Never Under-Estimate Accident Damage

No matter how careful a driver you are, at some point in your driving life you are likely to be involved in an accident of some sort, whether caused by you or a third party. After the initial shock has worn off you start to assess the damage and decide whether or not to claim on your insurance. Sometimes the other party may suggest a cash payment to sort out the damage. It is never a good idea to accept this as the damage can be worse than you think.

Recently one of our fleet of classic cars was out on hire and the customer had an accident. No other vehicles were involved and the accident was caused by a momentary error of judgement – easily done. Fortunately neither the driver nor his passenger were injured.

There was some obvious damage to the front end of the Austin Healey which didn’t look disastrous. The engine would not restart so the car was pushed into a nearby car park. I was already on the way to collect the Healey so was on the scene in about 15 minutes.

The engine wouldn’t start as the impact had broken a plastic bracket on the engine which held the throttle linkage. The driver and passenger were safely seen on their way and the RAC called. After a short wait an orange van arrived and the RAC man jury rigged up a temporary throttle bracket so I could drive the car back to base. While working under the bonnet we noticed that the radiator fan (engine mounted and not electric) had jammed in the side of the radiator bracket.

During the accident the engine had obviously shifted forwards on its mountings and had hit the radiator. Not surprising really as it is a 3 litre, 6 cylinder, cast iron engine which would have had considerable momentum of its own. The fan pulley had dented the radiator as well as imbedding the fan in the bracket and the end of the crankshaft had hit the chassis cross member before bouncing back. Just as well that the engine hadn’t restarted as it probably would have shredded the radiator.

The RAC man freed up the fan and made sure the blades were clear of the radiator which did not appear to be leaking, before we restarted the engine.

The car ran OK and was driven the 25 miles back to base and seemed OK although the engine sounded noisier than usual, the steering was stiff and the speedo seemed to have stopped working.

The following day it was time to assess the damage in daylight, starting with a complete photo record of the state of the car.

The main damage was to the front panel around the radiator and to the valance under the front bumper. Amazingly the bumper was not bent although the bumper brackets were. These were removed for access. The aluminium front valance was badly bent and the metal had ripped where it was bolted to the chassis members. The Healey had been fitted with a sump guard after a previous customer had holed the sump, so this was removed. The front portion of this had bent around the anti-roll bar, which was itself bent. The steering arm was also bent.

Clearly the front valance would need re-shaping or cutting out and a repair panel welding in. Aluminium isn’t the easiest of metals to weld.

The Austin Healey was then taken into my local garage for a full inspection on the ramps.

Once up in the air, more damage came to light.

• One of the engine mountings had broken, hence the engine moving forwards and the noisier engine on the return trip.

• The engine was rubbing on the steering shaft, hence the stiffened steering.

• The damage to the radiator meant this needed replacing.

• The chrome grille surround was out of shape and any attempt to re-shape it would probably damage it even more, necessitating replacement.

• The steering wheel was bent from the effect of the driver hanging on, on impact.

The labour to fix the front panel alone was about three times my initial guesstimate, to which has to be added the cost of parts

• Front repair panel

• Steering arm

• Grille chrome surround

• Radiator

• Speedo

• Throttle bracket

• Engine mounting

• Bumper brackets

We had a similar situation with hidden damage almost ten years ago when a customer damaged our Triumph Stag. Again this was a front end impact and the front valance and wings were repaired. But after the crash we found there was oil leaking from the rear axle, which had not been the case beforehand. The impact of the accident had travelled down the engine, the gearbox, along the prop shaft and had cracked a plate on the front of the rear axle.

In one respect it is lucky that the Austin Healey is a classic with a heavy steel chassis. OK the front of the body and radiator were damaged but the steel chassis wasn’t. Had this been a modern car built with crumple zones in the structure, the impact would have collapsed the whole front end of the car, crushing the radiator and engine and it would probably have been a complete write off.

The morals of the both the Austin Healey and Stag incidents are as follows:

1) Never guess at repair costs based on an initial superficial examination,

2) Always have the vehicle checked out by a competent garage or crash repair shop.

3) If another vehicle is involved never accept a cash settlement as you can virtually guarantee it will never be enough.