Dear Tom and Ray: My wife Olivia's first car (in the early '70s) was a purple-sparkle dune buggy built on a VW Bug frame — one of the least-safe but coolest cars ever. As we have grown older, she has pined for her dune buggy, so last year I bought her a safer facsimile: a bright-red Honda Fit. She loves it, and so do I. Here's the catch: About three months after we got the car, a 20-something boy fiddling with the CD player in his very large minivan rear-ended her at a stoplight, pushing her "red dune buggy" into a much larger Jeep 4x4. Our car was pretty smashed up in the front and rear. She was able to drive it home (even though the air bag had deployed), and we had all the front- and rear-end damage repaired (at a cost to the insurance company of nearly $8,000). My question is: Do you guys think this car should be OK after this injury? The repairs were largely cosmetic (bumpers, headlight, hood, rear hatchback), besides replacing the restraint system. The car looks and drives fine. Please tell me Olivia's beloved "red dune buggy" should be fine, so I don't have to talk to any more insurance agents. — Donald
Ray: It should be fine, Donald. It obviously took a serious hit if the air bag deployed. But I trust that the insurance company did its due diligence and concluded that it wouldn't be wasting $8,000 if this thing were fixed.
Tom: The primary concern I would have had is whether the frame got bent. But I assume the insurance company checked that and found it to be OK.
Ray: If you want to confirm this for yourself, take the car to a place that does wheel alignments, and ask for a four-wheel alignment.
Tom: If the frame is bent, they will not be able to align all four wheels. So if they tell you your alignment's fine, that tells you your frame is fine, too.
Ray: It's always possible that with a serious collision, there's undetected damage: wires that got pinched, or mechanical damage that only pops up later. But if the insurance company didn't total the car, if it now looks and drives fine and if you can align the wheels, I'd say don't worry about it, and let your wife enjoy her ride.
Tom: And by the way, you're very lucky to have a wife who's so easy to please. She wants a dune buggy, you give her a Honda Fit, and she says, "Okey-dokey!"
Ray: My brother's just jealous, Donald. He tried, unsuccessfully, to convince his wife that the '78 Fiat he gave her was a Cadillac. Of course, that was two wives and four Fiats ago.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)