We'll buy your car - no matter the condition!

Is Undercarriage Damage Bad on a Car?

Marc Skirvin
Marc Skirvin

What's in this Article

If you drive a car, you’ll be familiar with the wide variety of hazards you can encounter on the road. Slippery surfaces, sharp bends, potholes, and even other drivers are just some of the risks you face while driving.

All of these hazards can result in damage to your automobile. However, many people are only aware of exterior damage (like dents and scratches) after an accident or collision because it’s easy to see.

Other problems, like undercarriage damage, are harder to notice. If you run over a pothole or other road debris, it can cause harm to the underside of your car that won’t always be noticeable.

Because this damage isn’t easy to see right away, you’ll have to rely on other signs to know you have a problem.  

What is undercarriage damage?

The undercarriage is the part of the car underneath the main body. 

It holds together a few essential parts, like:

  • Axels
  • Brake lines
  • Exhaust system
  • Wheels

Undercarriage damage happens when this supporting framework is harmed by an impact or deteriorates over time.

How do you know if your undercarriage is damaged? 

Undercarriage damage isn’t always immediately visible. If you run over a pothole, a curb, or other road debris, it can be difficult to know if any extensive damage has been done. 

So, how do you know if your undercarriage is damaged? Keep a lookout for these classic signs.

Steering issues

If you hit or run over something while driving, the impact can cause damage to the undercarriage. Some of the most common problems are damages to the control arm or the tire rod. The easiest way to tell that you’ve damaged your tire rod or control arm is that your auto begins veering while driving.

When you drive your car, it should go in a straight path unless you turn the wheel. But if your control arm or tire rod has sustained damage, this can cause your car to drift left or right. 

If your car is veering to either side, you’ll need to bring it in for repair straight away.

Delayed turning

Even minor collisions can result in damage to the steering knuckle. You can tell your steering knuckle is damaged because it can cause delays or a lack of responsiveness where you turn your wheels. In effect, this means your turns will be slower or less smooth than usual.

Because of the steering knuckle mechanics, you’ll generally only notice this delay when steering in one direction. Again, if your car is not turning as well as it should, this could cause problems on the road. As such, you should get auto body repair straight away.

Leaking fluid

Another telltale sign of undercarriage damage is when your automobile starts to leak fluid. The undercarriage serves to protect the various components and lines that carry fluid, like transmissions fluid lines, oil pans, etc.

If you’ve hit or run over something and you notice that your auto is leaking fluid, you’ve likely got undercarriage damage. Again, this is something that you’ll need to address straight away at an auto body repair shop.

Can you drive a car with undercarriage damage? 

In the section above, we’ve talked about some of the main symptoms of undercarriage damage. Leaks, steering issues, and delayed turning are all pretty clear signs that something has been damaged. 

However, if you hear the dreaded sounds of your vehicle scraping against the road, it is worth investigating further. If possible, calmly pull your car over to the side of the road and check the underside.

While it is technically possible to keep driving your car after sustaining a significant undercarriage impact, a quick inspection can save you a legion of issues down the line. Check for cracks or broken components, deep scratches, scrapes, leaking fluid, or a strong smell of gas or oil.

Even minor impacts can worsen over time. It should go without saying that you shouldn’t drive a car that is veering on the road and slow to take corners. When your vehicle is not in a fit condition, you are putting yourself and others in danger. It’s best to go to an auto repair shop as quickly as possible.

How to check for undercarriage damage on a car?

If you do hit a curb or a rock or drive over a nasty pothole, you’ll at minimum want to check to see if there’s any damage.

These impacts are not a nice feeling. However, if it happens to you, you need to keep calm and follow our five-point checklist for what to do if you hit a rock, curb, pothole, or other road debris.

Pullover

Once you hear that shrieking noise of metal on concrete or rock, the first thing you need to do is pull your car over and get parked in a safe space. Finding an appropriate spot to pull over might mean that you’ll have to drive a few yards or more without checking the damage. That’s fine because protecting yourself and others on the road is important.

While you may be tempted to keep driving and check for undercarriage damage when you get home, it’s important to check as soon as possible for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it stops your driving a car with a compromised frame that puts you and others at risk.

Secondly, it reduces the amount of force you are putting on damaged parts. By continuing to drive, you could exacerbate the problems.

Once your car is pulled over into a safe space, you can start inspecting for undercarriage damage.

Look for signs of damage

The next step is to look for signs of damage. So, grab a flashlight and have a look under your car. A flashlight is a great tool to use even during daylight hours because it will help you get a much clearer look at the underside.

Of course, not everyone is a mechanic or even has a great understanding of what is happening under their car. However, you don’t need to be an expert to notice significant damage. So scan around and see if anything is glaring. 

What to look for?

As you study the underside of your car, it’s essential to consider that the impact might not be localized to one zone. A vehicle traveling at high speed could sustain multiple points of impact from a pothole, rock, or other pieces of debris.

So, perform a thorough check of the entire undercarriage. Some of the things to look out for are

  • Broken parts
  • Cracks
  • Dents
  • Leaking fluid
  • Oil smell
  • Scratches
  • Scrapes

Categorize the problem

Rocks and other debris can cause considerable damage to the underside of your car. But not every impact will result in a big problem or a bill for repairs.

Quite often, the damage caused by these types of collisions is minor and cosmetic. As a result, you could be just looking at small surface scratches or scrapes along the protective plates. If nothing major is damaged or leaking, it’s unlikely that you’ll have too much to worry about.

However, if the impact of the collision has left large dents, cracks, or broken or damaged parts, it’s time to get a professional to have a look.

Of course, there will be some situations where you look at the undercarriage and don’t see anything too worrying. However, when you resume driving, you might notice that something is off. It could be a strange vibration or noise, or it might be that the car doesn’t feel right to drive. 

If the car doesn’t feel or sound right after running over something, it’s a good sign that something has gone wrong. 

How to know what needs immediate attention

Once you’ve categorized what sort of problem you are having, you’ll need to know what needs to be done. 

Let’s look at a few of the more common scenarios and what course of action you should take.

Suspension damage:

Hitting a rock or pothole at high speeds can cause suspension damage. Some ways you can check for suspension damage are:

a) Make sure your tires are all turning together. When your suspension is working properly, all your wheels should turn at the same angle. If one or more of your tires are out of sync after an accident, it is a sure sign of damage to your car’s suspension.

b) If your vehicle is bouncing up and down as you drive, it could indicate damage to the suspension. This bouncing will be particularly noticeable if you drive up or down a sloped road or hill.

c) If your car is leaning slightly to one side after an impact with some road debris, it could indicate damage to the shocks or the suspension.

If you run into any of the above scenarios, getting your car to a mechanic as quickly as possible is important. Driving a car around with any of these problems can make it hard to control and lead to a crash. 

Oil pan or housing:

The impact of a rock or other debris can lead to a punctured oil pan. This damage might be easy to see if the crack is large enough. However, you’ll also be able to notice damage to the oil pan or housing because of a strong smell of oil or leaking. 

While you can drive with a punctured oil pan without any performance issues, it’s best to address these issues quickly to avoid further, more severe complications.

Vibrations or noise:

After you’ve inspected your car for visible signs of damage, you may be confident that you’re in the clear. However, if you get back on the road, you should pay attention to any vibrations and noise.

If your car begins shaking or vibrating as you drive, it indicates that you have some sort of problem. These sensations could result from several issues like loosened covers or driveshaft, or suspension damage. Again, ignoring these issues could lead to far worse problems down the line.

So, if you notice any of these issues after you’ve run over a pothole, rock, or other debris, it’s essential that you seek the help of a mechanic or auto repair shop. Getting a check-up can help you diagnose a problem before it causes further damage or jeopardizes your safety.

Causes of undercarriage damage

Although impacts are the most common cause of undercarriage damage, they aren’t the only factor to consider. In fact, there are a few items on our list that can lead to undercarriage damage without being involved in a crash.

Here is a list of the different things that cause damage to a car’s underside.

Potholes

Potholes of any size can cause significant damage to cars of all kinds. Vehicles that have lowered suspension or small rims or tires are particularly susceptible to damage from potholes.

If a car is driving at high speed and it hits a pothole, it can cause the car to scrape along the bottom of the road. This impact can cause various issues like fluid leaks, underbody cracks, and even damage to the muffler or exhaust.

Rocks or Road Debris

Rocks or road debris can lead to dents, cracks, or holes in the undercarriage. As mentioned earlier, they can puncture your oil pan. Additionally, they can dislodge the muffler or other components. 

Worn out shock absorbers

Cars are fitted with shock absorbers to allow them to drive over slightly bumps or uneven terrain. However, like most car parts, they get worn out over time. 

If your shock absorbers are worn out, it can lead to your car sustaining undercarriage damage when it hits bumps or ramps. Driving a car with worn-out shocks can damage many of the parts underneath.

Mud

Most people don’t consider mud as a huge factor in undercarriage damage. And in ways, they are correct. It’s not the mud that will cause issues with the underside of your car, but the moisture that it contains.

Mud can attach itself to the underside of your car and cause it to rust. Rust can create holes in the undercarriage and even damage the radiator.

Salt

Salt is often used to grit icy roads to stop cars from skidding. While it does make the road safer to drive on, it also splashes up on the undercarriage, which can corrode metal and other components.

Over time, this can wear away at critical components because of salt’s corrosive nature. Additionally, ice mixed with salt can attach to your car, causing further damage.

Can I sell a car with undercarriage damage?

Taking your car with undercarriage damage into a dealer as a trade-in will certainly result in a very low offer – if you can even get it there. You can also sell it privately, but you’ll need to disclose the damage and risk turning away potential buyers.

Your best bet is to sell your damaged vehicle to a reputable salvage yard like Cash Auto Salvage. A reputable yard with come to the vehicle’s location, pay you on the spot, and tow it away for free. Sound like a great deal? Get an offer just like this by using our instant offer form.

Share this!

Facebook
Twitter
Reddit
LinkedIn
Email

About the Author

Marc
Marc

Marc is the Co-Founder of Cash Auto Salvage and Director of daily operations. He retired from a leading Internet Marketing company in 2013 and has been involved in the automotive industry ever since.

maximize cash offer on car

We'll buy your vehicle!

Wait! We REALLY Want Your Vehicle!

We pay up to $20,000 for cars, trucks, & SUV’s – no matter the condition. Get paid on the spot + free towing!

Or Call... 1-855-922-3095

There is no obligation to accept an offer.

Unable to verify mileage

Selecting “unable to verify” may decrease your offer and should only be selected if you cannot visually confirm the mileage of the vehicle upon inspection of the odometer.