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Vehicle Damage To Trees: Fixing A Tree Hit By Car

Vehicle Damage To Trees: Fixing A Tree Hit By Car


By: Bonnie L. Grant, Certified Urban Agriculturist

Traumatic injury to trees can be a serious and even deadly problem. Fixing a tree hit by a car is a wait-and-see prospect, as sometimes the injury repairs itself but more often limbs and other parts of the tree need to be taken off and some finger crossing has to happen to see if the entire plant will survive the mutilation.

Vehicle Injury to Trees

It could happen to anyone on an icy street. Lose control of your vehicle and, wham, you’ve hit a tree. These incidents are more common in winter or, unfortunately, during holiday revelry when the operator has had too much to drink. Large trees that overhang streets are also victims of large trucks that smash into the branches and break and distort them.

Whatever the cause, accident damage to trees can be a simple fix of pruning off the remaining damaged portion or the entire trunk may be crushed. The severity of the impairment must be vetted and clean up is the first step. It is not always possible to repair trees hit by vehicles, but most plants are tougher than they appear and can withstand mighty injury without much intervention.

Fixing a Tree Hit by a Car

Tree damage by car is one of the most shocking harms a plant can sustain. Not only does it cause physical destruction, but the very vitality of the tree is impaired. In severe instances, the only decision may have to be tree removal, but sometimes peripheral damage will not cause tree death and over time it can recover. The first steps are to clean up and triage to assess the depth of the injury and what steps to take next.

Remove any broken plant material to prevent further hazards and in order to get a good look at the injuries. If the entire tree is leaning precariously and the root ball has come up out of the ground, it is time to cordon off the area and seek a professional removal service. Such trees are dangerous to people and property and will require elimination from the landscape.

Lightly damaged trees with limb wounds that are still firmly attached to the tree require no action immediately. There are wound treatments to prevent insects and disease from entering the plant but, in most cases, these are not necessary and prove to have limited benefit.

Tree damage by cars may also include light trunk damage such as bark splitting or removal. These plants should not have any action taken except some TLC and good maintenance. Watch for any developing issues over the next couple of seasons but, generally, the plant will survive such light damage.

How to Repair Trees Hit by Vehicles

Complete annihilation of large branches requires pruning if the bark was entirely stripped or if more than one-third of the diameter has pulled away from the main trunk. Prune the branch off so that you do not cut into the trunk at an angle that reflects moisture away from the wound.

Another thing to try to fix accident damage to trees is something called a bridge graft. Clean the breach in the branch and then cut some healthy plant material that is just large enough to insert under both edges of the wound. A piece about thumb-sized and 1 to 3 inches (2.5 to 7.5 cm.) in length should usually be enough.

Make parallel cuts on each side of the wound to create flaps. Trim the healthy stems at each side so the edges are flattened. Insert both ends into either side of the flaps you just made in the direction the new wood was growing. The idea is that saps and carbohydrates will flow out of the bridge and help bring nutrients to the damaged area. It may not always work, but it is worth a try if you really want to save the limb.

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Read more about General Tree Care


You may be able to claim a storm loss or insurance benefit as a result of storm damage. Here are ways to assess the value of damaged trees and landscaping:

• The decrease in the fair market value of the property as a result of the casualty.
• The adjusted basis in the property.
• The amount of insurance or other compensation allowed.
• The cost of replacement (when replacement is possible).

Note: The comments below are general in nature. Consult a CPA or tax advisor before acting on the information.

The decrease in fair market value is calculated two ways: (1) appraisals immediately before and after the casualty and (2) deduction from the before-casualty fair market value less the cost of cleanup, repair or replacement.

Competent loss appraisals by real estate appraisers are the best proof of decrease in fair market value. Appraisal fees are deductible under expenses incurred to determine tax liability. Those fees are not part of the casualty loss.

Cleanup, repair and replacement costs on the damaged landscape may be used to measure the decrease in property value if:

• The repairs are necessary to restore the property to its condition before the casualty.
• The amount spent on repairs is not excessive.
• The replacement or repairs do no more than take care of the damage sustained.
• The value of the property after the repairs does not, as a result of the repairs, exceed the value of the property before the casualty.

Homeowners who sustain significant damage to landscape trees may wish to contact the IRS to determine what other methods are used to evaluate tree value. If homeowners decide to pursue insurance claims or tax deductions, they must prove that casualty loss was sustained because of the storm and that amounts claimed as loss are deductible. Such record-keeping also is important in substantiating any claims for loss recovery.

Specifically, homeowners must be prepared to show:

1. The nature of the casualty and when it occurred.
2. That the loss was the direct result of a sudden and unusual event such as storm, lighting or wind.
3. That the claimant is the owner of the property.

The costs of the property can be proved by purchase contracts, deed, etc. value before and after the casualty or the amount of insurance or other compensation received or recoverable.

Photographs of the property before and after the damage help show the condition and value of the property before the casualty. Local newspaper articles, complete with dates and the newspaper’s name, serve as evidence of the casualty and its time and location.

Appraisals are the most desirable tools for establishing values before and after the casualties. Keep receipts for repair and replacement for claims as well as names of witnesses who can help substantiate claims. A CPA, IRS agent or other knowledgeable tax person should be contacted for guidance.


Water Spray

Trees can recover from light weedkiller exposure if specific guidelines are followed. Spray each entire tree with water as quickly as possible. If the trees are small enough, wash each with a soap and water solution. Water helps to leach some herbicide formulas from trees' root systems. Avoid fertilizing the trees for one growing season because excess growth may trigger additional injuries. Pruning also should be delayed for one year so the damage's extent can be determined. Remove dead branches that fall from the trees.


How Can You Proactively Prevent Problems?

To keep tree issues from developing, have an arborist fell or trim potential hazards above and below ground. “Once it hits your property line, you can lop it off,” Blackwell says.

For do-it-yourself pointers, read our archived article on pruning trees.

And note that USAA policyholders in Arizona, California, Colorado, New Mexico, Oregon, Texas, and Utah get a break on their premiums for cutting back trees and dry brush around dwellings and outbuildings. The mitigation is intended to prevent the spread of wildfires. Eligible homeowners must live in a community that participates in the FireWise USA program. (USAA was among the highest-rated homeowners insurance companies in our recent survey.)


Pot Holes

Potholes are a huge nuisance to drivers, particularly in the northern states. Hitting a pothole is considered a single car accident which would place the driver at fault.   Many drivers feel not at fault especially when pot holes can be unavoidable on narrow roads. Insurance companies cannot be responsible for repairing vehicles damaged by potholes because they are too prevalent and they are often avoidable. Many new vehicle warranties will cover tires, but if a claim is filed on your auto insurance, it will be considered at fault.  

Filing an at-fault claim means you pay your collision deductible and your rates will more than likely be going up at your renewal. The rate increase could last as long as three years.  

Tips to Avoid Accident

  • Cautiously swerve around pothole
  • Drive slowly over pothole
  • Be alert


What Is Undercarriage Damage?

Undercarriage damage refers to harm done to the supporting framework underneath a vehicle, according to Reference.com. The undercarriage holds vital parts, such as wheels, axles, brake lines and exhaust systems. Damage done on the road can be covered by insurance depending upon the circumstances.

Sudden undercarriage damage is caused by potholes, rocks in the road, fallen trees and even debris from other vehicles. Drivers with full coverage can file a collision claim for car insurance, and the owner would pay the deductible. About.com reveals that undercarriage damage caused by debris from other vehicles is a claim against the damaged car's insurance as opposed to the other driver's.

Salted roads in winter can corrode and rust the undercarriage. Rust and corrosion can wear down various parts of the undercarriage over time. Frequent washing and steaming of the underside of a car during cold months can help prevent rust, according to DMV.org. Waxing a car prevents rust damage to the undercarriage as well.

Even tough construction vehicles can suffer from undercarriage damage. Uneven weight on bulldozer tracks can cause wear and tear to the underside of such vehicles. Half of all maintenance costs to bulldozers come from the undercarriage. Steering the vehicle properly and avoiding overly rough terrain helps prevent such damage to construction vehicles.


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