Dear Tom and Ray:
I'm 17 and have been listening to your radio show with my dad for as long as I can remember. I got in my first car accident four days ago ... with our garage. I was coming home late at night and accidentally drove my mom's new Jeep Cherokee LTD into the door frame of the garage. There's a small dent and a scratch in the paint that's 2 inches long and a quarter of an inch high. My mom wants to get the entire quarter panel replaced, costing me about $4,000. I say that she should just go to a body shop and get the dent banged out and the scratch sanded and repainted, costing me a lot less money. What would you suggest? -- Katie
RAY: I suggest that you pick up some brochures from the circus, because you'll be running away with them soon, Katie.
TOM: If your mom does want it to be absolutely, imperceptibly perfect, then the body panel should be replaced and the paint matched to the original. But I'm not sure that level of perfection is necessary. I mean, it's only a car, right?
RAY: I think she's just miffed at you, Katie. It's her new car, you came home late, you were clearly having more fun than she was, and she wants to make you pay.
TOM: Here's the deal I'd try to strike with her. Tell her you'll get it fixed your way, and if it doesn't look perfect to her, then you'll go ahead and replace the whole body panel for $4,000. That's fair, right?
RAY: Then take it to the best body shop in town and ask them if they can pound it out, fill it with body filler and repaint it. My guess is that the job will set you back about $500. But I think it'll look pretty darned good.
TOM: And if your mom looks at it and says it's not good enough ... then you can run away with the circus.
RAY: Alternatively, you could consider making an insurance claim. You could cover the deductible -- which is probably $500 -- and let the insurance company fight with your mother about whether she needs a new body panel.
TOM: And then you can run away with the circus when your mom gets the bill with her new, jacked-up insurance rates. But that might buy you enough time to finish high school! Good luck, Katie.