Minor body damage: to fix, or not to fix?

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2004

Dear Tom and Ray:

I have a 2001 Subaru Forester that I love. About nine months ago, I pulled out of an awkward parking space and managed to ding up the driver's side, toward the back. Thinking it wasn't too bad, I ordered the "Ding King," of TV infomercial fame, and proceeded to try to fix it myself. Well, it sort of worked, but it left a kind of dimpled look on the car, so I sheepishly took it to the dealer's body shop to get an estimate. I was quoted $1,600. Is this an outrageous amount to pay for some smallish dings? I hope to drive the car for at least another three years. Will I recover any of this money in resale or trade-in? Really, the damage is very small, and no one notices it until I point it out. My friends make fun of me anyway, for driving what's essentially a station wagon at my age ... so it's not like I'm too worried about image with this car! -- Leena

TOM: As long as the paint is intact (which prevents the metal underneath from rusting), I'd just forget all about it, Leena.

RAY: People are much too worried about the appearance of their cars. I mean, if your face was all dinged up, that might be another story. Then you'd want to take corrective action, like my brother's wife did. She made Tommy grow a beard.

TOM: The reason it's so expensive is that the body shop can't just repaint those small, individual spots. It has to go to the nearest "break" in the body. So, if the damage is just above the rear wheel well, for instance, the mechanics would have to sand down and repaint that entire quarter panel, from the back of the car all the way to the back door -- in addition to smoothing out the dings.

RAY: And there's no way you'd ever get that back when you sell the car in three years. By then, the car will be 6 years old, and nobody expects (or wants to pay for) a 6-year-old car to be cosmetically perfect.

TOM: And besides, who knows what's going to happen during the next three years? Or three weeks? Let's say you pay the $1,600 to have that part of the car made perfect again. On the way home, you stop for a double frappuccino macchiato espresso latte half-caf, and while you're inside, some guy in a banged-up '91 Explorer opens his door into your car. What are you going to do, pay another $1,600?

RAY: So, I'd choose to see the dings as "freeing," Leena. Think of them as permission to stop worrying about the car. You love it. That's great. Enjoy it. But don't try to keep it looking perfect. It'll just raise your blood pressure, and in the big picture, it's really quite meaningless.

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