How Much Damage Can Be Caused by a Fender Bender?
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How Much Damage Can Be Caused by a Fender Bender?

While a small bump may seem minor, a fender bender can do a surprising amount of damage to your car. Before you drive off from the accident, there are some things you need to check that could make your vehicle unsafe to drive, or may lead to further damage down the road.

The Problem with Mismatched Bumpers

Bumpers are designed to absorb impacts in low-speed crashes, but they only work if they strike another bumper. Auto regulations require car bumpers to be 16-20 inches off of the ground, but there’s no such regulation for trucks, minivans, and SUVs. When cars and truck collide with each other, their bumpers will push into unprotected areas, causing major damage.

When the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety (IIHS) studied impacts involving an SUV hitting a parked car at 10 mph, they found these collisions did anywhere from $850 to $6,000 worth of damage to both vehicles. They also found that major damage was guaranteed on vehicles with a rear-mounted spare, like the Jeep Wrangler and older Toyota RAV4s. The tire and mount aren’t built to absorb impacts, and since they extend past the bumper, they’re always the first point of contact in rear-end collisions.

In either case, the resulting damage goes more than skin deep, even if the accident seems minor. Here’s what you should look for after a minor collision, and how it can affect your vehicle.

Electrical Problems

Blind spot warning and cruise control sensors, anti-theft systems and 360-degree view cameras are in positions where they can be damaged easily, even in minor collisions. Even if these parts aren’t affected directly, wiring can be pulled apart at the connectors or split at the point of impact, causing system failures or intermittent problems.

Wheel Alignment

Impacts can push on the wheels and suspension, pushing them out of place. Even slight bending can cause major alignment changes, leading to unpredictable handling, poor braking performance and uneven, accelerated tire wear.

Tire Rubbing

If the fenders are pushed into the wheel well, they can rub against the tires when taking tight turns or going over bumps. This scraping wears out the tires prematurely, wears through contact points on the vehicle, and can make handling unpredictable.


If the position of the steering rack changes or the tie rod ends are bent, it will change how the front wheels will move when turning the steering wheel. This can lead to uneven steering feel, poor handling, and unpredictable responses when making turns.


Steel panels are coated in an anti-corrosion layer and then painted to create a protective barrier. When a panel is bent, it breaks this barrier, giving water an opening to create rust. Once it starts, this rust can spread through the panel, turning it into a bubbling mess.

Transmission Issues

Rear wheel drive vehicles have a driveshaft that goes from the transmission to the rear axle, while 4WD and AWD vehicles often have both front and rear driveshafts. An impact can move the axle slightly, pushing these shafts into the transmission, leading to increased bearing wear or worse. FWD vehicles are less susceptible to damage because the CV axles connect directly to the transmission. The joints in these axles will usually fail before they can damage the rest of the drive train, but this will keep the vehicle from moving under its own power.

Air Conditioner and Cooling System Issues

The air conditioner condenser and radiator are mounted in front of the car to allow air from the grille to pass over them. A damaged condenser will leak refrigerant, preventing the air conditioner from working, while a disconnected or broken radiator will leak coolant, which will lead to engine overheating. Even if the radiator is intact, it can be knocked off its mounts, keeping it from effectively cooling the engine.

Structural Damage

A bent frame can cause issues throughout the vehicle. Shifted engine mounts can lead to drivetrain and handling problems, and a compromised crash structure will make the vehicle less safe in the next crash.

Take the Worry Out of Collision Repair

Merton Auto Body has been in business for over 70 years, helping Lake Country residents get their cars back on the road in no time. Thanks to our on-staff appraiser and experienced technicians, we have one of the shortest keys-to-keys times in the area. We’re just up the road from the Ironwood golf course, which means we’re just a short drive from Peewaukee, Merton, Sussex, and Delafield.


Book your appointment now!

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