Home Bodywork & Paint Frame Damage – What Is A Frame Damaged Vehicle?

Frame Damage – What Is A Frame Damaged Vehicle?

by Kelvin Yates

Have you been in an accident recently with your car and you are asking yourself the question “what is frame damage”? And what if the frame integrity of your vehicle has been compromised during this accident? This question is tricky to answer. But in this article, we are going to give our best to deliver the answer that you wanted.

Having to deal with a damaged car can be a frustrating thing. That’s especially when you don’t know what is and what is not a frame-damaged vehicle. In this case, you may even not get paid enough money from the insurance if your car is totaled. That’s why it is good to know if your car is worth being totaled. Оr the damage that your vehicle has suffered is repairable.

By knowing this, you will probably be able to tell your opinion of it and get some more cash from your crashed car. And another problem is buying a car with frame damage. Many people like to get project cars from Copart. But unfortunately, they don’t have a clue in what they are getting themselves into because most of the cars have structural or frame damage and are not easily repairable. But you shouldn’t worry because we are going to tell you everything.

In this article, we are going to cover what is frame damage. Then, we will learn the typical frames that you can get in cars and trucks. After that, we will discuss what is considered to be frame damage on a car. Lastly, we will discuss what is repairable and what isn’t. So, let’s discuss.

Typical Frames In Automobiles And Trucks

There are two typical frames that are found in cars and trucks. And these are a body-on-frame and a unibody frame. How can I tell a difference between the two?

It’s pretty simple to distinguish one from the other. The body-on-frame means that the automobile or truck is mounted on a solid frame. This solid frame is made of two high-strength beams that are connected with metal bars.

Since the early days, all automobiles and trucks were made with the body-on-frame method. But as time went by, the technology has greatly improved. So, to deliver lighter and safer cars, the automobile industry has switched to unibody designs.

The unibody, as the name implies, means that the frame and frame rails are built into the body of the vehicle. At the front and the back, there are two crash supports that end up at the end of the rails.

There was a big switch when it comes to cars to the unibody architecture. Meanwhile, heavy machinery like the pickup trucks and the semi-trucks still kept the body-on-frame architecture.

This is the case because these vehicles need a strong frame to deliver performance. If you put an aluminum unibody frame on a semi-truck, it will basically crack and is eventually going to crumble. The same thing applies to pickup trucks. They are very long and they need a bigger frame to hold the body in any conditions and under any load. If there is not a big solid frame under it, it will crumble where the body meets the bed.

And since we clarified the two types of frames, we can now discuss what is considered frame damage.

How Does Unibody Safety Work?

As we said, in the past cars were built with a body-on-frame design. These frames were extremely tough and durable. They could easily withstand a big hit from the front. But more importantly, this design is lacking the ability to absorb a lot of impact.

If you have an old body on a frame car and you end up in an accident, it is very likely that you will have frame damage and some permanent consequences to your health. Because when there is an impact, there is nothing at the front to take the hit except the rails.

Many people claim that these old vehicles are built like tanks. In fact, if they get involved in a frontal collision with a modern car, these old cars will get pretty much annihilated by the impact. While the modern car has a frontal crash structure, it will only suffer a minor impact and the passengers will be relatively much safer from the impact.

Frame Damage

This is the case because modern cars have the so-called crumple zones. These zones are designed specifically to take the hit and crumple. This crumpling will absorb the hit and will prevent further damage to the frame.

This means that the vehicle will be repairable. It will not be a complete write-off as many old body-on-frame cars will be deemed if their frame was damaged.

That’s the advantage of the unibody design. Increased safety, as well economic repair after the crash incident. If the car was crashed at low speed, it is very likely that the vehicle could be returned to the road and could be driven without any problems. This is because the body of the car is safe and sound, as only the crumple zone will get replaced.

How Does Body-On-Frame Safety Work?

Body on frame safety, compared to a unibody design, is much worse. As we said, body-on-frame means that the body of the car is mounted on top of a rectangle-shaped frame.

The solid frame is very heavy because if it’s made out of high-strength steel. This affects the driving ability of the vehicle since there is a lot of body roll. This body roll is especially visible on corners. You will instantly notice how the body of the car bends on one side.

And the overall safety is low. The frame is mounted extremely low and when there is a big impact, both frame pieces go in different directions. They just don’t absorb the hit and the frame damage is too serious to repair.

Not to mention that when the frames go in different directions, the driver is not protected. And the impact at the front will be absorbed by the steering column that will basically kill the driver in a second if there is a massive frontal crash.

Body-on-frame cars are not safe at all and they were ditched even back in the 60s. Although, they were still produced until recently. Namely, the Ford Crown Victoria was the last car that had this body on frame design and was in production until 2011.

But with trucks, the story is different. The pickup trucks and semi-trucks have much heavier beams than regular cars did back in the day. That’s why they are safer and suffer less frame damage when they have a collision.

Even though in heavier accidents, they suffer the same consequences as cars with this design had. And that was considerable frame damage and complete write-off.

What Is Considered A Frame Damage?

Now let’s discuss what is considered frame damage. We will discuss both of the frame designs since there are still some people that drive body-on-frame cars and as well trucks. First, we will discuss the body-on-frame and then we will cover the unibody vehicles. Here is a video of a body-on-frame vehicle and a modern unibody design crash test. The difference is quite noticeable.

Body On Frame Damage

When we are talking body-on-frame vehicles, frame damage is when there is considerable damage to the metal beams of the car or truck.

Let’s say if the car had a frontal impact and only the front bumper and front fascia were damaged. This isn’t considered a frame-damaged vehicle in most cases. That’s since the rectangle frame is all in one piece.

This means everything that is damaged will be replaced. Thus, the vehicle can keep driving on the roads, but it still going to be a salvage title vehicle. This is since there was damage to the body.

If the metal frame is all in one piece, you shouldn’t have to worry if your truck is going to be given the title of frame damage. The same rule is for the back of the vehicle. If the frame from the back is bent, then the vehicle has frame damage. If the frame is ok, then the vehicle is not considered one to have frame damage.

But on unibody vehicles, things are completely different and we are going to discuss them in the next chapter.

Unibody Frame Damage

As we said, unibody frames are a different design. On these frames, many components can be damaged and the vehicle to be deemed as frame damage. Considering this, it is much easier to total a unibody frame vehicle than a body-on-frame vehicle.

Since the unibody cars are all one piece and if some of the following elements of the body are damaged, the vehicle can be totaled and deemed as a salvaged title vehicle. So, which are the zones of the frame that when hit, can deem the vehicle to be totaled, and which of them do not total the car? Let’s find out.

Damage To The Core Support

This section is located at the front of the car. This core support is basically one big piece of housing. This core support houses the headlights, radiator, and front bumper. When this core support is damaged, it does not total a vehicle and this type of damage will not be considered as frame damage. That’s since the frame rails can still be perfectly ok.

Frontal Crash Bar

The frontal crash bar is located at the front of the vehicle. It is bolted on the front frame rails. This crash bar was designed with absorbing a frontal impact. It is designed in a way that it will crumble when the car gets hit from the front.

This depends much on the impact. If the crash bar is crumbled and the frame rails are in good condition and they are not twisted or bent, the car would not be totaled. This is the case since the crash bar is not considered part of the frame and this is not frame damage.

Rear Crash Bar

Similarly, to the frontal crash bar, the rear crash bar is there in case of an impact from the rear. If the crash bar only gets twisted, it is not considered to be frame damage. But let’s say if the back of the car including the tub is pushed inside of the vehicle and all the metal at the back is crumbled.

Frame Damage

Then this is considered as frame damage. And this is the type of damage that you don’t want to fix. Since is a lot of work and will take a lot of your time and money to repair this damage. The rear tub needs to be replaced and the rear frame rails replaced as well.

Front And Rear Frame Rails

As their names imply, the front and rear frame rails are part of the unibody frame. And when these frames get tweaked or bent, this damage is considered frame damage.

How you can notice these rails is when you open your hood, you will notice on the left and right side how two metal tubes are protruding the front.

These two rails are the frontal frame rails. They are designed to absorb an impact. And when exposed to an impact, they crumble and do not allow the hit to go into the firewall.

These frame rails can be replaced and the vehicle can be repaired. And if everything is done properly, the vehicle will not have any issues in the future. But if you have a botched repair. It is very easy to tell that in a hypothetical future impact or crash, the frame rails would not absorb the same amount of force like they were rated from the factory.

So, if you try to buy a salvaged vehicle with frame rails replaced, pay attention to the frame rails and if the repair was done properly.

Strut Towers – Frame Damage

As the name implies the strut towers are holding the front struts. If they get damaged, this damage is considered frame damage. Since without them in proper working order, the wheels cannot rotate as they should.

So, when a car has strut tower damage, then it means that it has frame damage as well. Fortunately, struts are repairable. But they need to get properly repaired for the geometry of the vehicle to not be messed up and the car to work as it should.

Rocker Panels

These panels are located after the front wheel and before the door. They basically hold the door in place. If these rocker panels get crumbled. The door would not close and this will be classified as critical damage that can easily total a vehicle.

This is the case because in this part precisely, there is a ton of metal joining together the firewall, the rocker panel, and the strut towers. Everything has to be adjusted. And dealing with this type of damage can be a pain for many people.

When a car has damage in this part is considered to be frame damage since it covers integral parts that matter for the vehicle’s overall safety.

Everything is repairable, but when these components are damaged, it is extremely difficult to get them right. And if you are in the market for a salvaged vehicle, better stay away from this type of frame damage. Because you might regret it later.


Damage to the firewall is considered frame damage as well. This rigid component basically deems the car to be scrapped. Most of the damage can be repaired if there is an impact. But if the car has a crumpled firewall, then it will probably get written off.

This is the case because the firewall is the component that you need to rebuild a car. The firewall contains all the important points that you need to align to get the repair done successfully.

If the firewall is misaligned. Then it will be a pain to repair this car. The best thing to do when you come across a firewall-damaged vehicle is to stay away from it and move on to the next car. This frame damage is not worth repairing.

Quarter Panel

The quarter panels are at the back. These panels are cosmetic panels that are similar to the front fenders. They are not considered to be frame damage, since they do not have contact with the frame in any way.

But what can be considered as frame damage are the rear strut towers and the metal that is behind the quarter panel. If this metal is tweaked or bent, then the car has frame damage.

Also, if the car had a rear accident and the back was pushed and the door gaps do not align, this is also considered to be a frame-damaged vehicle. Since all the components that are underneath are pushed forward. Repairing this is a difficult task and I don’t think that many people can pull this off. That’s why if you buy a car like this and you are looking for a simple rebuild, stay away from it.

A, B, C Pillars, And Roof

The pillars and the roof are also considered crucial components of the vehicle that guarantee the safety of the passengers.

And they are extremely tricky to repair, especially if the car was involved in a rollover. They are difficult to repair but will not deem the vehicle unrepairable.

After all, a new roof can be harvested from another vehicle. Although that sounds simple, in fact, it’s pretty tricky to place a new roof on a vehicle that has a damaged roof. That’s especially if the pillars are damaged as well.

It is possible to replace a single pillar. The trickiest pillars are the B pillars that are in the middle of the frame and connect the doors of the vehicle. But a good frame guy and welder can take care of this problem easily.

Frames Under The Vehicle

These frames are the trickiest. And if a vehicle was T-boned from the side and one of them is deformed, it’s almost impossible to get them straight and this is a clear example of frame damage that can write off a vehicle completely.

A vehicle with this type of damage can only be used for parts and nothing else. The structure that is the core is basically destroyed and is in irreparable condition.

How To Know If The Car Is Repairable? – Frame Damage

In simple words, the price of the repair tells if the car is repairable. If the car is damaged structurally, it automatically gets a salvaged title. This means 30% less on the resale value of the vehicle.

If the repair of the car is too expensive and goes above these numbers, then this means that the car will be sold for parts.

Another factor that plays a big role is the extent of the damage. If the body is carnage, then these cars get the title of certificate of destruction. This means that this car cannot be returned on the roads. If you come across a car that has rocker damage, pillar damage, firewall damage, rear tub damage, and the rear is deformed, stay away from these cars.

The easiest ones to repair are the ones that have frontal damage right before the firewall. Anything that is beyond the firewall, it’s not worth it. And all these repairs have to be performed on a frame machine for you to pull the damaged parts and replace them accordingly.

Facts about Car Frame Damage and Repair:

  1. The frame of a car is the structural support system of the vehicle, made of steel or aluminum, designed to support all mechanical components of the car, the car body, and the weight of the vehicle, as well as protect all internal car parts and passengers in case of a collision.
  2. There are two main types of car frames: unibody design and body-on-frame design, which are used in different types of vehicles.
  3. A car frame is made up of different sectional components that protect or support a specific area of the vehicle.
  4. Frame damage refers to any damage to parts of the vehicle intended to support the vehicle’s structural integrity caused by outside forces, such as collisions or disrepair.
  5. Different levels of frame damage can occur based on the depth of the damage, ranging from minor damage to major damage that compromises the main structural support.
  6. If a vehicle receives only minor frame damage, it may be drivable. However, some damage may be more severe than it seems and may affect further parts of the car when driven.
  7. It is important to be aware of the damaged car laws in your area, as driving with a damaged car may be illegal in some states, particularly if the car presents a danger to the driver or others on the road.
  8. To check for frame damage after a collision, make an initial assessment of the car’s condition by looking for visible crumples, major dents, or obvious damage that may prevent the car from moving forward.
  9. If the car pulls to the side, vibrates uncontrollably, makes odd noises, or has difficulty turning or staying stable at high speeds, there may be a serious underlying issue with the frame that requires immediate assessment by a collision repair center.
  10. Car frame damage can be repaired in many cases, depending on the severity of the damage and the cost. If the cost of repairing the damage is more than the worth of the vehicle, the car is considered “totaled.”

Conclusion – Frame Damage

In this article, we have covered a lot when it comes to the frame damage topic. We learned what frame damage is and the types of frames that are out there.

Then, we have covered what is considered frame damage on body-on-frame vehicles as well as unibody vehicles. We have also covered all the pieces that get damaged and can deem the car to have frame damage.

Lastly, we have answered the question of what damage is repairable and what damage isn’t. And also, what type of damage you should stay away from when getting a car to rebuild.

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1 comment

Henry Killingsworth March 24, 2022 - 9:22 pm

It was really interesting when you mentioned that it is pretty simple to distinguish the different types of car frame damage. I would imagine that a bent car frame could cause your tires to wear out unevenly. A bent frame would have a shifted weight which would affect certain tires more than others so you would definitely want to get this fixed.


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