I caused a fender bender and want to pay for the damages without getting taken.
January 5, 2011 9:41 AM   Subscribe

I caused a fender bender and we're settling it without insurance companies. I am in the northeast U.S, the other driver is far away in the southeast U.S. Advice on how to proceed?

When I was on vacation in a faraway state, I borrowed a family member's car and hit another person's car just enough to scrape up her rear quarter panel a bit and scrape and dent the car I was driving. The other driver and I agreed to settle it between the two of us without insurance companies since the damage was so minimal and it seemed like paying out of pocket would be overall the best choice over reporting it, potentially having rates go up and then the cost not being covered anyway because it's relatively inexpensive (a financial hardship for me because I'm on a tight budget, but as body repairs go, minimal). A cop wrote up an exchange of information for each of us documenting the damage and the details of the accident but no official "report" so that he wouldn't have to give me a ticket or report it to our insurance companies.

She sent me two estimates which both seem entirely reasonable. I called both body shops and made sure that the estimates reflect repairs only to the damage I caused and not any preexisting damage. I will be shelling out either $450 or $630 (depending on which body shop she goes to, obviously I'll be pulling for the cheaper one) but my question is how to proceed with payment in a way that ensures all accounts are settled between us and she can't later claim that I never paid, etc. Do I pay her? Do I pay the body shop? Do I have her sign off on some kind of letter? If so, what should it say, etc.? She seems super nice and on the up and up and while I have myself been burned in car accident situations with people who initially seem awesome but later end up being crooked grifters, I'm giving this woman the benefit of the doubt since she's been honest, communicative, and reasonable throughout this whole thing.

Obviously if we lived in the same place this would be more straightforward. Also, she is a non-native English speaker and while her English is generally excellent, it's been a little challenging when discussing the nitty gritty of things, especially now that I am back home and we can't speak in person.

All that said, how should I pay and what else should I do from here on out to make sure I am covering all my bases? Thanks in advance.
posted by anonymous to Grab Bag (6 answers total)
I would suggest paying the body shop (cheapest one) and having a receipt mailed to you showing paid in full. The estimate shows the damage and cost to repair. I would think you would be covered totally by having the estimate and the paid receipt for the work done.
posted by JayRwv at 9:54 AM on January 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

The damage that was done to her car is what you're paying for, not the repairs. She sent you cost estimates for what is required should she decide to get the car repaired. Essentially, you took away $450 of the value of her car away from her. Regardless if she actually gets the car fixed or not, you still have subtracted that value from her and that is what you owe her.

This is not legal or ethical advice, just third party opinionating.
posted by Think_Long at 10:19 AM on January 5, 2011

I would just send a check via registered mail and save the Delivery Confirmation.
posted by samthemander at 10:22 AM on January 5, 2011

Agree with JayRwv, pay the body shop directly and ask for a receipt.
posted by TheBones at 11:05 AM on January 5, 2011

I agree with Think_Long in that I believe the money should go to the car owner and not the repair facility. I'd probably conduct this through an escrow service, with her having to sign a liability release as a condition prior to the release of funds. I have used escrow.com several times, mostly for domain name sales, with excellent results.
posted by bz at 1:13 PM on January 5, 2011

You should give the check to the owner if he/she wants it. If you want financial protection, that is what insurance is for. If you settle without insurance you need to deal with the risk.
posted by twblalock at 11:03 AM on January 6, 2011

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