Drivers in the United States are required to have basic insurance on their vehicles. However, if the car is paid off, then collision coverage (coverage that pays to fix any damage to your vehicle in the event of an accident) is optional. If you don't have collision coverage, there are steps to take to get your damages covered if an accident occurs.
Use the camera on your cell phone or grab a camera from a nearby store to preserve visual representation of what happened. If you don't have access to a camera, jot down as much information as you can, such as the accident location, the name of the other driver and their insurance carrier, when the accident occurred, the name of any police officer that responds, and a description of damages.
If a police officer is called, have the officer read over your notes and verify them with a signature and a short sentence that says the information is accurate--this will help you if there are any discrepancies between your notes and the police report. This documentation will not prevent you from having to pay out-of-pocket to cover damages, but it will protect you from being sued for more than the damages are worth and will make it much easier for a repair company to understand the kind of repairs you need when you are gathering estimates.
If you were not at fault, check with the other driver and his insurance provider to see whether or not his policy will cover the cost of your repairs. If the accident was auto-to-auto, you may be covered under property damage liability insurance, which covers damages to property, including cars. If the damage was caused by some sort of negligence (e.i., your neighbor tried to cut down a tree and it landed on your car), then it may be covered either under his property damage liability insurance or under his comprehensive insurance. If you are covered, then file a claim with the company.
If you were not at fault, are covered by the other driver's policy, but the insurance company won't pay or is stalling, file a small claims suit. The suit may be directed either at the driver or their company or both, depending on why the insurance company is denying or stalling your claim. If you go this route, look for an attorney who will work on consignment.
If you have yet to be in an accident and are not covered under collision insurance, try putting away a few dollars out of each paycheck to save up for the coverage. The ability to save a small amount for this purpose could end up saving you thousands of dollars if you severely damage or total your vehicle. Lower the premium by opting for a higher deductible.
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