Understanding the Difference Between Minor and Major Car Accidents

By  //  October 19, 2023

No two car accidents are the same, and, unfortunately, with millions of drivers hitting the roads every day, there’s a good chance you’ll be involved in a vehicle accident at some point. 

While some accidents are so minor, you can barely discern any damage to either vehicle. Other car accidents result in severe injuries and property damage. Sometimes, it’s easy to tell the difference between minor and major car accidents, and other times, a minor accident can have unforeseen complications.

Knowing the difference between minor and major car accidents is something every driver should be aware of. Here’s what you should know to ensure your legal rights are protected.

What is Considered a Minor Car Accident

Minor car accidents don’t involve serious damage to either involved vehicle. Injuries are typically superficial, think slight cuts, scratches, and possibly a few bruises. Your chest may be a little sore from your seatbelt engaging, but everyone can walk away from the accident.

Even though your injuries may seem minor after a minor vehicle collision, this can change. Soft tissue injuries are common in minor rear-end collisions, and over time, this can develop into serious medical problems. Soft tissue injuries typically occur when your neck and back are suddenly forced forward and backward. Your head can also hit the window or seat rest. 

What is Considered a Major Car Accident

Major car accidents typically result in severe damage to one or both vehicles. Injuries can also be severe and often include broken bones, damage to vital organs, and traumatic head injuries, to list a few examples. Sometimes, drivers and/or passengers are ejected from the vehicles. Unfortunately, some injuries from major vehicle collisions can also result in fatalities.

The primary difference between minor and major car accidents is the amount of force sustained in a crash. The force is greater in major accidents, resulting in more severe damage and serious injuries.

Common Types of Minor and Major Car Accidents

Any of these types of car accidents can be minor or major, depending on the rate of speed and other factors.


Sideswipes are often annoying and can also result in a major vehicle accident, depending on both drivers’ rate of speed. A sideswipe happens when one vehicle hits another on the side. Both drivers can lose control of the vehicle, sending it into a tailspin.

This type of accident usually occurs when one driver is switching lanes and strikes the other vehicle on the driver or passenger side.

Rear-End Collision

A rear-end collision is exactly what the name implies. One vehicle hits the back of another. Rear-end accidents can cause whiplash to one or both drivers. Passengers can also suffer soft tissue injuries.

Read-end accidents are more common at red lights and stop signs and occur when a driver is not paying attention to the vehicle in front of them.

Rollover Accidents

Rollover accidents are not as common as other types of vehicle collisions. Damage and injuries are often more severe since the risk of being ejected from the vehicle significantly increases. A sideswipe can cause a vehicle rollover since the force of the accident often causes a driver to lose control.

Head-on Collision

A head-on collision can occur when a driver accidentally crosses over into oncoming traffic. This type of accident can also involve one driver who accidentally hits a pole or concrete barrier. Since head-on collisions often occur at a high rate of speed, vehicle damage and injuries are often severe.

Factors Affecting Accident Severity

Along with vehicle speed, a few other factors can determine if the car accident is considered minor or major.

■ Vehicle weight and size. For example, a larger, heavier vehicle hitting a smaller car often results in a more severe accident.

■ If drivers and passengers are wearing their seatbelts. Wearing your seatbelt can help prevent some types of severe injuries.

vWhere the impact actually occurs. Side and front impacts are often more severe than a rear-end collision.

■ Road conditions. Accidents are often more severe when the road is wet or icy.

■ If airbags are deployed, it can prevent some types of serious injuries.

The number of vehicles involved in the accident and passengers can also affect the severity of the accident. Typically, the more vehicles and people involved increases the likelihood the accident will be considered a major collision.

Steps to Take After a Minor or Major Car Accident

No matter the type of accident you face, you should take the same steps regardless of whether the car accident is minor or more severe. 

Remember, some soft tissue injuries can take several weeks before you realize there is a problem. There are also deadlines to file an insurance claim or a personal injury lawsuit. The deadlines can vary by state, so it’s always best to talk to an attorney after a vehicle accident. 

Immediately after the accident, you will want to contact the police. In some states, like Texas, all vehicle accidents with damage over $1,000 must be reported to the police. Even if you’re unsure if the damage exceeds $1,000, contacting the authorities is still a good idea.

If it’s possible, start gathering evidence, which includes getting the other driver’s information, talking to any witnesses, and taking photos. If your injuries are too severe to gather evidence, don’t worry. You can find it in the copy of your police report.

Even if you believe you’re not actually injured, you still want to get a thorough medical examination. Remember, soft tissue injuries are not always immediately noticeable, and you don’t want to miss any potential filing deadlines. You may also have internal injuries that only show up in an exam.

Contact an Attorney After a Minor or Major Car Accident

If the accident is so minor you can’t detect any damage to either vehicle, you can probably skip having to contact an attorney. For all other types of car accidents, you should seek legal advice as soon as possible. 

Even if you’re not planning on filing a personal injury claim, you still want to protect yourself from potential liability. Remember, the other driver may file a claim against you.