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September 4, 2013

Consumer Reports: Should you report that fender bender?

Pop quiz: You and your SUV are in a minor, low-speed accident. Luckily, no one is injured, but there's a little damage to your vehicle — more than just a scratch — and maybe to someone else's car or property. Should you inform your insurance company about it or keep the matter quiet and pay any repair costs out-of-pocket?

Fear of an insurance rate hike is often the concern behind that question, Consumer Reports notes. But there are some important factors to weigh as you determine your best course of action.

WHEN TO REPORT IT

Seven in 10 auto accidents in 2011 involved another vehicle, according to Department of Transportation data, as did 52 percent of car insurance claims filed in recent years by more than 31,000 Consumer Reports subscribers surveyed last summer. If your mishap falls in that category, always report it, especially if you may have been at fault, because your coverage also protects you against liability for harming others.

Your insurance company and some state laws might require you to report in such cases. But officially documenting the facts is also in your own best interests whenever you're involved with a stranger in a potential damage claim situation -- even if you and another reasonable person work out a private arrangement to keep the insurance companies out of it.

Repairs often cost more than people anticipate. For example, when a 2010 Toyota Corolla rear-ended a 2010 Toyota RAV4 at 10 mph in testing by the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety, the Corolla had more than $3,800 in front-end damage and the SUV incurred more than $6,000 in rear damage, because of the vehicles' bumper height mismatch.

The Corolla's damage looked minor, and the RAV4's was almost imperceptible. Even the cheapest damage in 14 such trials involving seven vehicle pairings produced almost $3,000 in total losses — six times the typical $500 collision deductible.

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