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what to do after a car accident

Help and advice if you've been in an accident

If you're involved in a collision, there are some steps you must take no matter who was at fault

Not stopping at the scene of an accident or failing to report an accident you’re involved in is a serious offence that can result in a hefty fine, disqualification or even prison. Here's what to do...

If you’re driving, and:
  • A person, other than yourself, is injured
  • Damage is caused to another vehicle or to someone else's property – including lamps, signs, bollards and other street furniture
  • An animal (horse, cattle, ass, mule, sheep, pig, goat or dog) has been killed or injured, except in your own vehicle or trailer
Then you must:
  • Stop and remain at the scene for a reasonable period
  • Give your vehicle registration number, your name and address, and that of the vehicle owner (if different) to anyone with reasonable grounds for asking for those details
  • If you don't exchange details at the scene, you must report the accident at a police station or to a police constable as soon as you can, and in any case within 24 hours
If another person’s injured, you must:
  • Produce your certificate of insurance, if anyone at the scene has reasonable grounds to see it
  • If you don’t, you must report the accident at a police station or to a constable as soon as you can and in any case within 24 hours. You'll need to produce your certificate of insurance but if you don't have it when reporting the accident to the police, you may take it, within seven days of the accident, to the police station you nominate when you report the incident

Reporting the accident to the police by telephone isn’t sufficient and you can’t ask someone else to report for you.

You're obliged to do these things not only when you’re directly involved in an accident, but also if your vehicle's 'presence' was a factor.

Accidents and theft

Dealing with your insurer

Even if you don’t want to claim yourself, you should report the accident to your insurance company within a reasonable time. 

At the scene

Collect and note down as much information – photographs and notes – as you can while at the scene.

  • Scene – date, time, location, weather conditions, traffic conditions, road markings/signs/signals.
  • Vehicles – make, model, registration number, colour, condition, estimated speed, direction, use of lights or indicators, number of passengers.
  • People – contact details, description/distinguishing features of driver(s), contact details of passengers, pedestrians or other witnesses, details of any police officers involved.
  • Damage – description of the damage to vehicles or property, and any injuries to people involved.

Claims, valuations and repairs

If you’ve got comprehensive car insurance, then the damage should be covered subject to the terms and conditions of the policy.

  • You don't have to claim from your insurer, but if repair costs are high or your car’s a write-off, then you may want to while bearing in mind that your no claims discount may be affected.
  • If your cover’s third party or third party, fire and theft only, then accidental damage to your vehicle won’t be covered.
  • When you make a claim follow your insurer’s specific instructions, usually in the document.
Insurance valuations

If your vehicle’s stolen and not recovered or if your insurer estimates that the cost of repair is more than the vehicle’s worth, then it will be declared a total loss 'write-off' and you’ll be offered a cash payment based on the vehicle's market value.

  • Market value will be based on the retail price of a comparable vehicle, from a reputable dealer immediately prior to the damage/theft.
  • Cars often sell for less than advertised so insurers will use official price guides (Glass's, CAP etc.) for a more accurate picture.
  • The value you put down on the car insurance proposal form or on any claim form won’t be taken into account.

If you’re unhappy the valuation:


Your insurance policy probably includes a clause saying that you must make sure the vehicle’s maintained in a roadworthy condition.

  • Your claim could be rejected if it’s found that your failing to maintain your vehicle in a roadworthy condition either caused or substantially contributed to the accident and subsequent loss.
  • A total loss payment may be reduced if there’s evidence that the vehicle would have failed an MOT.


If you’ve got comprehensive cover your insurer may tell you to use their approved repairers.

  • Using an authorised repairer means that any repair problems can be referred to your insurer
  • The approved repairer may provide a courtesy vehicle but this is normally subject to availability on a discretionary basis and isn’t an automatic entitlement unless your policy states otherwise.
  • If your vehicle’s a 'write-off' then the policy is unlikely to provide for a courtesy car.
  • If your policy’s subject to an excess, you’ll normally have to pay the excess to the repairer before being allowed to collect the repaired vehicle.

If you’ve only got third party cover and the accident wasn’t your fault, you may be able to recover the cost of repairs from the other party.

Once the details of your claim have been passed to the other party's insurer, they may offer to have the repairs to your vehicle done for you.  If they don't, you’ll need to recover the cost involved, along with any other uninsured losses.

Insurance write-offs

If a vehicle's written off because the damage is too severe or repair costs too high, it's important that the remains of the vehicle – the salvage – is dealt with correctly to make sure that dangerous, badly repaired vehicles aren't put back on the road or that the wreck isn’t used to give a new identity to a stolen vehicle.

What happens to a vehicle when it's written off depends on the damage and the estimated cost of repair. Four different categories of salvage are defined in a voluntary code of practice supported by major organisations including government departments, the Association of British Insurers (ABI), the DVLA, and the National Police Chiefs' Council.

Following a two-year review a new version of the code of practice comes into effect from 1 October 2017. This still defines four categories of salvage but they're described and defined differently.

Old salvage categories
  • A:  scrap/crush only, no economically salvageable parts e.g. total burnouts
  • B:  break for spares and crush body-shell/chassis
  • C:  repairable but repair costs exceed pre-accident value
  • D:  repairable but repair costs don't exceed pre-accident value
New salvage categories (from 1 October 2017)
  • A:  scrap - complete vehicle crushed without any components being removed
  • B:  break - body-shell/chassis crushed without any structural components being removed
  • S:  structurally damaged but repairable
  • N:  non-structurally damaged but repairable

You might also hear the terms 'actual loss' to describe categories A and B, and 'constructive loss' to describe C and D (S and N).

  • Details of all total loss vehicles are notified to DVLA and recorded on the Motor Insurance Anti-Fraud and Theft Register (MIAFTR) along with the salvage category assigned to the vehicle.
  • The VIN (Vehicle Identification Number) plate, Visible VIN and number plates must be securely disposed i.e. crushed along with the bodyshell (A and B) and airbags/seatbelt components must be properly disposed of and not re-sold (B)
  • Vehicles in Categories C and D (S and N) may be sold on for repair.
  • Vehicles notified to DVLA in categories A and B will not be re-registered by DVLA.
Buying a Category C or D (S or N) write-off

If you’re thinking of buying a repaired write-off, bear in mind that its salvage status is marked on the registration document in the case of Cat C (S) as well as being recorded on the MIAFTR register which will affect the future resale value and saleability – this should be reflected in the current purchase price.

  • Consider an independent inspection to satisfy yourself that repairs have been carried out to a satisfactory standard.
  • Car insurance can be more expensive and some insurers may even refuse to insure a repaired Category C or D (S or N) write-off. 

updated 27 September 2017

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