What To Do If Insurance Won’t Total Your Car After Frame Damage

Getting into a car accident can be a stressful and frustrating experience. While fender benders are usually relatively minor, accidents involving frame damage are much more serious. Unfortunately, sometimes an insurance company will refuse to declare a car with frame damage a total loss, even when repairs could be extensive.

If your insurer won’t total your car after frame damage, don’t panic. Here’s what you need to know about how total loss claims work, fighting an low insurance settlement offer, and getting your car properly repaired after frame damage.

What Constitutes a Total Loss?

After a car accident, an insurance claims adjuster will inspect the vehicle damage and evaluate whether it should be declared a total loss. Here are some key criteria insurers use:

  • Repair Costs vs. Pre-Accident Value – Most states say a car is a total loss if repairs exceed around 75% of its pre-accident actual cash value (ACV).

  • Damage Type and Location – Extensive damage to important safety components like the frame, airbags, or seatbelts can warrant a total loss.

  • Age and Value of the Car – Older, low-value vehicles are more easily totaled than newer cars worth more money.

  • Availability of Replacement Parts – If repairing the vehicle requires scarce or obsolete parts, the insurer may total it instead.

  • Time to Repair – Major repairs that will take weeks or months to complete may point to the car being totaled.

  • State Total Loss Thresholds – Some states set specific damage percentages or formulas to determine total losses.

If the adjusters feel the car doesn’t meet the above criteria, they will not declare it a total loss even after serious frame damage.

Why Insurers Avoid Total Loss Claims

There are a few reasons why an insurance company might try to avoid totalling a vehicle when possible:

  • It costs them less overall to repair a vehicle than to pay its full pre-accident value.

  • Total loss claims can negatively impact their loss statistics and potentially raise rates.

  • Salvaging and selling the vehicle can help offset their costs – not an option if it’s totaled.

  • State laws may set high thresholds for declaring total losses.

  • Newer vehicles with comprehensive coverage are typically repaired not totaled.

While insurers must follow state laws, they have some financial incentive to minimize total losses when feasible. But as the policyholder, you have leverage to negotiate if their settlement offer seems unreasonable.

Fighting Back Against a Low Total Loss Offer

If your insurer refuses to declare your car with frame damage a total loss, but you believe extensive repairs are needed, here’s how to push back:

Get documentation of the damage – Thoroughly photograph the damage and get repair estimates from multiple body shops detailing necessary repairs. Estimates should note all structural repairs needed.

Negotiate with your adjuster – Present evidence the damage exceeds your state’s total loss threshold percentage and repairs would not be safe. Highlight the car’s pre-accident value versus repair costs.

Seek an expert’s opinion – Hire an independent appraiser to inspect the vehicle and write a report documenting why it should be totaled. Their expert opinion can help dispute a low settlement.

Utilize consumer protections – Each state has consumer protections and an insurance regulator who can assist with claims disputes when insurers lowball offers.

Consult an attorney – If the insurer still refuses to budge, consulting an attorney experienced with total loss claims may be your next step. They can review your case and draft a demand letter.

With persistence and plenty of supporting evidence, you can often get the insurer to reconsider declaring your car a total loss when frame damage is extensive.

Is it Safe to Repair Frame Damage?

If negotiations fail and your car avoidance getting totaled, is it safe to repair frame damage? There are a few key considerations:

  • Type of frame – Unibody frames can often be safely repaired, while damage to conventional truck frames is usually not repairable.

  • Damage location – Repairs to wheel connection points or suspension mounts are not recommended, but other areas may be fixable.

  • Repair shop credentials – The facility must have advanced equipment, certified technicians, and extensive experience repairing frame damage.

  • Inspection and certification – Once repaired, an independent shop should verify work completed and certify the vehicle’s roadworthiness.

When done properly by a reputable shop, vehicles with frame damage can be restored to a safe driving condition. But there is little margin for error, so finding the right repair facility is critical.

Choosing the Right Auto Body Shop

Repairing frame damage is one of the most challenging repairs an auto body shop can undertake. Here’s how to pick a shop up for the job:

  • Seek referrals – Check with local dealerships and mechanics to see which body shops they recommend for structural repairs.

  • Confirm proper certifications – The facility should have an I-CAR Gold Class qualification at minimum, indicating advanced training.

  • Ask about experience – Find out how many years they have been specializing in frame repair and how many they complete annually.

  • Verify proper equipment – Frame racks, measuring systems, and welding equipment must be up-to-date and well-maintained.

  • Discuss the repair plan – The shop should provide a detailed plan for restoring the frame and rest of the car.

  • Inquire about warranties – Many frame repair specialists offer a lifetime warranty on workmanship.

Taking the time to find the right restoration shop will give you confidence in the repairs and reassure you the car will be safe to drive.

Using Manufacturer Specs During Repairs

In addition to having advanced equipment and trained technicians, a repair shop must follow OEM repair guidelines when fixing frame damage. Here’s why factory specs matter:

  • Maintains factory strength – The vehicle frame meets rigorous strength and durability testing before production. Adhering to OEM procedures preserves these engineering standards.

  • Restores original dimensions – Frames are precision-engineered to exact shapes and measurements. Deviating from specs during repair can compromise vehicle handling and safety.

  • Prevents misalignments – The frame must align properly with attachment points for components like the engine, suspension, steering, and transmission.

  • Retains crash management function – Engineers design the frame to absorb impact in collisions. Proper repairs help maintain these important safety properties.

  • Validates crashworthiness – Collision testing helps confirm repairs were done to factory specifications, usually required after significant frame damage.

Manufacturer repair procedures, tools, and equipment help ensure the vehicle’s frame retains its original dimensions, strength, and function following repairs.

Inspecting Repairs After Frame Damage

Once repairs are completed by the body shop, you’ll want to thoroughly inspect the car yourself before accepting it back from the shop. Here are some things to check:

  • Frame – Sight down the sides and underneath to check for deformities. Minor seam gaps should be even.

  • Body panels – Look for obvious gaps or misalignments where body panels bolt to the frame.

  • Suspension – Bounce each corner of the car to check for abnormalities. The suspension should feel taut and controlled.

  • Steering – Turn the wheel fully left and right with the engine off. Motion should be smooth with no catching or odd noises.

  • Exhaust – Start the car and listen for exhaust leaks. Look underneath for black soot.

  • Electrical – Verify all lights, electronics, and engine sensors are functioning normally.

  • Test drive – Drive at low speeds first to check handling. Work up to highway speeds to assess stability and alignment.

  • Re-inspection – Consider having a reputable mechanic conduct another inspection following your own.

Carefully inspecting repairs gives you confirmation the body shop completed work properly and that the car feels safe to drive again after significant frame damage.

Diminished Value Claims After Frame Damage

Even when properly repaired, a vehicle with prior frame damage will lose some resale value down the road. Many states allow an additional diminished value insurance claim to compensate you for this loss.

To recoup this lost value, you’ll need to provide evidence like:

  • Documentation of frame damage before repairs.

  • Repair invoices noting all work performed.

  • Estimates from auto dealers on loss in trade-in value.

  • Advertisements showing lower sale prices for similar vehicles with damage histories.

  • Applicable state laws granting you compensation for diminished value.

Understand your state’s rules, compile supporting evidence, and negotiate firmly to seek reasonable compensation from your insurer for the reduced future resale amount.

Key Takeaways

Dealing with frame damage after an accident can be a complex, frustrating situation – especially if the insurer refuses to total your vehicle. Keep these tips in mind:

  • Compile extensive evidence if you believe the car is unsafe to repair.

  • Be prepared to negotiate and dispute a low settlement offer.

  • Selecting

When The Insurance Adjuster Comes To See Your Car Damage, Beware!


Is a car totaled if it has frame damage?

The vehicle’s frame (or underlying structure) is damaged. While no specific type of damage automatically ensures a car is totaled, frame damage makes a total loss much more likely. That’s because frames can be very expensive to replace or repair — the average range is $600 to $10,000.

Will insurance cover a broken frame?

Modern cars use unibody construction, with the frame and body skeleton manufactured as a single structure. Depending on the severity of the damage, frame damage is repairable. Insurance companies will usually declare the car a total loss if repairing the frame damage on a vehicle costs more than its value.

What if a car has frame damage?

A damaged frame can cause serious issues with your vehicle. It’s the foundation everything else relies on, so if it’s bent, other parts won’t fit properly, either. A clear indication of this issue is difficulty opening or closing doors and misaligned body panels.

How much does frame damage devalue a car?

Typically, frame damage can decrease the resale value of a car by up to 30% or more, depending on the extent of the damage. For a high-end luxury car, this could mean losing tens of thousands of dollars.

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