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What Is a Minor Car Accident: Definition and FAQ

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Every car accident is stressful, even a minor fender bender. These unfortunate events disrupt your routine, cause delays, and can set you and your passengers on edge. Knowing what to do after a minor car accident can put you in a much better position to make the best decisions in an emotionally charged situation.

What Makes a Car Accident ‘Minor?’

There is no generally accepted definition of a ‘minor’ car accident. However, the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) defines the term in the context of when you should replace a child safety seat.

A minor crash is one in which all of the following apply:

  • You were able to drive your vehicle away from the crash site
  • The door nearest the car seat was not damaged
  • None of the vehicle’s passengers sustained injuries
  • If the vehicle has airbags, they did not deploy during the crash
  • There is no visible damage to a child safety seat

Because it’s better to be overcautious regarding driver and passenger safety, this definition essentially restricts the designation to all but the slightest collisions. In broader terms, most people would probably agree that a minor car accident is one in which the vehicle(s) involved sustain minimal damages and the occupants have only minor injuries. However, the existence and scope of damages can be challenging to determine at the time of an accident. Accidents that seem to be small may result in significant damage.

What Kinds of Personal Injuries May Not Be Immediately Apparent?

With a ‘latent injury‘ you may not feel hurt immediately after a car accident, even if you are. Adrenaline and endorphins can delay the onset of pain for injuries like broken bones and torn ligaments. Many other types of injuries — both minor and severe — may not be readily apparent. Some conditions take a day or more for symptoms to appear. Serious conditions like internal bleeding may not show any symptoms at all until it is too late.

Minor car accidents can cause bruising, muscle strain or sprains, herniated disks, pinched or damaged nerves, concussions or other traumatic brain injuries (TBI), and more. Left untreated, many of these conditions can lead to chronic pain and serious complications. Some can even be fatal. If you are involved in an auto accident, it’s always a good idea to get checked out at the scene and again by your primary care provider within a few days.

What If My Car Doesn’t Seem to Have Much Damage?

Modern vehicles are much different from classic cars and trucks. In the past, vehicles generally consisted of an exterior shell mounted on a chassis carrying the powertrain (motor and drivetrain). If a collision damaged part of the body, swapping in a new panel or part was easy and inexpensive. By contrast, most new vehicles use unibody construction: The car’s frame and body are manufactured as one piece. Even minor impacts can lead to significant structural damage and be very costly to repair.

Most newer cars also contain advanced electrical and computer systems that control nearly every component of the vehicle’s operation. Hybrid and fully electric vehicles contain complex rechargeable battery systems (usually expensive lithium-ion batteries). Repairs can be very costly. Even a minor car accident can lead to your vehicle being declared a total loss, especially if it causes damage to one of these systems. For some luxury vehicles, an accident can significantly diminish the car’s value.

What Kinds of Damages Can I Recover After an Auto Accident?

Generally, the people injured in an auto accident are entitled to recover compensation (‘damages‘) from a driver or other party who is at fault for the occurrence. Often this is the driver of another car, but it can also be a property owner who allows a dangerous condition, a company that negligently hired a bad driver for its delivery truck, or another responsible third party. A liable party may have to pay “compensatory damages” to put the injured parties in the same position they were before the accident.

Compensatory damages usually consist of “special damages” to reimburse the costs of medical expenses, vehicle damage, lost wages, and other financial losses related to the accident. They may also be liable for “general damages,” compensating the accident victim for losses like pain and suffering, emotional distress, and other non-monetary losses.

What If I Have Unusual Costs and Expenses Related to an Accident?

Many people now use their vehicles to make extra money as rideshare drivers (Uber, Lyft, etc.). If you are unable to drive your car for a period of time after an accident (either because of damage to the vehicle or as a result of your injuries), you may be able to recover compensation for this loss of extra income as part of your special damages claim.

Sometimes, a car accident that’s not particularly serious can still cause a driver to incur significant expenses. For example, if a store’s delivery van is involved in a small accident and unable to make its scheduled stops, the business may have to make expensive last-minute arrangements. In other cases, a driver may carry something perishable or fragile, and even a small accident could cause costly delays or breakage. Especially in unusual circumstances like these, hiring an experienced auto accident attorney can help you recover the full value of your damages.

Do I Need a Lawyer After a Minor Car Accident?

Consulting with an attorney can be beneficial if you have injuries, costly vehicle repairs, or unexpected expenses after a car accident, no matter how minor. An experienced attorney can review your case and help you understand your options.


This article contains general legal information but does not constitute professional legal advice for your particular situation. The Law Dictionary is not a law firm, and this page does not create an attorney-client or legal adviser relationship. If you have specific questions, please consult a qualified attorney licensed in your jurisdiction.

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