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Oops, I hit a fire hydrant


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Question: I recently hit a fire hydrant. My back bumper has a large dent in it.  Can I use my insurance to cover the cost of replacing the bumper? If so, what do I claim it as?  And I don’t think the hydrant was damaged, but if it was could someone come after me for that?

Answer: If you only have liability coverages, you’re out of luck for fixing your car.  If you have collision insurance, it will cover your back bumper -- but only if the cost of repairs is more than your deductible amount.  

I always recommend using your car insurance for the big things and taking care of little things on your own.  So, even if the repair costs are just a bit more than your deductible, I’d suggest you pay out of pocket instead of filing an auto insurance claim.   This will keep a claim from going on your record and affecting your future car insurance rates. 

It’s possible that one small accident claim like this won’t result in you receiving a surcharge (it varies by state and insurer), but you don’t know what the future holds.  You could be in another accident next month and have to use your collision coverage again for that.   Two accidents in such a short period of time would almost certainly result in a surcharge at renewal time.

Drivers with multiple accidents (two or more within a three-year period) appear to auto insurance providers to pose more of a risk, and thus insurers file their rates with the state in a way that allows these types of drivers to be charged more to be insured.  That is why keeping accidents and claims to a minimum will help you obtain lower auto insurance rates. (See "Keep your license clean -- and your car insurance cheap")

As for the fire hydrant, if it were damaged, then the city, or whoever is the keeper of it, could charge you for damages if they are aware that you are the one that hit it.  (See “You hit it, you bought it.”)

You should be very happy that you didn’t hit the hydrant so hard as to cause it to topple over or otherwise lose water.  Many water authorities will charge a driver for the water as well as the hydrant– and that can add up to thousands of dollars quickly. 

Your property damage liability coverage will pay, up to your limits, for damages you do to other people’s property.  So, if the hydrant was damaged and you receive a letter requesting compensation, you should contact your auto insurance company so that your property damage liability will cover it.

Determining what type of coverage is needed to cover an accident can be confusing.  Try out our Crash-o-matic tool that lets you click on six common accident scenarios to find out what type of insurance coverage is needed to pay for the damage.

If this incident with the fire hydrant does end up affecting your car insurance rates, remember to comparison shop and make certain you’re getting the best premium possible.  Even with an accident or violation on your record, it’s worth it to shop around; it could save you hundreds of dollars – if not much more. (See “3 ways to save big on car insurance”)

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