Q: My cousin was in a minor side-impact accident and, although she was fine, all the airbags along the side popped and the door doesn’t close properly any more. She declined to make an insurance claim, and I think this was a mistake. Is the car even safe to drive?
A: Although dealing with making an insurance claim is about as enjoyable as a trip to the dentist, your cousin is probably making a pretty serious mistake in not doing so. If she was at fault, the repair will raise her rates, but why maintain insurance if you never make a claim? If the other guy was at fault, it’s a no-brainer to fix the car at his expensive.
The larger issue is what the condition of the car is while she continues to own it and when she goes to sell it. In this case the airbags have blown, there is sheet-metal damage, and the doors not closing properly may be an indication the frame has been bent out of shape. Although wrinkly sheet metal doesn’t necessarily affect function, it does drive down resale value.
The other two issues, though, are more severe. If there’s another side-impact accident, it may not be so minor, and then the full protection afforded by the impact-absorbing door structure (now compromised) and the airbags won’t be available. A twisted frame will have an unpredictable effect that might range from uneven or accelerated tyre wear to spooky handling around corners. It can also have strange effects on other emergency systems such as ABS and traction control.
The bottom line: your cousin should do the legwork to get the car fixed. It’ll be a safer car to drive on a day-to-day basis and will be worth much more when she goes to sell it.
By Ben Wodjdyla