Both major and minor collisions can cause structural damage to a vehicle, and that can be difficult and expensive to fix. Unfortunately, the vehicle’s safety may be compromised, and related mechanical problems could surface prematurely down the road.
What Is Car Frame Damage / Structural Damage?
Structural damage is any damage to a vehicle’s underlying structure, or chassis. A vehicle’s chassis is like its skeleton, and structural damage to the chassis can be as severe to a car as a broken bone is to a person.
Two Types of Chassis: Body-on-Frame vs. Unibody
Once, all cars were built using body-on-frame construction, where the vehicle’s body sits on top of a tough, ladder-like frame. Today, only pickup trucks and a few large SUVs are body-on-frame.
Most of today’s cars and crossover SUVs are based on a unibody construction: The body panels and chassis are built as a one-piece, skeleton-like shell. This reduces a model’s weight while maintaining its structural integrity. And that’s desirable because shaving pounds is the easiest way to boost a car’s fuel economy.
How Does Structural Damage Happen?
When a car is in a crash or accident, the frame or unibody can bend, break, or otherwise be compromised. A unibody frame is designed to collapse upon impact to absorb crash forces better than a body-on-frame vehicle; that improves safety for the occupants. Unfortunately, this means that a unibody vehicle can more easily develop major structural damage in a crash.
If the cost to repair a given vehicle is more than its value was before the accident, the insurance company will likely declare the car to be a total loss. Totaled vehicles are usually scrapped and issued what’s known as a salvage title. Be wary of any used car that’s been repaired and sold with a salvaged title, no matter how great a deal it seems.
Can You Fix a Car With a Bent Frame?
It’s possible for a trained mechanic to repair a car that’s had structural damage. Though damaged sections of a unibody frame can be replaced, driving a vehicle that’s undergone structural damage should be considered a safety risk. What’s more, the underlying damage can cause additional mechanical problems later on.
How Does Structural Damage Affect a Car’s Resale Value?
A car that’s suffered structural damage and has been repaired usually loses some value compared to vehicles without that damage. This can vary, of course, according to the vehicle and the severity and nature of the damage. If you’re looking at a car that’s been damaged, check out the Carfax Vehicle History Report. It can often tell you the severity of the crash, so you’ll know whether it was merely cosmetic, or something more serious.
In most states, a used car dealer must disclose whether a vehicle has been salvaged, damaged in a flood, or been rebuilt. But a private seller might not even be aware of any underlying damage if the car had been wrecked by a prior owner.
Most used cars are sold “as is.” That means they’re being offered without a warranty of any kind. Only a few states extend “lemon law” protection to used-vehicle buyers, and it typically applies only to qualifying models sold by dealerships.
Signs A Used Car Has Had Structural Damage Repaired
You won’t be able to simply eyeball a car or truck to determine whether it’s had structural damage. Fortunately, obtaining a Carfax Vehicle History Report can indicate if a pre-owned vehicle has been in a wreck and whether any structural damage was reported. It also will indicate whether a model was previously salvaged and rebuilt.
On top of that, take an extensive test drive and take note of any suspect vibrations, thumps or harshness that might indicate underlying problems. Even better, have the vehicle checked out by a mechanic who works with a qualified collision repair facility. A trained technician will be able to tell whether a car or truck has sustained structural damage by looking for torn, separated or re-welded parts. And, of course, the mechanic will be able to get underneath the car and see things you might not be able to.