In a perfect world, we would spend our entire lives driving from point A to point B without fear of a collision. Unfortunately, accidents on our country’s roads occur frequently and relentlessly. When such collisions occur, our vehicles often bear the brunt of our ordeal.
If you’re lucky, a small fender ding will result in little more than a few cosmetic blemishes, all of which can be easily repaired. It can be as simple as removing a dent or repainting a bumper.
However, at the other end of the spectrum, more violent collisions often leave significant mechanical damage that is much more difficult to repair (or even see).
Of these damages, none are as severe as that extend to the chassis of a vehicle. When the chassis is damaged, a vehicle has the potential to become a complete disaster, often acting as the proverbial nail in the coffin for all but the newest vehicles. However, one often wonders how serious that damage can be.
Continue reading to learn more about the severity of structural damage to the chassis of a car, truck, or SUV, as well as the typical costs to repair such damage.
What is a car frame?
The chassis of a car acts as the foundation upon which the rest of your vehicle is built. Basically, a “chassis” consists of two main rails, which run the entire length of a vehicle and are connected by a series of cross members at various intervals.
Although the exact design of a vehicle’s chassis often varies between different makes and models, they all serve the same purpose. From a vehicle’s body to its drivetrain components, they are all attached to this central frame at some point in their construction.
The body of a vehicle is mounted to the chassis underneath, using specialized body mounts. A vehicle’s engine and transmission are held in place by brackets supported by the frame. Basically, without a well-designed chassis, there would be no vehicle.
A vehicle’s chassis is also carefully designed to incorporate specific angles, which ultimately affect features such as trailing geometry and the front end of the drivetrain. The slightest variation in these angles can present many driving problems.
What is considered frame damage?
Any damage that extends to a vehicle’s main support structure or threatens to damage the vehicle’s structure is classified as chassis damage.
The most common example of this type of damage is that resulting in a bent frame. This occurs when a hit is severe enough to deform the main supporting structure of a vehicle.
Damage to any mounting point permanently riveted or welded to the vehicle frame can be classified as frame damage. This includes damage that extends to the upper suspension brackets or the vehicle’s cross member mounting flanges.
Signs of a car with frame damage
When purchasing a used car, there are many telltale signs of chassis damage that any prospective buyer should be aware of. Here are some of the main signs of frame damage to look out for.
#1 – Uneven curves in the box
In most cases, if the curvature of a frame rail does not match the curvature of the frame rail on the other side of the vehicle, frame damage should be suspected.
Most of the curves made in the frame rails are identical from side to side of the vehicle, identical and very uniform in appearance.
#2 – Radically changed lineup
The front of a vehicle can become misaligned for several reasons. However, drastic misalignment is a fatal sign of frame damage, very visible to the naked eye.
Don’t hesitate to believe the seller’s claims that the vehicle in question will be fine after a quick alignment.
Related: Signs of misalignment
#3 – Unnaturally Placed Suspension Components
If a quick look inside a vehicle’s wheel well reveals a shock or strut that’s tilted at an unnatural angle—an angle that doesn’t match that of the opposite end of the same axle—go elsewhere.
Abnormally placed or misaligned impacts or shocks indicate that severe damage to the chassis has changed the location of the vehicle’s suspension mounting points.
#4 – Mismatched Components
If any number of the vehicle’s body panels and accompanying components appear to have a poor level of fit and finish, significant chassis damage is most likely to blame. Even a door that doesn’t close properly can sometimes indicate that there are more serious problems at hand.
This is especially true if all those panels and components look new but get annoyingly stuck when moved. In many cases, the frame of a vehicle has been deformed to the point where the body mounts are repositioned.
#5 – Uneven tire wear
Tires can wear out regularly for several reasons. However, if there are several different wear patterns between tires on the same vehicle, chassis damage is most likely to be blamed.
When a frame is damaged to the point of changing its geometry, a vehicle’s tires will often track erratically when driven on the road. This almost always results in very strange trail wear.
Can the damage to the chassis be repaired or is the car total?
The extent of the damage is what determines the feasibility of an auto frame repair. In some cases, when that damage is relatively minor, a vehicle’s frame can be repaired.
However, in other more serious cases, the damage to the frame is completely irreparable.
When frame damage is severe enough to require a significant amount of time, effort, and money to make the necessary repairs, it is not always possible or safe.
Not only would the cost of these repairs be higher than most vehicles combined, but a chassis that has already been repaired is not as strong as a damaged one.
As a result, even if a frame could be repaired, it presents a great liability. For this reason, many shops are quick to veto the idea of repairing any frame that is considered excessively modified or deformed.
Related: What is a brand?
Frame Damage Repair Cost
The cost to repair frame damage can vary across the spectrum and largely reflects the severity of that damage.
In almost all cases, a vehicle will need to be placed on specialized equipment called a frame stand, through which precise repairs can be made. These types of services are never free and usually take some time.
On the lower end of the price is damage to the hanging brackets, which are usually riveted/welded at the factory. Even these types of repairs can be quite expensive, often involving labor costs of between $1,000 and $2,000.
Even worse is the fact that this estimate does not include the cost of repairing any additional cosmetic damage that may have occurred in such a collision.
At the other end of this price range is the cost of repairing a badly damaged or bent frame. It is not uncommon for these types of repairs to exceed $10,000 in cost, before components are replaced. external cosmetics.
Few cars undergo such extensive repairs, as this is rarely possible.
Is it safe to drive a vehicle with a damaged frame?
In short, it is never safe to drive a vehicle whose tune-up has not been repaired. When such damage occurs, the structural integrity of a vehicle is compromised. As a result, a subsequent collision of any kind can have disastrous consequences.
Additionally, since chassis damage often changes the geometry of a vehicle’s front end, handling tends to suffer. This can lead to uneven steering as well as uneven weight distribution, which can increase the chances of an accident of one kind or another.
If that’s not convincing enough, it’s also important to understand that you could be held liable if you injure another motorist in an accident and know how to drive a vehicle with an unrepaired chassis.
As a result, you could be putting several people’s livelihoods at risk by driving a vehicle that has been damaged in this way.
Can you sell a car with chassis damage?
The legality of selling a damaged vehicle chassis usually differs from state to state. states However, in almost all cases, the seller is legally required to disclose the details of such damages before the sale. Failure to disclose this information can quickly land you in a lawsuit.
Additionally, failing to disclose frame damage when selling a vehicle can lead to civil, and possibly criminal, problems if the vehicle’s new owner is injured in a collision involving such damage.
Basically, providing potential buyers with a detailed description of any known damage to the frame is not only the best way to go, but it’s really the only way worth taking.