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Structural Damage on Used and CPO Vehicles: What You Need to Know

On Behalf of | Feb 15, 2024 | Auto Law

Buying a used or certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle can be a great way to save money on a car. However, it’s important to be aware of the potential for structural damage on these vehicles. Structural damage is damage to the frame or unibody of a vehicle. This type of damage can be caused by a number of factors; most likely a significant accident.

Symptoms of Structural Damage:

There are a number of symptoms that can indicate structural damage on a vehicle. These include:

  • Uneven gaps between panels
  • Misaligned bodywork
  • Abnormal handling (pulling to the left or right)
  • Tires wearing unevenly

If you notice any of these symptoms, it’s important to have the vehicle inspected. Auto Law suggests going to a reputably body shop since body shops perform structural repairs on vehicles.

Can Structural Damage be Fixed?

No. Manufacturers provide guidelines on how to repair structural damage, but there is no way to completely remove structural damage from a vehicle. There are two repair techniques used for structural damage. One option is to literally pull the bent pieces of metal back to their original shape. Try bending and unbending a paperclip a few times to find out why this repair does not remove structural damage. The other option is to cut out the damaged structural component and weld in new piece. Welding creates a weak point at the Heat Affected Zone (HAZ). Both of these options can bring the vehicle back to the correct measurements, but will leave the vehicle with structural damage.

The fact that a vehicle has sustained structural damage, much like the history of an accident, is a stigma that will forever diminish the value of the vehicle.

Legal Implications of Structural Damage:

If you purchase a vehicle with structural damage, you may have legal recourse. It is illegal for dealerships in California to lie to consumers, including lying about accident and structural damage. California law allows you to file a lawsuit to force the dealership to refund your money, take back the vehicle, and you may even get punitive damages. The consumer protection statutes have attorney fee provisions that make it extremely affordable for consumers to file a claim. In fact, most consumers pay nothing to start their case.

If you find out that a dealership has lied about accident damage or structural damage, you may be able to file a lawsuit against the dealership for fraud or lemon law violations in California.


Structural damage can be a serious safety hazard. If you find out that a dealership lied to you about accident damage or structural damage, you should talk to an Auto Fraud attorney. An attorney can help you understand your legal options and file a lawsuit against the dealership.