Can writing in the dirt on a car actually scratch the paint-- or should Linda just chill out?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | May 01, 2007

Dear Tom and Ray:

Does writing in the dirt/dust on a car scratch the paint? A teacher at my children's school today wrote "Clean Me" as a joke in the dirt on my new Suburban as I was parked in the school pickup line. (It was dirty only because we've had bad weather lately!) I had left it unattended while I was visiting another mother ahead of me in line while waiting for the kids to come out of school. I'm a little surprised that an adult male would do this, and I don't quite know how to bring up the subject with him. I don't want to hurt his feelings, but I do want him to know that I didn't appreciate the fact that he could have scratched the paint. I haven't had a new vehicle since 1999, and it really hurt my feelings to have someone do this the second week I've owned the vehicle. How can I give this fella an education about not messing with other people's cars, without offending him? -- Linda

RAY: Well, first of all, Linda, you should never be surprised at what an adult male will do. In the big scheme of adult-male misdeeds, however, this is not something for the International Court of Justice in The Hague.

TOM: I know what I'd do. I'd write "Clean Me" on HIS car. With a nail!

RAY: You see what I mean about adult males, Linda? If there was nothing but dust or fine particles of dirt on the car, it's unlikely to have done any damage. However, if there was grit and sand on the car, it's possible that there are some slight scratches on your paint. In that case, rest assured that the scratches will easily come out with some polishing compound.

TOM: As you know, cars get scratches all the time. The back of someone's jacket rubs against your door in a parking lot ... someone puts a shopping bag on the hood ... your kid rubs her backpack against it while getting in ... you scrape up against a bush in a driveway. Scratches are inevitable, and there's no avoiding them over time. So don't lose sleep over it.

RAY: On the other hand, you can say to the fellow: "Listen, I know you were just joking around, but you probably didn't know that you can scratch the car that way. And since it's a brand-new car, I'm not emotionally ready to have it scratched up yet!"

TOM: "And, by the way, you owe me $5,000 for a paint job!"

RAY: See? Adult males. Be nice about it, Linda, because I'm sure the guy didn't think he was doing any harm. But letting him know will make you feel better and will force him to find alternative ways to be destructive in the future.

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