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    11 Helpful Things I Wish I'd Known Before Someone Crashed Into My Car

    Even if you’re not liable, recouping your losses after a car accident isn’t easy.

    Hi! I'm Lara. Recently, I was driving home after some food shopping when I pulled onto a freeway on-ramp. I was just about to accelerate to merge into traffic when — BAM — someone rear-ended my car.

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    After pulling over, I grabbed my license and insurance info, and shared them with the other driver. Thankfully, he was pretty cooperative and nobody was hurt.

    I thought everything would be taken care of after I filed an insurance claim to get me compensated for my vehicle’s busted fender and frame. But in a couple days' time, I learned that definitely wasn't the case.

    Here are 11 things I learned about what to do after a car accident that's not your fault:

    1. Don't only take photos of the license plates.

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    I took photos of the damage on my vehicle and the other driver's license plate, but there was a shot I missed. According to John Williams, a Farmers Insurance agency owner in Texas, documenting the other car’s vehicle identification number (VIN) is important.

    “There will be situations where you'll go run that license plate and it'll come back and it's just an expired tag that hasn't been issued in 10 years,” says Williams. “Then, we have no way to track those people down.”

    As long as you have a VIN (located on the windshield), an insurance adjuster can locate the other party's car using research programs like LexisNexis.

    2. Never claim fault.

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    Don’t utter even the slightest “sorry” after a wreck. “You should never admit fault, regardless of whether or not you're at fault,” says Williams. “You're not an insurance adjuster. You're not a liability adjuster. It's not your job to do that.”

    Instead, focus on making sure everyone is OK, exchange information, take photos, and file a claim later.

    3. If you didn’t cause the accident, don’t file a claim with your insurance about it.

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    It’s just information they don’t need to know, says Williams. In some cases, making a claim can cause your rates to go up — even if you weren't at fault. Instead, file a claim with the other driver’s insurance carrier. You can even ask the other party to contact their insurance at the scene of the accident to get the claim process started.

    4. Unless the other driver has a “nonstandard” insurance carrier, in which case you might be better off filing with yours instead.

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    If the other party doesn’t have insurance with a big-name provider like Allstate or AAA, they might have a nonstandard auto insurance carrier. These companies insure drivers who are considered high-risk and often have a lot of restrictions on their policies so they will handle claims differently from standard carriers, which might delay your settlement.

    Williams says that while standard carriers generally try to resolve claims quickly, nonstandard carriers can take a bit longer. “A nonstandard carrier has to take an approach where [they ask]: ‘What could have happened that will prevent us from paying this claim?’” So, if you have standard insurance, you might want to file a claim with your insurer instead.

    5. Depending on your state, you might be able to fix your whip at any auto body shop you want.

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    After I filed my claim, I took my car to an auto body shop for an assessment on the insurance company’s dime.

    Check local regulations to see if you have the right to choose which auto body shop you use. Insurance companies may also suggest using a shop in their direct repair program (DRP). These businesses are usually vetted by the insurer and have contracts that determine certain aspects of the repairs, like the labor rate and types of parts used.

    “If you call your own insurance company and you don’t really know where you want to go, they would offer this service to you to go to a predetermined shop,” says Rick Johnson, executive director of the California Autobody Association. “Bear in mind, you don’t have to do this... You still have the right to have it fixed wherever you want.”

    Some insurance carriers can be a bit aggressive about getting you to go to a shop in their DRP, says Johnson, but you don’t necessarily have to bend to their wishes.

    6. Not all auto body shops are created equal.

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    Some shops might have higher labor rates than others because of where they're located, says Johnson. For example, San Francisco will charge more for labor than Redding, California.

    “The labor rate could be a little different. The approach on how they go about repairing the car could be a little bit different. But I would say they're all probably going to be within a reasonable distance from each other for the same repair,” says Johnson.

    You can also get a quote for the insurance claim at one shop and then find another that’ll do the repair for cheaper, according to Ahmad Ali of Honda Plus Auto Recycling in Chula Vista, California. “You can get quoted for the ‘actual’ value of the repair and then go repair it yourself secondhand at a much-lesser, and in my opinion, reasonable value,” says Ali.

    It really comes down to how well you know the market and at what value you can find parts and labor to give an edge in haggling, he adds.

    7. If your vehicle is deemed a total loss, you don't have to accept the first settlement offer.

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    In the case that your vehicle gets totaled (meaning it's not worth repairing), the responsible party’s insurance will offer a settlement and take over the title of the vehicle. This payment is supposed to be equal to the market value of your vehicle before the accident. However, the first settlement offer isn’t always truly reflective of your car's value.

    When an auto body shop thinks your car might be a total loss, they’ll do a valuation report to determine the car’s value before the accident.

    But according to Williams, valuation reports aren’t always accurate. They're created through computer programs and might miss features of your car that could reveal its true value.

    8. Instead, try to argue your way to a higher settlement.

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    Double-check the accuracy of your valuation report to make sure the estimate is reflective of your car's *true worth*. If you paid extra for leather seats (not fabric!) and upgraded your cassette player for a Bluetooth entertainment system, including all those fancy features could add up to a higher settlement.

    You can also ask your adjuster for what’s called an “exception report.” This means they'd compare the valuation for your car to the value of a few other similar vehicles. “That three-minute phone call will generally increase the value,” says Williams.

    You can also look up your own vehicle’s worth on a valuation site like NADA Guides and present those findings to the adjuster.

    9. You don’t always need to call an attorney after a wreck.

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    If you’re not sure whether you need an attorney’s help or not, many firms offer free consultations over the phone. “If a person tells us that they're sure they've suffered no injuries, they're not seeking any medical treatment, then that's not something that we would help an individual pursue,” says John J. Reagan, a personal injury attorney at Kisling, Nestico & Redick in Akron, Ohio.

    If you do end up employing an attorney, they can help maximize your recovery in various ways. For instance, lawyers can guide a client to the right medical professional, plus they can negotiate with health insurance and deal with car insurance carriers acting in bad faith.

    10. Filing a police report can help document the accident.

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    The laws about accident reporting can vary depending on the state, so be sure to check local regulations if you don't know what's required in your area. Reagan recommends contacting law enforcement to document the crash, regardless of how bad the accident is.

    However, they might not come to the scene of the accident if there aren’t any injuries or confrontational drivers involved. Reagan notes that law enforcement with jurisdiction in rural Ohio or on an interstate is pretty responsive, but this isn’t the case in nearby metropolitan areas.

    “That's an example of a case where even if you're injured, typically if you want to make a report, you need to go to the local precinct then make the report,” says Reagan. “They probably aren't going to come to the scene.”

    11. You can always go back to the adjuster and try to get a higher settlement.

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    In my case, I took a settlement I wasn’t happy with for my totaled car and put it toward a new (used) car. But Williams says it is possible for consumers to call an adjuster back to make their case for a higher payout even if they’ve taken the settlement.

    “That doesn't mean that they're really obligated to do anything else because you've already accepted,” says Williams. “If somebody came back in and had a legitimate reason why they felt like it was wrong, I would definitely hear them out for sure.”

    It might be a total loss — just like my old car — but it never hurts to ask.

    Now that you're on a roll, why not check out more of our personal finance posts.

    Correction: An earlier version of this post stated that you have the right to take your car for repairs at any body shop. It has been updated to show that this depends on your state. Always check your local laws and regulations if you're not sure.

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