What to do if someone who dents your car refuses to give you their license or registration.

Dear Car Talk

Dear Car Talk | Feb 01, 2001

Dear Tom and Ray:

I need your help. What do you do when someone dings your car in front of your very eyes? What is fair compensation? Yesterday, some bozo driving a monstrous SUV bumped into my Maxima at the airport curbside. Instead of feigning concern and getting out of his vehicle to check the damage, he just sat there! When I pointed to the dent he put in my bumper, this turkey just dismissed it with a wave of his hand. When I confronted him, he wouldn't give me his driver's license number or registration. I ended up getting the VIN off his dashboard. Soon, the party he was waiting for came out, and I appealed to a more reasonable person, who turned out to be this geezer's son. He, at least, pretended to be sorry, and he said his father had recently gone through surgery (and presumably had his central manners system removed). He gave me his home phone number and said for me to call. Before I do, I want to know what is fair to ask for in compensation. Mine is a well-kept '96 Maxima SE. He hit my car hard enough to put a dent in it and take some paint off. How would you handle this? -- Paul

TOM: How would WE handle it? Well, that's easy. We'd call Uncle Knuckles and have him pay the guy a little visit.

RAY: Here's what you should do, Paul. Assuming you actually want to get the car fixed, call the police station and ask them how you can file an accident report. Explain to them what happened -- that you were at the airport, that the guy hit you and that he refused to give you his information.

TOM: Then I'd call the guy's son. Ask him if he'd like to handle this through his insurance, or would he rather handle it himself?

RAY: Or would he like Uncle Knuckles to handle it?

TOM: I'd leave Uncle Knuckles out of it at this point.

RAY: If he says he'd like to handle it without invoking his insurance, you need to get an estimate from a body shop and send it to him. That's the amount of compensation that's fair.

TOM: If he doesn't want to pay for it himself, then you can call your insurance company and report the accident. You'll send them a copy of the police report, and they'll go after the guy or his insurance company for the money.

RAY: All of this assumes that your car was in decent condition to start out with and that you intend to fix it. If it's a heap, like any of my brother's cars, none of this applies. Then you just laugh it off and take the good karma that comes with giving a guy a break when you could have squeezed him.

TOM: Sometimes I even give the guy who hit me some money. I remember after one guy hit me from behind, suddenly my trunk lid started opening again. I jumped out and said, "Whaddo I owe ya?"

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