work.  It’s always safer to deal with the other party’s insurance company, or let them deal with yours.

You have the right to go to any repair shop you choose and have the cost fully paid by the other driver’s insurer.  You also have the right to a free rental car while yours is being repaired, and the right to medical care if it turns out that your car wasn’t the only thing damaged. By reporting the accident, you insure that you and any of your passengers will be covered in case there are signs of injury. So don’t give up your rights.

Better a Small Hassle than a Big One
Calling an insurance company and filling out claim forms can be a hassle.  But it’s a small one compared to the problems you can run into by trying to keep the company out of it.  You’ve spent years paying for insurance.  Don’t be afraid to use it when you need it.