The Frame’s Bent; Is It A Total Loss?

There were two things you could count on when Uncle Charlie came to visit; him crawling on the floor to show how his ’72 Galaxy would “dog track” after a wreck and his chasing you around with his glass eye…in the palm of his hand.

Uncle Charlie was hilarious on his hands and knees swinging his rear end around, but frame damage on your car isn’t something to laugh at. However that doesn’t mean that it’s a total loss either.

“If the frame’s bent, it’s a total” is an “old wives’ tale,” as long as your auto body shop has the know-how and equipment, like the experts at Portland’s International Collision Repair.

Things have changed since Uncle Charlie’s accident; both the cars and the auto body repair shops.

Your car probably doesn’t have an actual “frame.” Full-framed cars were phased out in the 1980’s and replaced by “unibody” vehicles. On older cars, the body was bolted down to a heavy, rigid, steel-rail structure, similar in appearance to a ladder. That was the car’s “frame.”

For many of the old shops, frames were difficult to repair and admittedly, sometimes the results weren’t pretty. They’d heat on it and beat on it to at least give the appearance it was fixed. They’d chain it down and then push, pull, sweat and swear until the body parts appeared to fit.

If it “eye-balled” okay and was “close enough” with a tape measure, they called it “good.” But sometimes the rear end wanted to go southwest while the front of the car would go south. That’s “dog tracking,” and that’s one sign that a frame might not be repaired properly.

In defense of the old body men, they did the best they could with the technology at the time. Think of it like doctors using only leeches and hot water. There’s only so much you could do.

With today’s “unibody” construction, heavy frame rails have been replaced with multiple layers of sheet metal built into the car’s body. The lighter weight design also incorporates “crumple zones” that absorb an impact instead of transferring it to the car’s occupants.

Modern auto body repair shops (have I mentioned Portland’s International Collision Repair?) use state-of-the-art, computerized laser measurement systems that compare the specs of a damaged car to those of an undamaged car, showing the exact location and extent of the damage. The days of fixing cars using only tape measures and “eye balling” are long gone

A well-equipped auto body shop can repair unibody and frame damage to not only have the same appearance, but more importantly, the same structural integrity as it had before. In another accident, every part needs to do exactly what it was designed to do; your car needs to be safe.

A straight frame and unibody is the starting point for you car’s drivability as well. With the suspension, steering, drive train and other systems attached or directly related to the unibody, it has to be straight. It has to be right.

Be careful of any shop that can’t provide you with a “before & after” print-out of your car’s measurements. It could mean that they’re under-equipped and probably under-trained. You could have a “dog tracking” story of your own to tell.

As always, if there’s anything we can do for you or your car, please give John or Marty a call at International Collision Repair at 503.255.2921.

Really, you’ve got to admit; Uncle Charlie’s glass eye thing was pretty cool. Huh?

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