Checking Vehicle Frame / Unibody Damage: by VIN, Test-Driving, Inspection
How Bad is Frame Damage?
A frame / unibody damage on a vehicle is one of the worst types of damge you may find in a used vehicle. This results from an accident and in most cases the vehicle is writtend off because repairing the frame / unibody is expensive and not always effective. In addition, not all bodyshops have the equipment for straightening bent frames.
Why should cars with frame damge be avoided?
What we often call a frame in modern passenger cars is in real fact a unibody. At the dawn of automotive industry all vehicles had frames, a horizontal metal construct on top of which the vehicle body with the passenger cabin and other parts was attached. With decades this construction was replaced with the unibody where the body is integrated with the frame. In a way in reminds a metal cage or a skeleton to which all vehicle parts are attached. Such constructions had a serions advantages for passenger cars owners : they save fuel and on modern vehicle they allow calibrating safety freatures wich high precision. The vehicles that retain a frame a easier to reconstruct, add feature and change because the body is an independent unit.
Unibody in passenger cars
With all the advantages of a unibody approcah a damage to it may cause a lot more trouble becuase unlike that of the traditional frame, the function of the unibody is not just to carry the vehicle body but also
- to hold all of the vehicles parts fitted to their places and aligned with high precision and
- to protect the people inside during accidents.
Once a unibody damage occurs even in once place the entire consturct may become distorted or twisted and many of its functions become impaired
How unibody damage impaires safety
Modern cars' skeletons are designed based on very thorough and precise calculations. In case of an accident the force of the impact 'detours' the passengers and passes to specialized zones in the carcass which fold, they are called crumple zones. On a vehicle with a damaged carcass this balance is broken. Even if the bent frame was straightened or its segments are replaced (which is possible with modern unibodies), the metal construction that was once bent is no longer as rigid as when it lelft the manufacturer's facility. So, it's protective behaviour calibrated in multiple crash-tests can no longer be relied upon and the people inside the vehicle are exposed to a risk of being crushed in case of a collision.
How unibody damage impaires functionality
The work of many components in a car depend of the integrity and the right shape of the unibody. In a car with a bent or distorted frame parts shift from their places which results in aggravated wear, malfucntioning, or even failure and breakage. At the worst, that puts the people in the salon in jeopardy, at the best is causes necessety for additional repairs and part replacement which won't be very effective or the effect won't last long. For instance, alignment doesn't help when a vehicle with a bent frame pulls on one side when you drive it. A thorough scanning or the frame with utlrasound tools and replacement of defective parts mey be a solution but it won't be cheap.
Frames in SUVs, trucks and buses
The frame in these types of vehicles is more rigid becase it is designed for heavier load and impacts on the chassis. This frame is less complicated to design, simpler in construction and has no crumple zones because people are not placed inside of it. The shape may be of a ladder, backbone and other types, depeding on the manner the metal rails are interconnected. In case of a damage the bent rails may be either straightened by means of pulling or replaced. If the damage is severe an entire frame may be replaced (which is impossible with cars). These procedures are, however costly and may take a lot of time which does not satisfy vehicle owners whose business depends on that vehicle. For this reason, truck owners often prefer to receive settlement and leave the truck for further handing to insurance companies, then salvage auctions and those who have time, money and strength to invest in repairs.
How to detect frame damage on a car?
The easiest and cheapest was is VIN check and vehicle history report. Even if the vehicle has a clean title the damage record can be found in the history. The records are: Unibody damage, Frame Damage, Structural Damage and very manifest, while Severe Damage or Major Damage in many cases point to frame damage as well. It is highly desirable that your report is supported with the vehicle's photo as it was before it was damaged. This may help a lot when your hire a mechanic to inspect the vehicle for your so that he know about the most suspiccios spots in advance.
On our site you can read about the signs of a frame damage of a vehicle you inspect you test drive. If you notice any, chances are that they are attributed to a stuctural damage records in the history. In certain cases, you cannot tell that the frame has been bent without either VIN history or an expert examination. If you are planning buy buy a vehicle that has suffered substantial damage and has a branded title due to frame damage or you discovered it
Can car frame damage be repaired?
Yes, it can and even salvage vehicles with a damaged frame may be later registered with a rebuilt / reconstructed titles and allowed back on the roads. Even if the quality of the work is high and the vehicle does not seem to have issues with part alignment and other symptoms of a frame damage it won't be as rigid as before and the passengers' lives are more exposed to a peril in an accident than on a normal vehicle. As unibodies differ not just between car manufacturers but even between models, repairs often need an individual approach which adds to the cost.
Should I buy a vehicle with a frame / unibody damage?
These vehicles are not recommened for purchase for all of the above reasons. The seller's discount should be very substantial and the vehicle should be driven with caution. If the vehicle is still in a salvage status, which means it was not fixed, it is recommended that you hire an expert to inspect the frame and control the repairs afterwards.
How does frame / unibody damage affect the value?
This type of damage is one of the strongest devaluing factors incurring compromised safety, malfunctioning of different components and eventually increasing repair costs.
Can a vehicle with a frame damage have a clean title?
It most cases such vehicles, especially cars, are totaled. It may retain a clean title if:
- The vehicle didn't have coverage or the owner decided not to apply for settlement.
- The vehicle was new when the damage occurred and / or the damage was not severe so fixing the car was economically sound.
- The title has been fraudulently washed.
In such cases you can learn about frame damage either from a VIN history report or by means of a professional inspection.