Structural Damage Disclosure Underreported

by Don Elliott on September 27, 2012

Accidents happen! Crashed cars get fixed. Collision repair is a $29.5 billion industry in the United States. Not every car that is involved in an accident is severe enough to involve what is called structural or frame damage. Frame damage is a dated reference to a change in the structural components of a light duty vehicle. In the simplest terms, the frame is the load-bearing platform that gives a car or truck rigidity and strength. All of the other parts of the vehicle including the chassis are hung off of the frame.

Many cars and some trucks built today don’t have the traditional ladder frame that was typical on older cars and most trucks. They have what is called a unibody-type structure. The roof, body panels and floor are welded together to act like the shell of an egg, strong but lightweight. They are designed to transfer the force of impact around the driver and passengers, in effect making the structure much stronger and safer than older heavier cars.

Most recently, some cars are built with unibody on a partial frame, one more variation that makes “frame damage” an inaccurate reference.

The National Automobile Auction Association recently adopted a new term, structural damage, to refer to any change to a car’s structural components. Whatever you call it, structural, unibody or frame damage, the damage has changed the integrity and safety of the vehicle and should be disclosed to future owners as a condition of the car. Vehicle history reports are one area where structural damage is tracked when the information is available.

If the structural components are bent, twisted or cut, the original specifications of the car are changed, most likely not for the better. However, it is possible to repair structural damage and put the car back on the road. The nature and quality of the repairs are key factors when determining the used car value remaining in the repaired vehicle. Often disclosure is not so much a problem as the impact of the announcement to the value of the vehicle.

Qualified collision repair or body shops have the technology to repair almost any type of car. Cars are mounted onto a powerful device that pulls the structural components back to their original specifications. Sophisticated welding devices are used to weld the various types of steel and aluminum. Parts can be replaced or rebuilt to repair most types of collision damage.

The important issue here is an understanding about the structural damage that may have occurred and having that damage checked to make sure that it was repaired correctly and to specification. Often sellers of cars that have been in accidents attempt to hide repairs in hopes of getting more money for the car in the sale. Member auctions from the National Auto Auction Association disclose structural damage when found during the inspection of cars as they arrive at the car auction. However, a good inspection of any car, whether bought at an auto auction, from a dealer or from a private party is the only way to determine if a car has had structural damage and then whether it was repaired properly.

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