Reader Question: Austin, I have to take my 1990 Honda Accord in for an estimate on body work. The back passenger door, bottom area, and near the rear wheel well is where the damage is. How will I know if the axle is damaged or the frame? Should I ask any specific questions? Any help would be most appreciated.
Thank you, Diane
After further correspondence, I found out that Diane's car is not covered by insurance; therefore, she is going to have to deal with the body shop without the help of an insurance adjuster to verify the work the estimator quotes for her car.
If you have to have body work done on your car, and the work falls under an insurance claim, then you don't have to be as concerned about possible additional damage that may be uncovered as repairs are underway. The insurance carrier will send out an appraiser to write an initial estimate on the damage before work starts. The insurance adjuster can then add a "supplement" to the claim to cover any hidden damage, price adjustments, parts, and items left off of the initial estimate. If you aren't covered by insurance, you are on your own.
Diane is legitimately concerned about structural damage to her car that can't be detected by visual inspection. In this scenario, I told Diane that a four-wheel alignment would be her best means to uncover any structural damage. An alignment will show clues to problems in the car's under-carriage, much like an x-ray can tell you what is happening with your bones.
This car and most modern cars are not built on a "frame" like they used to be-now each piece is welded to the next piece forming a "uni-body" structure. Any bent or mis-aligned suspension components and/or steering components would show up on an alignment. These parts (such as struts, tie rods, spindles, and control arms) can be slightly bent, and the problem can go undetected without an alignment. Missing these repairs can cause premature tire wear and other performance problems…and you won't know it until 6,000 miles later when only one of your tires wears out prematurely.
Depending on the damage, it may be necessary to repair some parts before an alignment can be performed. When it is performed depends on the damage to the car. In Diane's case, she will want an alignment performed as early as possible to uncover any hidden expenses. On a major collision, the alignment may be performed after the new parts are fitted on the car to ensure everything lines up properly.
There are instances when an alignment isn't needed. If the damage is obviously external only (like a brick hitting the car) or a simple bumper bash in a parking lot, then convincing an insurance adjuster to pay for an alignment may be impossible. However, even minor damage to the wheel area or under-side of the car (like running over a ladder on the freeway) should be verified with an alignment. Even minor wheel damage (like a cut tire or hitting a curb) can cause structural problems. A four-wheel alignment should always be performed on any car involved in a head-on collision.
Whether you are paying for the body work yourself or are covered by an insurance policy, make sure that a four-wheel alignment is included in the initial estimate prepared for your car. This alignment is your best insurance that no hidden structural damage will surface later on.
I talk about problems like this in my ebook which is currently on sale from my Website TrustMyMechanic.com.
Austin C Davis
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