Who Pays For Car Damage After an Accident?

Financial responsibility for vehicle damage depends on who caused the accident, but practically speaking, it's all about available insurance coverage.

Updated by , J.D.

After a car accident, many people are left wondering who will actually pay to get their car fixed (or replaced). As we'll explain in the following sections, the answer depends on who was at fault for the accident, and the drivers' respective insurance coverage. Here's what to know at the outset:

  • The driver who caused the car accident is on the legal and financial hook for any resulting vehicle damage.
  • In most instances, an at-fault driver's property damage liability coverage will pay to repair or replace the other driver's vehicle (up to coverage limits).
  • Your own collision coverage and/or uninsured motorist property damage coverage can be used if the at-fault driver has no (or not enough) car insurance.

If Another Driver Caused the Accident

If another driver is at fault for your car accident, they're financially responsible for your vehicle damage. In most cases, the other driver has insurance. If not, you can have your insurance company pay for your car damage—if you have collision coverage and/or uninsured motorist property damage coverage. If you don't have these coverages, you can go after the other driver to try to make them pay, but it might be difficult. Usually, drivers who don't have car insurance don't have piles of cash laying around that can be used to pay to repair your car.

Let's look at a few different scenarios that can spring up when the other driver caused your accident.

If the Driver Who Caused Your Accident Has Insurance

Liability insurance covers damages for which a driver is legally liable. In car accident insurance lingo, property damage mainly means damage to your car. Therefore, your claim to have your car damage repaired will be against the other driver's "property damage liability insurance." (Learn more about different types of car insurance coverage.)

Almost every state has a law requiring drivers to have liability insurance, including property damage liability insurance. $10,000 is a common minimum coverage requirement for property damage liability insurance, but your state may have a different minimum requirement. And, of course, the at-fault driver might have more insurance coverage than the bare minimum.

So, since property damage liability insurance is usually required, the driver who caused your accident should have this kind of coverage in place. And if the driver's insurance company agrees that its insured caused the accident—and is therefore liable for paying damages—they will pay for your car repairs. (Learn more about car accident insurance settlements).

Note that even in no-fault car insurance states, the driver who caused the accident will still be on the financial hook for vehicle damage and other property-related losses. That's because no-fault (or "personal injury protection") only applies to car accident injuries, not vehicle damage.

If the Driver Who Caused Your Accident Has No Insurance, But You Do

What if the driver who caused your accident doesn't have liability insurance? Or, what if the at-fault driver has insurance but their insurance company will not admit that their insured caused the accident? In these situations, the best place to turn is to your own car insurance company—provided that you have collision coverage and/or uninsured motorist property damage coverage.

If you have collision coverage, your insurance company will pay to repair your car, regardless of who caused the accident. In other words, collision coverage is a no-fault coverage. However, there is a certain portion of the cost—called the "deductible"—that you're responsible for paying. Let's say you have collision coverage up to $20,000 with a $500 deductible (the higher the deductible, the lower the cost of the insurance). If it will cost $12,000 to repair your car, your insurance company will pay $11,500 and you will pay the deductible amount of $500.

So, can you get your deductible back? If the driver who caused your accident has no insurance and is financially unable to pay, it may be difficult. You can try to recover by suing that person. However, remember that getting a judgment against someone in court is not the same as collecting the judgment. To collect, the other driver must have something (a bank account, a car or some other property with equity in it) that you can "execute on" to collect your judgment.

If you have your car repaired by your insurance company under your collision coverage, and the driver who caused your accident has insurance, you should be able to get your deductible back from that driver's insurance company. Usually, your insurance company will get it for you. This process usually takes anywhere from a few weeks to a few months.

Finally, in case you are wondering, making a collision coverage claim under your policy should not increase your premiums when the accident was not your fault. Learn more about using your collision coverage to pay for vehicle damage.

Uninsured motorist car insurance coverage, if you have it, usually applies to injuries caused by an accident. But you can usually purchase a targeted policy add-on called "uninsured motorist property damage insurance" (or something similar), which can be used to pay for vehicle repairs when the person who caused your accident has no insurance. Learn more about how uninsured motorist coverage works.

The Driver Who Caused Your Accident Is Uninsured, and So Are You

This is the tough one. If you have no car insurance, the at-fault driver is still responsible for paying for your car repairs. But, as a practical matter, if they're also uninsured, you can't collect from someone who has nothing. You can always file a lawsuit against the at-fault driver, on the off chance that he or she will come up with money to repair your car.

In many states, if a person has a judgment against them arising out of a car accident, their license will be suspended when you notify your Motor Vehicle Administration (or Department of Motor Vehicles, or whatever it's called in your state) of the judgment. That can put serious pressure on the at-fault driver to come up with the repair money.

The Driver Who Caused Your Accident Has Insurance, and So Do You

If the driver who caused your accident has liability coverage, and you have collision coverage, you have a choice. You can have either insurance company pay to repair your car damage. Which is better? The argument in favor of having the other driver's insurance company repair your car damage is that you won't have to pay a deductible. In addition, the other company must pay for a rental car while your car is being repaired, but your insurance company only has to pay for a rental car if you have rental reimbursement insurance. The main argument for having your insurance company pay to repair your car damage is that you have certain rights under your insurance policy—such as a quick and cost-effective process for resolving disputes—that you don't have when you deal with the other driver's insurance company.

A final consideration is the amount of coverage. If the other driver doesn't have enough coverage to pay to repair your car, and you do, of course you should have your insurance company pay.

If You Caused the Car Accident

Even if you caused the car accident, your insurance company will pay to repair your car, if you have collision coverage. Remember that collision coverage is no-fault. But you will be out the deductible. If you caused the accident and don't have collision coverage on your car, you'll end up having to pay out of pocket.

Now that you have a clearer understanding of who pays for damage to a car after an accident, learn about how much is paid for vehicle damage after an accident.

Do I Need a Lawyer for a Vehicle Damage Claim?

You can usually handle a straightforward vehicle damage claim on your own after a car accident. But in some situations it might make sense to discuss your situation with an attorney, especially when you've also suffered car accident injuries or there are other crash-related loose ends to tie up. Learn more about when to get a lawyer's help after a car accident.

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