What kind of body repair work could I get done for $200?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Oct 01, 2005

Dear Tom and Ray:

Help! I am REALLY hoping that you guys are not basking on some beach today. Here's the deal: While my husband was conveniently out of town on business last week, I inadvertently backed into the right front fender of a friend's rental car ... a 2004 Kia Rio. Needless to say, while waiting to get the damage estimate from the rental company, I had conveniently neglected to mention this minor incident to the aforementioned husband. My thinking was that it looked like about $200 of damage to me, and in that case, why bother the poor man with such a trifle? Today the estimate arrived ... $789.40 plus about $130 in "loss of use" and "diminished value" charges, for a grand total of $926.06. This for a car that currently retails for about $9,100. My question is, Does this estimate seem reasonable, or am I being called upon to single-handedly improve the bottom line of the rental company? And ... since I am the perpetrator of this fender-bending, do I have any options other than paying? Can I insist that they get another estimate? And lastly, will you come over and stand in front of me when I explain all this to my husband? Thanks, guys. -- Karen

TOM: Well, the answer to your last question depends on how big your husband is.

RAY: Unfortunately, there's no body work that costs $200 anymore. For $200 at a body shop, you can get an almost-invisible dent knocked out and your ashtrays cleaned.

TOM: In your case, I'm guessing you backed into the front quarter-panel. So to fix it, they have to smooth out the metal, prime it, paint it, sand it down and then apply a clear-coat finish. It's pretty labor-intensive. And if you happened to put a little crack in the headlight lens, there's another 200 bucks. So I'm not surprised that the estimate is for $800.

RAY: That said, you certainly don't have to accept the rental company's price. You can insist upon getting your own estimate from a body shop of your choice. And if your estimate comes in lower, you can negotiate with the rental company.

TOM: As for the "loss of use" charge, that probably depends on the contract that your friend signed when she rented the car. It's a questionable charge, because unless they were totally sold out last week, the car might very well have been sitting on the lot anyway, not being used. So that might be negotiable as well.

RAY: Alternatively, you can call your own insurance company and tell them you had an accident. Then THEY'LL negotiate with the rental company and settle with them -- probably for about $200!

TOM: Of course, they'll then jack up your rates for the next nine years, so you have to consider that, too.

RAY: But keep in mind that the rate increase won't come until next year. So you'll have that much more time to figure out how to explain all of this to your husband, Karen. Good luck!


Get the Car Talk Newsletter

Got a question about your car?

Ask Someone Who Owns One