Ask an Expert: What are signs of hidden damage after a car accident?

by John and Theresa Kightlinger

More than 6 million car accidents happen each year in the U.S., and more than 30 percent of those are rear-end collisions. Most “fender-benders” are minor and happen at slow speeds, leaving little cosmetic damage, if any. However, vehicles can sustain other kinds of damage that can be hard to spot if you don’t know what you’re looking for. This is what the automotive industry calls “hidden damage,” or collision damage to the frame, mechanics, or electrical systems within a vehicle that is not visible from the outside.

Here are five signs that you might have hidden damage:

1. Steering issues. Problems with your car’s steering can be a sign that your vehicle’s frame is out of alignment after a collision. The frame of a vehicle is like its skeleton; even a slight misalignment can put stress on other parts of the vehicle and cause additional damage. Some common symptoms of alignment damage to your vehicle include the steering wheel seems to gravitate one direction when you’re driving; the steering wheel is shaky or wobbly; noisy steering, or the vehicle vibrates or shudders when in gear.
2. A bumpy ride. If you’ve been in a collision recently and your ride has suddenly become a lot bumpier, it could be another sign that your vehicle’s frame is out of alignment and is damaging your car’s suspension system. Your car’s suspension system regulates friction between the tires and the road to limit the impact of road conditions and help you maintain control of the car. As suspension parts like struts and shocks wear down, they’re unable to absorb the impact of potholes and grooves in the pavement, making your ride rougher. It may be annoying at first, but if left unattended, suspension issues can cause your car to bottom out when you hit a speed bump or steep driveway, which can damage the undercarriage and create mechanical issues.
3. Malfunctioning Advanced Driver-Assistance Systems (ADAS) features. The newer your vehicle is, the more sensors it will likely have housed in the auto body. These sensors control ADAS features like blind-spot monitoring, cruise control and others. ADAS features are amazing innovations that can improve the driving experience, but the sensors are susceptible to damage in a collision because of where they’re located. For example, in a rear-end collision, the impact can damage sensors in the bumper, causing ADAS features to malfunction or fail. It is possible for a minor fender-bender to damage the sensors embedded in a car’s bumper without causing any visible cosmetic damage. If you’ve been in an accident recently and your blind-spot monitoring features malfunction or stop working, it may be a sign of hidden damage to the sensors in your bumper.
4. Leaking fluid. If your car begins to leak fluid or has issues with acceleration or shifting gears after an accident, it could be a sign of transmission damage. Rear-wheel-drive (RWD) and all-wheel-drive (AWD) vehicles have transmission components near the rear of the car that can be susceptible to damage in a rear-end collision.
5. Problems opening and closing your trunk, hood or doors. After an accident, be sure to test all of the latches on your trunk, hood and doors to make sure they can open and close properly. If they don’t, it could be another sign that your vehicle’s frame was damaged in the collision. A broken latch on a trunk, hood or door can cause them to pop open unexpectedly, even while driving. If a door gets stuck closed, this can be a risk to exiting your vehicle safely in the event of another collision.
After an accident, find a certified collision repairer near you. After you’ve been in an accident, a professional technician at a local collision repair shop will be able to repair hidden damage.

John and Theresa Kightlinger own My Body Shop at 401 N. Clinton St., Stockbridge. The couple have lived in the area and raised their children here over the past 20 years. John has been in the auto body business since 1985, and Theresa began work at General Motors after high school. Between the two, they have been working on cars for more than 75 years. 

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