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Structural Damage 101

Frame Damage

One of the most important safety features of your car is the one you can’t see – the car’s structure*. A car’s structure is the foundation on which the entire car is built; therefore your safety depends on it. Vehicles used to have a body-on-frame construction, which were built for durability; today most vehicles are built on an integrated unibody structure that is built for safety, but is not the most durable.    This can be an issue because if a vehicle has been in a moderate to severe accident, its structure could be severely compromised.

What is Structural Damage?

Structural damage is described as damage to any part of the main structure, or any component that is designed to provide structural integrity. Additional parts that are bolted on are not considered part of the vehicle’s structure. If any part of the car’s structural component is damaged, the structure is considered “damaged” and must be repaired to ensure safety.

How Does Structural Damage Happen?

Structural damage happens when the car is impacted at one of the pivotal sections of its structure, and is bent, shifted, or otherwise damaged. Even though the car may appear to not have suffered much damage, the unseen damage can be more severe.

What Does Structural Damage Mean for My Vehicle’s Safety and Value?

Despite popular belief, structural damage does not necessarily result in a “totaled” vehicle, though it is not uncommon.  But no matter how severe the structural damage, the vehicle’s value may drop significantly. If the damage is not too significant or too costly the structure can often be repaired. However, an improperly repaired structure can result in more problems and repairs in the future as parts may wear unevenly.

Can I Buy a Vehicle with Repaired Structural Damage?

If you’re shopping for a used car, you want to make sure that the vehicle’s structure is sound. Vehicles with previous structural damage that are not properly repaired, in addition to causing other mechanical issues, often do not hold up as well in a subsequent accident.  Be diligent about researching any used vehicle before buying. Make sure you get a CARFAX Vehicle History Report to check for any reported structural damage and have any used car inspected by a mechanic or body shop to verify the structural integrity of the vehicle.

*Structure refers to vehicles that have a frame, unibody or unibody-on-frame construction. Your mechanic can tell you which one pertains to your vehicle.

15 thoughts on “Structural Damage 101”

  1. One problem we face in the UK, is that unless the vehicle is declared a total loss, then it is unlikely to end up on a register. This can give buyers a false sense of security if a report comes back clear.

    Therefore the only way to ensure the vehicle has not been damaged and repaired is to have it inspected. A mechanic will have little or no experience in body repairs, so a body shop would be better, although they are used to looking at cars pre-repair.

    The best experts are consultant motor engineers like ourselves who are independent so have no fear of stating the true nature of a vehicle and its repairs. A professional engineer will be able to ascertain any damage, repairs and any potential diminution in the car’s value. Our reports are also CPR compliant so are admissible in Court.

  2. What is an individual able to do if they purchase a vehicle from a dealership and were unaware that the car had structural damage in another state but was bought at auction and resold?

    1. Sue them. Thats what I am trying to do right now cause I found out my car had been in an accident and it was not disclosed to me. Were you able to do anything?

    2. what is an individual able to do if I purchased a van from a reputable dealership and find out after the fact van has structural was bought at an auction and sold

  3. Though I agree structural damage can be an issue and must be disclosed, I despise how CarFax makes it seem like any car with structural damage is a complete ticking time bomb and valueless therefore valueless.

    There are a multitude of levels of structural damage. Of course anything too significant and the car is likely totaled. But in some cases it may be just a minor shift in a column that holds a door straight. Or something is off by 1/16th of an inch causing bad body lines so it gets pulled straight

    These kind of structural “repairs” do not affect the structure or safety of the vehicle.

    Buyers should also consider if an authorized service center or dealership for that cars make is repairing a cars structure or not.

    If someone has a vehicle that had structural damage and it was repaired, they need to check their state laws for a diminished value claim.

    Some vehicles can lose as much as $2,000 if it has a crash reported on the CarFax. And a structural damage report may cause up to $8,000 in diminished value.

    Therefore the owner of this vehicle can receive a check for this loss in value from the insurance company and therefore be able to absorb that loss when selling it or trading it in to he dealership.

    But again, structural damaged vehicles are not usually the complete pieces of crap to be avoided as CarFax suggests. Just take the time to see where it was repaired and find any paperwork or history about the repair to be sure it was done right.

    1. I have encountered this issue for my vehicle.
      CarFax reported this a year after I purchased the car, before I bought the vehicle the CarFax report was absolutely clean.
      Is it true that I may be able to receive a check form insurance company for the diminished value of my car while trading in?

    2. The problem is what if the car you purchased from a dealer and come to find out that the car was purchased from an auction and the accident has happened in another state. Carafax wont release any information regarding the accident except for the fact it has structural damage. I took my car to trade it in and they devalued the car by 8,000-10,000 dollars.

  4. On a newer vehicle, Does the inner door brace count as structural, and would that count as structural damage if that inner brace is broken?

  5. i own a 69 chevelle malibu 2 dr. with minor frame damage and of course front end body dmg..i need to know what the approx. value would be if i sell it?

  6. The problem is this: there is a don’t know policy in the car dealer world which means if they didnt know the car had a previous accident, they are not liable for selli g you a car as is. Thats why it is important to pull a carfax report because if the dealer wont you can avoid a big headache. Also, depending on the severity of the structure damage the car can loose almost all of its value but some dealers still sell the car at full price though they wont pay you full price when trading it in. They buy and sell cars to other dealers or at auction to avoid this information disclosure.

  7. I recently bought a 2014 F150. The truck looks nice, and after getting it home on a late Saturday night. Dealership closed on Sunday, I noticed body lines not even, and bed off from the cab. Went back to the dealer Monday, requested a carfax, and found out there was a front impact. The report listed airbag deployment, and no issues reported for structural damage. I took it Tuesday to a local auto body shop, and found that the frame is bent in, about Two inches, toward the passenger side. The frame was not straightened, and the parts were welded as is. New hole drilled for radiator mount. The technician told me if there were issues for the factory warranty they may be voided for the altered repair made. I like the truck, and so far the dealer is willing to work with me. They did not disclose the fact that the vehicle had been in a collision before the purchase. I could possibly have the repairs done, or find out if the structure has been compromised. Wondering if that is the case, where do I stand legally, and what should I do.

    1. I also got an estimate for the repairs, went back to the dealer today, and showed them the damage. Said they wanted to go through a body shop that they use. Get a separate estimate, at a better rate, and figure out where to go from there. I feel like the cost of the vehicle was more than what I’m getting.

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