Major vs. Minor Collision Damage

In the auto body world, there is still a difference between major and minor collision damage, but you’re not likely to see it reflected in the bill any more. Today’s cars are mostly built with unibody frames, made of lighter materials and designed to absorb impact—great for safety and fuel efficiency, not so great when it comes to repair. Knowing the difference between major and minor collision damage and what it takes to repair it may help you understand your quotes and why even fender benders can cost over $1,000 to fix.

Insurance Companies’ Idea of “Major” Damage

We’ll get to what we mean my major collision damage shortly, but insurance companies deem a car undrivable if certain systems or signals are impaired. Immediate repairs are needed for:

    • Leaking coolant
    • Deployed airbags
    • Damaged suspension
    • Missing lights
    • Broken windows
    • Door or trunks that cannot close
    • Any dangling pieces from the vehicle

Driving an “undrivable” car could create coverage headaches down the road. While you may technically be able to drive a car with some of these issues, it’s best not to.

When Minor Becomes Major

The real distinction between minor and major collision damage has to do with the depth of the damage—whether or not the damage affected the vehicle’s integrity or structural support. For instance, damage to a door panel may be minor—limited to the skin (outer panel) or major—affecting an interior intrusion beam. In this example, repairing minor damage may involve repairing the outer panel by hammering out dents, sanding and repainting (we’re simplifying, of course) or replacing the outer panel. Repairing major damage, however, requires replacing the entire door. What repairs are needed must be assessed on a case-by-case basis.

Some damage is nearly always “major,” like damage to the hood of your car. The hood is designed to crumple to absorb the impact rather than continue to transfer the momentum to the car’s passengers. Attempting to hammer out a damaged hood compromises the component’s ability to absorb subsequent impact, which significantly increases the risk of injury for those inside.

Minor vs. Major Damage Repair Costs

Some damage is more cost-effective when treated as “major,” even if it isn’t. There are some pieces like bumpers that may be salvaged rather than replaced. But to get a damaged bumper and the area surrounding it to look like new requires a lot of labor. In many situations, replacing a bumper or a panel is more cost-effective. You may request aftermarket or reconditioned components be used in the repair to keep costs down. However, depending on the piece, OEM parts may be recommended for safety and/or warranty reasons.

For all damage—minor or major—you want to restore your car to its pre-collision appearance (or better). That requires a professional paint job, and that is often a significant portion of the repair bill.

If there are ever costs for your repairs that you don’t understand, ask. A reputable garage like Quanz Advanced Auto Body will be happy to explain the cost for both parts and labor necessary to restore your car’s appearance and ensure it is safe to drive.