Your driving record can be a mysterious thing. What exactly is on thereand how long does it stick around? 

The good news: you probably don’t need to stress about that car accident you were in more than five years ago, even if you were at fault. 

Unlike other types of records, like your credit history, accidents and other incidents don’t automatically disappear from your driving record after a set amount of time. Instead, different factors can be responsible for determining how long an accident stays on your record.

You already know that car insurance companies look at your driving record when offering you a quote or even when they reevaluate your insurance rates. Typically, you can expect that an accident on your record—whether or not you were at fault—will affect your rates for at least three years. This higher premium will be the result of what’s called a surcharge. Over those three years or so, your rates will spike and then steadily decline. But if you’ve had a streak of accidents, be prepared for those rate changes to last even longer than that.

After a major accident, regardless of whose fault it was, it’s a good idea to do your best to avoid additional accidents or citations for at least six years. (We know, you’re already doing your best!) This reduces the risk of an additional rate increase and improves the odds of that accident being erased after the default three years. There isn’t anything you can do to accelerate the process—just be mindful of the rules of the road and take care to avoid any other major incidents.

Curious about how a new auto insurance policy will reflect your driving record? Take a look at what you’ll see when you use Insurify to get free insurance quotes.

Comparing auto insurance rates by accident history

A prior accident tends to have a negative impact on your car insurance premiums. Check out the table below comparing average monthly premiums for drivers with a prior accident compared to those without, drawn from Insurify’s proprietary database of millions of driver quotes.

Prior accident? Average Monthly Cost Coverage Type
Yes $206 Minimum Liability Coverage
No $158 Minimum Liability Coverage
Yes $302 Full Coverage
No $285 Full Coverage

What about specific drivers? The following Insurify quote list reflects the following user: a 36-year-old single female living in Dallas, Texas; driving a 2009 Toyota Camry; currently insured by Liberty Mutual; employed as a journalist and driving roughly 20 miles every workday; having average credit; opting for state minimum full coverage rates (state minimum liability plus comprehensive and collision). The quotes listed correspond to this driver having a clean driving record, an at-fault accident from six months ago on her record, and an at-fault accident from four years ago on her record. 

Insurance CompanyQuote Without AccidentQuote With At-Fault Accident 6 Months AgoQuote With At-Fault Accident 4 Years Ago
Bristol West$92/month$126/month$95/month
Commonwealth Casualty$161/month$190/month$161/month
The General$342/month$487/month$342/month

We can see that it’s ideal to have a clean driving record. But accidents happen. Surcharges will cause this hypothetical driver’s auto rates to spike, and the quotes offered to this driver on Insurify will increase as a result. But over time, as we see, auto premiums will decrease back to their original price point (in most cases with non-standard carriers) or to a rate that’s only slightly higher. In two more years, the driver’s accident will be more or less scrubbed from her record.

While major accidents do typically affect your insurance premiums—at least temporarily—minor accidents that can be resolved without filing an insurance claim won’t. Your insurance company only knows about the accidents you report to them. If you’re involved in a minor fender-bender and you’re financially able to resolve it on your own without involving your insurance company, you’ll avoid seeing a premium increase. We know that’s not always easy, though. Luckily, most minor incidents that don’t result in injury or significant damage may only raise your rates by a negligible amount. 

How much will my car insurance rates go up?

Again, it depends. Insurance companies don’t have a straightforward method for calculating a rate increase. Instead, factors like your age, your existing driving record, and even where you live can all play a role.

As a general rule, a more experienced driver with a relatively clean record and a history of safe driving will see less of a rate increase than a younger driver with a few citations. You can see this reflected in many insurance companies’ “good driver discounts.” Other car insurance companies such as GEICO offer accident forgiveness for customers who have a demonstrated history of good driving. Accident forgiveness is exactly what it sounds like: the insurance company essentially doesn’t count the accident when calculating your premium. Usually, this policy only applies to your first at-fault accident.

The severity of the accident also plays a role, too. A minor accident that doesn’t result in any injuries is unlikely to result in a sky-high rate hike. On the other hand, a major accident with injuries or property damage is far more likely to affect your premiums.

Cheapest Car Insurance Companies for Drivers with Past Accidents

You can’t change your driving record, but you can change how much you pay for car insurance. Check out the table below of the top 5 cheapest insurance companies for drivers with past accidents on their driving record, drawn from Insurify’s proprietary database of millions of driver quotes.

Car Insurance CompanyAverage Monthly Cost
Metromile $112
Amigo USA$121

It Pays to Play it Safe

Insurance companies often classify drivers as “high-risk” if they have a DUI or multiple citations or accidents on their record. While it’s possible that being involved in several accidents is just the result of bad luck, there’s no excuse for a DUI or repeated traffic violations. Adjusting your habits to ensure you drive defensively and safely can give you big benefits when your monthly bill rolls around.

Like so many other things in the world of insurance, car insurance rates are a bit mysterious. Although it may be difficult to determine how exactly an accident will affect your monthly premiums, the best defense is a good offense. If your driving history is less than stellar, it’s never too late to start improving it. If you have a longstanding history of good driving habits, keep it up! Whether you realize it or not, it’s saving you a bit of money every month.

Insurify lets you compare auto insurance quotes from top insurance providers, no matter your driving record or financial situation. Insurance costs don’t have to be debilitating. Build your ideal policy and secure a cheaper quote today!

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Updated April 27, 2021

Alex Lancaster is a writer, traveler, and cat person living in Southern California. With a background in copywriting and content strategy, she loves simplifying the complex and making connections.