Family Dynamics and a Crumpled Car – What Would You Do?

I mentioned last week that we were planning a trip to California for a special family event. Well, we just got back late last night and the trip was good. It was for the most part uneventful; we got to visit with my parents and both sets of grandparents on my side of the family who were also there for the event. It was great visiting with everyone and the event itself that we went for was really good.

The term For the most part uneventful though, leaves room for something, and that something is really bothering me; my dad backed into our new van on the morning we were planning to leave…

I don’t know how it happened. I was in the shower and my dad came and knocked, saying that he backed up into the front of the van and there is a crack in the bumper. I expected a hairline crack, but what I found when examining the van was much more. He drives a small truck with a shell, probably magnifying the lack of visibility that may have caused the accident. The damage to the van was more severe than I imagined; there was a crack, but aside from the main crack that looked more like a golf ball sized hole in the bumper, there were cracks going out from that hole in a spiderweb pattern in every direction, measuring about six inches in length. On top of that, he hit right where the front headlight sits which pushed the front headlight under the hood of the car, breaking the light’s plastic housing on the inside. The frame on the outside that sits adjacent to the bumper was also tweaked.

Normally in this situation, both parties would exchange insurance information; he would be required to pay the deductible on his insurance and they would cover the rest of the repair. When insurance is involved, his insurance premiums would most likely rise, and the repair shop would charge much more than the repair actually cost them.

In this situation, I am very frustrated. This is family and I know it was an accident, though I can’t fathom based on where my car was parked and where his car was coming from, how he could possibly have not seen my car and how he did the amount of damage he did.

If the damage was simply cosmetic, I’d get an estimate but probably would just forget about the whole thing, but in this case the damage could possibly effect the safety of the car as the light housing was damaged and I can’t just not get it checked out. The safety of my wife and kids is a priority and I need to make sure that the car will still be safe to drive, day and night, and that the engine was not damaged as well by the accident.

So it looks like my options come down to these:

  1. Get insurance involved. This will cost my dad the $500 deductible, and may cause his insurance premium to rise.
  2. Avoid going through insurance. This means I will have to get an estimate of the damage and deal directly with my dad to have him pay for the damage to the car. It will most likely cost more up front, but would avoid a premium increase and any record of the accident on his insurance.
  3. Go at it alone. I could get an estimate of the damage and pay for it myself.

Family dynamics are different for everyone. Some people treat all situations, family or not, as business and they won’t hesitate to damage a relationship strictly on principle. Others believe family is all we have and one should do everything they can to nurture family relationships, putting this above all else.

I’m somewhere in the middle and could really use some advice about the situation. What would you do if you were in my shoes?

Image by Kevin H.

If you liked this, please subscribe to my triweekly updates via RSS or Email. Thank you!

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

15 People have left comments on this post

» EstebanNo Gravatar said: { Oct 25, 2010 - 01:10:20 }

Can’t Dad pay for it?

» Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar said: { Oct 25, 2010 - 01:10:48 }

@Esteban well, that all depends on what the damage will cost to fix. My other car got rearended a couple years back and the damage, although not even visible, cost almost $3,000 to fix. I know all they did was replace the plastic body/bumper and that is pretty expensive. In this case, the damage is beyond just body work so I am estimating that it will cost upwards of $3k to fix.

» jeff @ sustainable life blogNo Gravatar said: { Oct 25, 2010 - 03:10:42 }

That sucks about your van. Have you thought of getting an estimate and then offering to split the cost with your dad? Even though you were not at fault the gesture could go a long way. You could also ask if he wants to involve insurance.

Good luck


Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

I hadn’t thought of that. I haven’t discussed anything with him yet so I will certainly ask him what he think should be done. Thanks for the tips.

» YanaNo Gravatar said: { Oct 25, 2010 - 06:10:51 }

I’m sorry that happened. If the damage is $500-$1,000 , you could consider not having your dad make an insurance claim and instead having him pay for the repair. If you can, you should decide with your dad what to do. If the damage is over $1,000 , I’d say he should make a claim, because that is what insurance is for.

It sucks to have your new van damaged. I don’t know if it’s better or worse having it involve family! The closest thing I’ve experienced was when I had a new Camry, a neighbor’s 2-year-old thought that the shiny surface on the side of the car was a good canvas to draw on with a rock. I like good comprehensive coverage, so I used my insurance and the child’s dad paid me my $50 deductible. I know many people think one should have a high deductible, but for my insurance to be worth paying for at all, I want to pay as close to nothing as possible when I have to make a claim. I also found that those who do windshield replacements are often very willing to waive small deductibles.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:


I will certainly have to speak with him before I do anything and see what he wants to do. It’s so different dealing with family than it is dealing with strangers in this situation.

Your thoughts on deductibles are also interesting. My deductible is very high and I did that because I am still a young driver and my premium was higher than I could afford, but now that my rate has come down a bit I may have to rethink where my deductible sits in case something like this happens and it’s my fault.

» darrenNo Gravatar said: { Oct 25, 2010 - 09:10:53 }

Hey Jesse, I have found myself in this situation actually a few times. And I have been on both sides of this. In my family however there really wasn’t a question about this it has always fallen to the person at fault to go out of their way to make things right. As a result the “victim” is never forced to make a decision like you find yourself in. For example my sister once backed the family car into my brothers car. She took the car to get the estimates and weighed her options and got the car fixed and as a result my sister who was at fault didn’t have any guilt and my brother had no hard feelings. I realize that this may not help you out of your particular situation but you need to remember that you were not at fault and we are all responsible for our own actions. With that in mind it really should be up to your dad to make this right and not fall at all on you.
I wish you well because I realize that you are stuck between the proverbial rock and a hard spot, but you need to remember that you were not the one responsible for the accident and you should not be put in this predicament. So, when push comes to shove you need to do what is right for you and your immediate family. I know probably not the opinion you wanted to hear but this is how I feel.
Best wishes,

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Darren, that’s exactly how I feel. My relationship with my dad has always been a bit rocky, we just don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things and it’s hard for me to think straight in a situation like this. Your advice is very helpful.

» Car Negotiation CoachNo Gravatar said: { Oct 27, 2010 - 09:10:21 }

I’d get the estimate on your own and wait to make a judgement call about involving insurance until after you know the dollar amount.

» Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar said: { Oct 29, 2010 - 08:10:37 }


That’s the plan at this point. I’m getting an estimate and putting the responsibility in my dad’s hands. I’ll let you all know how it goes for sure!

» Kay Lynn @ Bucksome BoomerNo Gravatar said: { Oct 30, 2010 - 11:10:19 }

It’s too bad your dad didn’t offer immediately to repair it. I hope it all works out without much drama.

» DadNo Gravatar said: { Nov 9, 2010 - 07:11:36 }

It was Sunday morning. I was on my way to a meeting. I had to back out of the driveway differently to avoid the two additional cars parked in front of the house. My right rear bumper hit the left front bumper on the van. I came into the house and told you what had happened. Because you were in the shower and I was going to be late I went to my meeting. Two hours later you and the new van were on the road home. The following morning I im’d you to get an estimate and we would discuss options. I was not trying to avoid the issue. I was just unable to discuss it at that time. When you have an estimate we will discuss this further.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Dad, I understand your haste and that wasn’t what bothered me. Communication isn’t the strongest trait in our family, but a simple call during our long drive where we did nothing but fume over the accident, could have really helped us understand what you planned to do. People can’t read minds and unless you communicate your actions, we will assume you have no plan and we will take things into our own hands. But no hard feelings, this post was written somewhat out of frustration and it wasn’t meant to be hurtful, only to share my experience with a situation unfamiliar to me with the hopes that others could learn from it as much as I have. Judging by the comments, it’s not an uncommon situation.

» SethNo Gravatar said: { Nov 10, 2010 - 03:11:05 }

In all likelyhood, the least expensive option would be for your dad to get his insurance to pay for it. For one thing, depending on your state’s laws, you may be legally required to report the accident to the DMV (in CA, where I live, I think it’s any accident where there’s more than $750 in damage, or any injury). His insurance MAY go up, but it would still probably make the most financial sense.

About 4.5 years ago, I rear-ended an SUV on the freeway. The damage to my car was about $8000. There was minimal damage to the other vehicle, but they wanted to go to the doctor, etc. My insurance went up for three years, but I believe the added cost was something like $2000 over that period.

Jesse MichelsenNo Gravatar Reply:

Seth, thanks for sharing your experience, that really helps. I think you’re right in that the initial cost of the repair may be more than the cost of insurance rising but I am leaving that in my dads hands. If he wants to leave insurance out of it, that’s his call.

Sorry, comments for this entry are closed at this time.