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September 4, 2013

Consumer Reports: Should you report that fender bender?

(Continued)

Even the lack of immediate injury can be deceiving. The adrenaline rush accompanying even a low-impact crash can mask injury symptoms, and soft-tissue damage can take 24 to 48 hours to show up. Bogus injury claims are another possibility worth considering.

If you don't report and big costs surprise you later, your insurance company might not pay because its ability to investigate the claimed damage, when time was of the essence, has been lost.

WHEN IT'S A TOSS-UP

Your toughest decision-making challenge comes when the damage is to your own vehicle and property. Filing a claim would probably produce a tempting payout of several hundred to more than $1,000 after the deductible. You must consider an unknown factor of how your claim might impact your premiums.

Unfortunately, Consumer Reports points out, it's impossible for consumers to know in advance how much their premiums will increase, and for how long, to weigh that against a claim payout. But among its subscribers, 7 percent of claimants felt that their insurer unfairly raised their premium as a result of their claim. Most states regulate "chargeable" accidents, which are loss payouts that auto insurers are allowed to count against your driving record in calculating your risk and setting your premiums. The rules vary from state to state, but payout thresholds of $500 to $1,000 are typical, which means that accidents costing the insurer less than that can't raise your rate. Major insurers also apply their own loyalty programs, which give "accident forgiveness awards," based on how long you've been with the company and your good driving and payment record.

WHEN YOU SHOULDN'T REPORT

If the damage is minor and confined to your own vehicle and property, maybe from backing into your fence or garage door, you're typically not required to report it to your insurer if you're not making a claim. It also doesn't make economic sense to do so if the repair cost is smaller than or not sufficiently bigger than your collision coverage deductible.

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