If your car looks more like an abstract art sculpture than transportation following an accident, you probably know that it's time to call on the services of an auto body repair shop. While severe accidents often leave you with few choices, minor accidents can exist in more of a gray area. After all, do you really need to fix your car after every little scrape, bump, or fender bender?
As with most automotive issues, the answer can be more complex than you might expect. You may need to make some hard decisions following a minor scratch-up or an unfortunate encounter with some roadside scenery. If these three situations sound familiar, you'll probably want to find an auto body shop to repair your damage.
1. You Have a Loan
If you still owe money on your car, you'll usually need to repair any damage. Your lender will expect you to use any money you receive as a settlement from insurance to fix your car and restore it to its pre-accident condition. Not all lenders have the same policies, but you'll still want to consult with them before deciding that you don't want to fix the issue.
Even if you don't report the accident to insurance, you may still want to ensure that you fix any damage. Leaving noticeable cosmetic damage on your car can reduce its value, ultimately reducing your equity in the vehicle relative to your loan. Your lender and insurance company are also likely to find out about the accident if you file a police report.
2. You Can See Bare Metal
Bare metal is your car's worst enemy. Your paint job keeps your car looking shiny and new, but it also protects the steel underneath from the elements. Leaving paint exposed can drastically increase the likelihood of rust, which can often progress rapidly from a seemingly minor cosmetic issue to a severe structural problem.
You will want to be particularly aware of areas where sheet metal appears creased. Not only is a creased panel likely to be weakened, but creases are also prone to develop rust more quickly than other blemishes. If the damage was severe enough to cause these problems, you probably need help from a professional auto body shop.
3. Your Car Isn't Driving Correctly
Pay careful attention to how your car drives following even a seemingly minor accident. Does it pull to one side or seem to drift down the road? These can be indications of structural (or "frame") damage. Modern cars use a unibody design that incorporates much of the vehicle into the structure, so even a relatively low-speed collision can result in substantial damage.
Driving a car with a warped, twisted, or bent frame can be dangerous, and you're all but guaranteed to quickly wear out costly components such as your tires, steering, and suspension. If you notice any drivability problems following a collision, always contact an auto body repair shop for an evaluation and estimate.