Many motorists already know that their bad driving habits can tarnish their driving records -- and earn them higher auto insurance premiums. But even when your car isn't moving, it can still bring insurance headaches.
Pulling over on the freeway and stopping in other places not designated for standing still can raise the chances that another driver will hit your car, says Michael Rodriguez, a Farmers Insurance agent in Burbank, Calif. And if you park where you're not supposed to and someone hits you, the accident might be considered your fault, Rodriguez says.
You'd have to be parked in a pretty dangerous spot for the crash to be considered entirely your fault, however, says Keith Verisario, principal with All-Security Insurance Agency Inc. in Des Plaines, Ill.
"There's a certain level of responsibility on the driver who hit you," Verisario says.
For example, if the person who hit you was backing up without looking, you may not be to blame, Verisario says.
Who's to blame in each situation depends on the facts of the case, according to Lynette Simmons Hoag, an attorney with Hoag Law Group LLC in Chicago. Were your flashers on? Was the other car speeding? Was your car broken down, or were you just stopping to take a break? Your insurer will take all these things into account, Hoag says.
If you're sitting in a parked car, for example, and open the door into oncoming traffic and both cars are damaged, the fault will depend on the specifics of the situation, including driver's speed, according to Hoag.
In general, if you're parked illegally (in a no-parking zone, for example) and someone hits your car, your car would be the reason for the accident, and your liability insurance would pay the other driver, says Kevin Alsup, vice president of insurance at Foundation Insurance Services in Jacksonville, Fla.
Sometimes, however, insurers determine that fault is shared -- in other words, all drivers involved are partially to blame for the accident. This often happens in residential neighborhoods when someone parks on the street but partially blocks another person's driveway, which is illegal in many areas.
"The other person backs out and hits you. In most cases, both companies pay," Alsup says.
In such cases, insurers must decide the relative percentage of fault to assign to each driver -- and how much each driver's liability insurance will pay. Depending on the specific circumstances, the fault on the parked driver could range from 10 percent to 50 percent, according to Hoag.
Even if you weren't parked illegally, you still could end up paying -- in the form of increased premiums. Many insurers base your rate on your claims history, Verisario says. So even if you're a victim of bad luck and a person hits your car while you're legally parked, simply filing a claim may bump you up to a less desirable, costlier tier, according to Verisario.
"You could see an increase of between 9 and 12 percent, depending on your driving record and Zip code, Verisario says."
When you apply for insurance, your insurer will ask you where your vehicle usually is parked.
A claim may be denied if you're regularly parking your car in a different location, Hoag says. For example, if you claim your car typically is parked in suburban Illinois at your parents' home but you've actually been parking it on your college campus in Chicago, your claim may be denied if someone hits your car, according to Hoag.
"Your insurance company believes your vehicle is parked safely in a suburban garage, not in the high-traffic area of a college campus," Hoag says.
Hitting parked cars
If you're the one who hits a parked car, stop and call the police. Unfortunately, when someone hits an unoccupied car, that driver often just takes off, according to Alsup.
"The problem is, if someone saw you drive away, you could be on the hook for a hit-and-run," Alsup says.
Leaving your name and number on the windshield might not be enough, according to Alsup. If the paper blows away, the encounter is still a hit-and-run-accident -- and you could wind up in trouble if a witness jotted down your license plate number.
"It's best to call the police and file an accident report. If the paper blows away, they'll at least have a record of the incident," Alsup says.
Plus, be sure to tell your insurance company. Your liability insurance will pay if you're determined to be at fault. If another car hits your car and fails to leave a note or accident ticket, your collision coverage or uninsured motorist coverage -- if you have them -- would pay for the damage.