Fender Bender
March 2, 2005 5:35 PM   Subscribe

A fender-bender has, uh, bent my bumper. Torn the rear one off half the frame, specifically. The car is old enough that no one makes the right size bumper/brackets anymore. Plus the frame need a bunch of work before it can accept a bracket again. Insurance declared a total, but has left open the option to repair. Several folks have suggested unbolting the other end and running w/o a bumper. Is this safe?? Not to mention legal? What would you do?

Option B is to unbend, and re-attach for mucho dinero (relative to market value and insurance payout). Since this bumper likely was designed to meet only a 2.5MPH crash standard when it was new, is re-attachment just an expensive delusion of safety compared to this no-bumper option?

First-time insurance claimant, by the way. Sheesh, what an insane pain in the ass. Any misc tips for not getting ripped off would be much appreciated.
posted by nakedcodemonkey to Travel & Transportation (20 answers total)
Could you just go to a junkyard and find a used bumper for the make and model?
posted by atchafalaya at 6:20 PM on March 2, 2005

Response by poster: The shop says probably yes, but the dimensions are unusual and the local salvage sources have already confirmed n/a. So it'd take a while to turn one up.

But I'd have no idea how much it's the used bumper has been previously compromised. No knowing that about the current bumper, either, but at least I'd know for sure that this one is on its first hit. Free used bumper with known history and installable now vs. $ used bumper with unknown history and (?) days' wait to install. Not ideal.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 7:03 PM on March 2, 2005

Hmm. Well, with a 2.5 mph bumper, you're not getting a ton of protection. I mean, if your fender-bender totalled the one you've got, any serious weakening of one from a yard would be visible.

I picked up a used bumper for like, fifty bucks once, same sort of situation. You could find a shade-tree welder to tack it on for a few bucks.

Now that I think about it, if you were worried about how it looked, you wouldn't be asking. So go for it, I guess. But the next fender-bender might k.o. your trunk.
posted by atchafalaya at 7:24 PM on March 2, 2005

Response by poster: if your fender-bender totalled the one you've got

Eh, not particularly. Presumably it's just the insurer's way of bailing out of more hassle than an old car is worth to them. As far as priorities: safety, definitely. I always thought bumpers were (a) required (b) safety equipment, but keep hearing now from people who claim neither is true. Anyone have ideas for how I can verifiy whether this is fact or fiction?
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 8:45 PM on March 2, 2005

Was the bumper plastic or metal? Modern cars have metal bumpers covered by pretty plastic... does yours?
posted by knave at 9:09 PM on March 2, 2005

Response by poster: Metal, hollow tube. No plastic except for the end caps. The shop says they can "cold [something]" its braces back into position.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 9:36 PM on March 2, 2005

Have you looked for the part on eBay?
posted by padraigin at 10:03 PM on March 2, 2005

Yeah, check ebaymotors.com and also go to some junkyards. I prefer going to the junkyard in person because many yards don't have fantastic inventory systems. What model car is it?

Modern cars have metal bumpers covered by pretty plastic... does yours?

Actually, plastic bumpers with plastic covers are around, too. My son's Escort has a plastic bumper under the plastic cover, as I found out when he totaled the car (got necessary parts to fix it up "good enough" at junk yards and ebaymotors).
posted by Doohickie at 10:13 PM on March 2, 2005

Response by poster: Thank you to everyone suggesting ways to obtain inexpensive replacement parts. I've received more info that clarifies things a bit. The primary expense of re-attachment (or replacement) is for the getting the frame to take the bumper bracket. The parts cost is the smallest part of the estimate, so not much wiggle room there. And the shop's quote to put in a replacement, cheapo or otherwise, takes things too far out of budget even if I were comfortable using a part of unknown provenance. So my main concern is whether this "bumper optional" notion has any merit, because otherwise re-attachment seems to be all that's viable (unless there's a Option D to consider? that'd be great too.).
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 11:34 PM on March 2, 2005

Some years back, we bought a used State Trooper car, gave it a spray can paint job, and I drove it for a year or two. An accident bent the frame; the insurance company offered about fourteen hundred bucks to total the thing out. In essence, they bought the title to the car. But after writing us a check, they gave us something called a salvage title. I think they did this because the salvage value of the car (i.e. what a junk yard would pay for it) was so low that it wasn't even worth hiring a truck to haul it off. In any case, having the salvage title meant that we owned the car but that we could only sell parts off it, junk it, etc.; we couldn't get a tag for it or drive it on public roads. In order to get a regular title for it, it would have to be inspected by a mechanic who would certify that it was in drivable condition, we'd have to file an application, pay a fee, etc. I did end up driving the car for a while, but when we sold it, we still had only a salvage title. Shhh. Don't tell anyone.

Moral of the story: Even if the insurance company writes you a check for the car, you may still get to retain possession of it. My recollection, though, is that we only got this deal after asking some questions and pushing a bit.
posted by Clay201 at 12:59 AM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: Salvage title is what's been offered. Though no one mentioned the gotchas attached to that. Whoa, thanks for the warning.

According to the DMV website, there's a bunch of hoops to jump through and several fees that the insurer conveniently forgot to mention. Hmm. I've no idea whether it could pass the mandatory CHP inspection, since my google-fu failed to turn up info on what specifically they're looking for. Anybody know? It would suck to have tapped out the settlement on one set of repairs just to get stuck with a list of more work to be done before it can go back on the road. Yikes.
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 2:43 AM on March 3, 2005

Best answer: Not sure about California, but in Texas all it required was a normal yearly reinspection and submitting a notarized form indicating what repairs were made (i.e., frame straightened, bumper replaced, headlight replaced, etc.) My sense was that the laws and rules appear pretty strict, but in reality no one really cares too much whether the car is fully repaired. I would put a bumper on it; I think it's required to pass yearly inspection, but don't worry about whether it's perfect.

And with respect to salvage title: The way it works is they can either give you the full value of the car, and they keep it (in my case, that would have been $2200), or they can let you keep the car and subtract the "salvage value", i.e., what a junkyard would pay (which was about $200 for a 95 Escort), and give you the difference. I took the nearly $2000 and kept the car and fixed it up (including new tires & struts) for about $1000.
posted by Doohickie at 7:43 AM on March 3, 2005

I don't know much about cars but can you get it temporarily reattached until a suitable part is found? I have seen great things done with duct tape and bumpers.

With car wrecks you really want everything in between you and the other car that you can manage to get. I was badly rear-ended and my car was totaled. I walked away uninjured possibly thanks to the box of old clothes on their way to the Salvation Army that I had on the seat behind me.

With car accidents it's definitely a case of better safe than sorry. /mom
posted by tinamonster at 8:02 AM on March 3, 2005

If you can't get the bumper to line up, perhaps as a temporary fix you could get some angle brackets at Home Depot and do the best you can. Use sturdy bolts.

If "temporary" means a week or two, I wouldn't worry about it, but if you mean several months, then I would find a good way to attach the bumper.
posted by Doohickie at 10:05 AM on March 3, 2005

I've had really good luck getting car parts through junkyarddog.com. It's sorta a meta-junkyard site, in that your part request goes out to junk yards around the country.

I live in the Bay Area in California, and I've gotten door window glass from Alabama, North Carolina and Central California through this service to replace the door window glass smashed my neigborhood vandals / car radio thieves.
posted by u2604ab at 11:47 AM on March 3, 2005

nakedcodemonkey So my main concern is whether this "bumper optional" notion has any merit, because otherwise re-attachment seems to be all that's viable (unless there's a Option D to consider? that'd be great too.).

Bumpers usually just bolt on. The covers are usually only held on with christmas trees and a bolt/screw or two.

Plus the frame need a bunch of work before it can accept a bracket again.

What is the value of your car if you had to go out and replace it with a similiar model today? Are you at fault in this accident or is someone else? The reason I ask is if you are not at fault insist the insurance company replace your vehicle with an equivelent or cut cut you a check for that amount. If your at fault your strategy for repair depends on value (both book and personal). If this is an '79 Aspen in average shape and the damage was your fault I'd just patch it together, however crudely, until I could replace it. If this is a 99 Caravan or something a little more finesse is waranted.

If you not concerned with pretty, and depending on the nature of the damage to the mounting point, a lot can be accomplished with a couple good size hammers, a dolly, a couple hours and prybar or two. Get the mounting point back into the approximate right spot (say within a couple centimetres in each direction) and bolt the bumper up. If the holes won't line up either drill new holes in the frame bits or elongate the existing holes with a file/dremel/die grinder/cold chisel depending on how far away from meeting up they are. Some fender washers can help bridge the gaps and make the bumper more secure.
posted by Mitheral at 2:58 PM on March 3, 2005

Response by poster: ...if you are not at fault insist the insurance company replace your vehicle with an equivelent or cut cut you a check for that amount.

Thanks for mentioning that because it's another question I need to sort out. Yeah, it's the other guy's insurance liable/totaling. They've made an offer but I've no idea of what the car's actual market value might be. How do I go about proving what my "old reliable" is really worth? (judging by their record so far, *guaranteed* they're lowballing considerably).
posted by nakedcodemonkey at 4:25 PM on March 3, 2005

Best answer: You can check your car's value at Kelley Blue Book or Edmunds.

Edmunds gives 3 values - trade-in, private party, & dealer retail. It's likely that the insurance company is going to try to give you the lowest of those, at best.
posted by belladonna at 5:20 PM on March 3, 2005

Best answer: When it's the other guys fault you shouldn't be considering running with out a bumper unless you want to buy the car back and fix it up.

On valuing your car do a search for your car on places like autotrader.com and your local classified paper. Be aware of any rare options or combinations. The basic concept is you should be able to go out and replace your car with out having to shop around looking for a exceptional deal for 3 months. If you can't replace your car for what they are offering the offer is to low and you can counter with ads you have researched. If you can not come to an agreement most jurisdictions have provisions for either arbitration or litigation. Be aware of the costs associated with these options.

For example when my truck was stolen last year my insurance company offered me $5800. I figured $7500 was closer to true value and did a little documented research to support my opinion. The insurance adjuster refused to budge so I hired my own adjuster who agreed with me and we went to arbitration. I ended up with $7200 minus $200 to the adjuster.
posted by Mitheral at 6:59 PM on March 3, 2005

Cool! I get a best answer flag (I think that's my first one!)
posted by Doohickie at 10:07 AM on March 7, 2005

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