You are probably wondering what the headline means. And, you are right to be wondering, but it comes from disturbing information that made the rounds a few months back about the Prius line.

A miss is as good as a mile

In the car business, if your company builds unibody vehicles – vehicles where all of the subframe members meet at certain stress points where they are then welded so that the stress points cannot only take the abuse of the US road system but also of some backroads that are actually in better shape than some Interstates – if you miss a complete weld of only do a spot weld job, you have a real problem because you might as well just take the vehicle and send it off to the recycle pile for reuse.

The reason is simple – if you have five major stress points coming together with in one slightly weak weld, then you have the recipe for panel failure. One can always tell if:

• A car is unibody
• Has a problem

Just look at the result of a low-speed accident as an example. If the roofline seems to rumple up as if there was too much stress underneath, then you are seeing exactly what you should be seeing. You are looking at a major stress point that has taken a hit or part of a body frame that has taken a hit and the result is the rumpled skin. In this case, a miss – no direct contact with the frame itself – might as well be as good as a mile.

The rumple also tells you that somehow the subframe has an issue that must be looked at and, if possible, the vehicle must be put up on a frame stretcher (there are such items but they do take experts to use them) to remove the dent or subframe damage.

Why does it matter?

Some month’s back – it appeared and then disappeared almost as quickly from daily financial pages – some Toyota spokesman (who is probably working for Hyundai now, but his or her fate is unknown) revealed that the subframe assembly for the rear bumper did not extend fully to the quarter panels and sail panels.

In other words, you had a major subframe that connected to no other subframe and the only item that could take the damage from even a low-speed his was the bumper itself.

At the time, estimates put the price of the fix at between \$4,000 and \$6,000. That’s quite a chunk of change.

This matters for most drivers, as even hybrid owners will take advantage of insurance policies with large deductibles to keep their monthly payments down. The result here is that the owner may suddenly find himself or herself saddled with a bill to cover the repair of \$1,500 or more as the company will only pay for between \$5,000 and \$4,500, leaving the owner with quite a surprise.

It’s not the kind of surprise that anyone wants, either.

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