Accident Damaged but Driveable Car Question

Our 2005 Pontiac Vibe (Toyota Matrix “twin”) with 143,000 miles on is free of body panel rust, is in mechanically good condition and is a reliable runner. It got hit (other driver ran a stop sign), damaging the Vibe’s driver side rear door and quarter panel. My mechanic said the alignment is still straight, and the left rear wheel bearing seems fine. The car is driveable, but going over bumps some of the mashed metal in the rear wheel well hits the tire. The mechanic and a body shop both said the wheel well metal could be pounded so that it is clear of the tire.

The estimate to repair is $5600, and the car is worth about $4700 (retail), so the insurance company has offered us $4700, they take the car, or $3500 and we keep the car.

We’ve had the car since August 2018. As I mentioned it is reliable. Since we purchased it I had a motor mount and a brace replaced, new rotors and pads on the front, new battery, new tires, changed the plugs and fluids. Oh, and I also have a set of lightly used winter tires and rims for the car, too. We were expecting to use it for at least 2 or 3 more years (college student car). I just hate the thought of driving a body damaged vehicle.

A couple of people have said, just drive it, saying “Who cares how it looks?”. If you have been in this situation, how did you proceed? Is there anything to consider that I am overlooking?

Whether it bothers you or not is your call. If you want to keep it, get the metal out of the way of the tire. Check the tire closely for damage from contact with the damaged wheel well. I guess that rear door doesn’t work anymore, either.

Edmunds True Market Value tool says a base Vibe with auto trans, air bags, cruise, ABS, stability and traction control in clean condition would sell for about $3400 from a dealer. I’d be inclined to take the money and buy something else. You might find a similarly equipped Vibe or Matrix for about $3400 and have $1300 left over, or get something newer and with fewer miles.


Take the money and move on. I don’t know if you have this financed and it is none of my business. But if you do the lender will require full coverage insurance which might be a problem on a salvage title.

Some states have inspection systems and rules that will fail you with this sort of body damage. Years ago I had Pennsylvania hassle me about it. Just check and see if it would be a problem. Otherwise, I guess I’d be inclined to do some fast shopping to see what the $4,700 will get you, and if you are still leaning toward keeping this car and taking the $3,500 keep reminding yourself that it’s your $1,200 car. At that price the body damage might be more tolerable. There’s something liberating about having a pre-dented car.

If your state does not have some kind of safety inspection that you have to pass.

I’m with @wentwest, take the $3,500 and enjoy your $1,200 car.

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Even if your state DOES have a safety inspection, it should not be too difficult to remove the rear wheel and beat the sheet metal back with a rubber mallet or similar, so it can’t contact the wheel any more. Although aesthetically unpleasing, such a fix should be sufficient to allow the car to drive safely and pass any state-required inspection.

Alternatively, you could get the wheel well fixed professionally for a lot less than $3500 and buy a used door from a junkyard to replace the damaged one.


This is a chance of a lifetime to unload a car at about twice what you’d be able to get for it on the market. I’d take it and run. Unless you can do some of the work yourself and can use the extra car.

I think it is going to take a little more than “pounding out the sheet metal” though. That’s more of a reinforced area and not much of a place to pound on. I think it would really need to be pulled back in place on a rack. The door could probably be half-way re-worked to be reasonably presentable I guess.


This a college student that can basically have a free car and $3,500 in cash.


OK. Same thing either way. Chance of a lifetime and opportunity to try DIY body work. I fixed more than one dent in college.

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Thanks for the suggestions.

It’s my daughter’s vehicle. Her mother and I kicked in some of the funds to help her buy it a couple of years ago. I had to dig through the weeds to find that car: it fit my daughter’s budget, had a documented regular maintenance history, and was in good shape. I have not yet looked to see what is available now.

Mechanically the car seems fine. I do not know if driving a vehicle with that kind of body damage is a safety issue. Wisconsin only does emissions inspections, and those are just for vehicles registered in seven counties in the southeast portion of the state.

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During my sophomore year in college I was rear ended while driving an old 1963 Chevrolet. There was some minor damage to the left rear but it was driveable. Back in those days you chased estimates and sent them to the insurance company. I got two for $130 each and a third for $200. Insurance paid the $200. The car had cost $300 so I deposited the $200 check and drove the car as is. I ended up selling it for $150 so I actually made money.


Yeah I got rear ended in my 59 Pontiac about 1969. The estimate was about $130 and I fixed it for about $17 for used parts, paint and my free labor. Back then tuition was $525 a semester so $100 was a big deal. Poor girl just got her license and it was icy and at the bottom of a hill with a stop light, but fair is fair.

In my case I was stopped at a fork in the road waiting to turn left. I young guy about my age had been driving an old Buick for 20 miles with bad brakes and he knew it. He tried to pull onto the shoulder but he hit the car behind mine and there was a chain reaction. The lady in the middle took most of the damage. I don’t recall what she was driving but it was a full size car, probably a late 60’s model, so there was a lot of sheet metal to absorb the impact.

That’s what I thought, too, about the older cars. A friend told me I was wrong. He said modern vehicles are designed to crumple and absorb the impact, which results in less injury to the occupants. His contention was that previous generation vehicles did not crumple, and therefore transferred the force of impact into the passenger cabin.

That is correct.
The inertial forces of an impact will be transferred to/absorbed by… something.
Unless somebody has a death wish, he/she should prefer to have those inertial forces absorbed by the well-engineered “crumple zones” on modern vehicles.


Something else to think about is, “How much longer will your daughter be in school?”

College cars lead a tough life, at 143,000 miles it’s nearing the end of it’s life and when she graduates and starts earning her own money she’ll almost certainly want something else.

So if she’s nearing the home stretch and your budget can afford to help her with payments until she graduates, maybe it’s time to upgrade to a work/commuter car?

On the other hand, if she’s in her early years and it’s going to spend a lot of time on or near campus, chances are that she’ll get more dents and dings. (Apologies to the mature, responsible students but many of your classmates aren’t)

The mechanic who took a close look at the damage a lift thought the same thing you did. He said if hammering failed, maybe he could bend the metal with a long breaker bar, and if that failed, he could remove the problem metal altogether with a reciprocating saw. After thinking more about it, he thought maybe the best option would be to have a body shop put the car on a frame rack to pull the metal out of the way. The one body shop I visited was reluctant to do that. The owner felt there was a possibility the rear doors latching mechanism was broken, and the only thing holding the door closed was the damaged metal. Pull it straight, and now you have a door that won’t stay closed.

I’m going to do some online car shopping today to get up to speed on asking prices for replacement vehicles.

I think the two places are being diplomatic . They just don’t want to say let the vehicle go and find something else . Even if it could be made drivable their is a chance that water could get in and cause mold problems . I would not take that chance for any family member of mine .

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Except we’re not–or at least I’m not–talking about transferring force into the passenger cabin, we’re talking about transferring force all the way through the whole car. A late 60’s sedan sitting still with the driver’s foot on the brake takes a good bit of force to move. So that much kinetic energy goes toward moving it, instead of the next vehicle. That’s what I meant by absorbing impact. No, it’s not as effective as crumple zones but it’s better than getting hit directly. Sorry I wasn’t more clear.

I got curious and did some “shopping” of my own. Let’s say you get $4700 and add to it to bump it up to $5000+tax etc. Here in the St. Louis area the best deal I found for $5000 was a 2012 Ford Fiesta. Whether it’s worth a gamble is unknown. A used vehicle with some warranty left will run in the low 5 figures.