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driving concerns

If my car brushes up against an empty car in a parking lot but there's no damage, do I have to leave my information? I'm worried that if I leave a note, they'll claim I caused damage that was already there. - Marc, Toronto

A collision is still a collision, even if the car you hit looks fine, say Toronto Police.

"If you hit something or someone with your vehicle, it's a collision, period," says Traffic Services Const. Clint Stibbe. "It is best to leave your information — if you don't, you could be charged."

In Ontario, you have to report a crash to police or a collision reporting centre if there's damage over $1,000 or if someone is injured, according to section 199 of the Highway Traffic Act (HTA). In the Northwest Territories, Alberta, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland, that limit is $2,000.

"In most cases, even a small amount of damage on the vehicles will exceed $1,000 and as a result in most cases the offenders would be charged with an offence," says Const. Stibbe.

It's a good idea to report it even if you think the damage is less — because you might be wrong, he adds.

"In order to protect yourself, you should report it, but there's no requirement under the Highway Traffic Act," he says. "There are some insurance companies that will waive the deductible if you report to police within 24 hours."

If you do report it to police, do you still have to leave a note for the other driver? It's a little murky.

That section of the HTA doesn't say you have to give your insurance contact information to anyone other than police. But if you take off after a parking lot fender bender, police could also charge you for failing to stop at the scene of an accident under the Criminal Code of Canada.

There's a similar rule in Ontario's HTA, but it only applies on the road and not in private parking lots.

Was the damage already there?

If you get in a crash with another vehicle and you're more than 25 per cent at fault, your insurance company is allowed to raise your rates — even if there's no damage, says the Insurance Bureau of Canada.

"An accident shows that you weren't paying attention and you're not as good a driver as someone who didn't have an accident," says Pete Karageorgos, IBC manager of consumer and industry relations.

Body shops might identify existing damage and exclude it from a claim, Karageorgos says. But, the dollar cost of the damage doesn't usually affect how much your rates will increase.

"Some companies forgive damage under a certain threshold — it's a good question to ask them when you're shopping for a policy," Karageorgos says.

It's a good idea to take detailed photos of both vehicles — and to get information from anybody who witnessed the crash.

"Photos help, witnesses help, dash cams help," he says. "We do see cases of insurance fraud where people will try to claim an injury even though there was minimal damage to either vehicle."

If somebody tries to get insurance to pay for existing damage to their vehicle, they could be charged with insurance fraud. And, they could see their own insurance rates go up too — even if you were the one who hit them.

"In the case of conflicting stories, a 50/50 apportionment of fault is possible and this would be a chargeable loss on the insurance record of both drivers," says Ken Dusenbury, director, claim relationships with CAA Insurance.

If you don't tell your insurance company about an accident because you've decided to handle it privately, they might not protect you if the person you hit claims an injury.

"I know a lot of people don't want to report this type of thing to insurance companies but they're there to protect you as well," says Toronto Police's Stibbe. "If there's a civil litigation and they claim they have whiplash, you could be left holding the bag if you haven't reported it."

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