The Eco Side Effects of Car Accidents

Reader Contribution by Haden Kirkpatrick and Esurance
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If you’ve ever been in a serious car accident, you know how scary and overwhelming it can be, especially when you consider the costs and the time-consuming nature of dealing with repairs, insurance and getting a replacement vehicle.

To add insult to injury, your car accident may have other unexpected negative effects on the environment. From piled-up debris and oil leaks to vehicle wreckage adding to landfill waste, here’s how accidents are affecting the earth — and what we can do to reduce the damage.


If you’ve ever seen a serious car accident, you know there can be tons of debris in the aftermath –from metal and plastic pieces to rubber and glass. If this debris isn’t removed right away, it can become a hazard to animals. They can get tangled in the debris, or even injure themselves while scavenging the wreckage for food.

Oil Leaks 

Just one quart of motor oil can pollute 250,000 gallons of water. When a car’s oil tank is damaged in an accident, motor oil can leak out, exposing the surrounding environment to toxic chemicals and damaging the air and soil. Engine oil can even seep into groundwater, severely affecting wildlife and vegetation. Motor oil adheres to bird feathers and sand and seeps into the soil, wreaking havoc on the local ecosystem. And if a fire breaks out after an accident, motor oil will vaporize (as you might see when oil leaks out onto your engine). This creates dark smoke that pollutes the air.

Vehicle Wreckage as Landfill Waste

After a car accident, the unusable parts usually end up in a landfill where they rot away with the rest of the world’s garbage. The only problem is that the material used to make this machinery isn’t biodegradable, so instead of degrading naturally, the wreckage sits in a landfill indefinitely.

Other Fluid Leaks

After an accident, fluids like transmission fluid and coolant can also leak from your car, causing harm to the environment. The coolant in your vehicle typically contains a chemical called ethylene glycol, which can damage the nervous system of animals and humans alike if they’re exposed to large amounts of it. Transmission fluid is particularly tricky to remove once it reaches the ground, so it can often stay on pavement for longer than other fluids. As it breaks down and becomes exposed to the sun, the chemicals in the air can cause breathing problems in humans and exacerbate air pollution.

Water Pollution

It might not seem like it, but car accidents can have a direct effect on nearby water sources. Fluids that leak from your car after an accident can easily spill into the street and get washed into rivers, streams, lakes or even storm drains. Fluids can also seep into the ground and the waterways, causing sickness to those who drink that water – whether that’s animals or humans. Even plants can be affected if a nearby water source is polluted. 

All these environmental hazards reinforce why it’s important to make sure you do everything you can to prevent car accidents. This means keeping your vehicle safe and well maintained.

What You Can Do to Prevent Car Accidents

Keep your engine in good shape. This means getting all your scheduled tune-ups every few thousand miles and making sure you’re using the right grade of motor oil.

Keep your tires inflated and rotate them regularly. One of the best ways to stay safe on the road is to keep your tires properly inflated so that they last longer and keep you safer. Properly inflated tires can also improve your gas mileage by more than 3 percent. Check your tire pressure often and make sure your tires are in good condition. Once the tread wears down past about 4/32 inches, it’s time to think about replacing them. You can check your tread depth simply by using the pocket change method.

Take a defensive driving class. For many of us, it’s probably been a while since we’ve taken defensive driving or driver’s ed. Why not take a refresher course? Depending on your age and insurance company, you may even get a discount on your car insurance, so it’s a win-win.

Looking at car accidents from an environmental point of view can help you understand the tremendous impact they have on water, air, soil, humans, plants and animals. Correcting behaviors that can lead to accidents is the first step in combatting the issue. These are just a few things to keep in mind as you begin to think about your own environmental impact and how you can live a more eco-friendly lifestyle – one that will benefit us all in the long run.

Haden Kirkpatrick is the head of marketing strategy and innovation at Esurance, where he is responsible for all initiatives related to marketing strategy, product and service innovation, and strategic partnerships. He manages the annual planning processes for the marketing and service business units. Haden is an innovator who is constantly thinking about where transportation technology is headed and what it means for the car insurance industry.

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