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CAR CARE: How do you decide what to do when your vehicle gets dinged?

Beware of bare metal with any scratch
car crash bits
What needs to be fixed right away, what can wait a bit? We've got a few tips to help you sort things out after getting dented or dinged. photo Mike Wakefield, North Shore News

If you are a lifelong driver, the chances are great that at some point, your car will get dinged or dented.

And when that happens, there are a few questions that come up, once you’ve stopped swearing. Do I need to get this fixed right away? How bad is the damage? Is the vehicle safe to drive?

The answers are easy, if not welcome, when the damage is severe, rendering the vehicle inoperable. But what if it’s just a scratch. Or a scratch with a dent? Or a dent that maybe slightly shifted the bumper? Or a shifted bumper that threw the car out of alignment? Or … ?

With damage like this, the questions gets murkier, and the answers will include some consideration for the age of the vehicle, its current state, your intentions of selling the vehicle or keeping it for its lifespan, and even the owner’s tolerance for cosmetic imperfections.

So how, then, do you make a call when the answer isn’t perfectly clear? We asked Andrew Madai, operations manager at North Vancouver’s CSN Elite Auto Body, for some tips on deciding what to do next if you get dinged.

Watch out for bare metal

If you’re interested in the long-term health of your car, an important short-term consideration after any kind of scratch, dent or ding is looking to see if any bare metal is exposed under your paint. Other decisions can wait a bit, but exposed metal can start to rust, which could turn a small headache into a bigger one, said Madai. 

“Once bare metal is showing, it’s probably pretty important to get something on top of that,” he said. “You could swing by your favourite collision repair shop and get some touch up on there or some primer or something just to get the bare metal covered until you’re prepared to deal with it properly. … (Or) you can grab some touch-up paint from your local auto parts store or your local dealership parts department. Just anything to get the bare metal out of the air and out of the elements so that it doesn’t keep rusting and get worse.”

If there is no bare metal showing, the clock on getting the damage fixed is ticking a lot slower, said Madai.

“If there’s not bare metal showing, then it’s not totally going to keep getting worse. If it’s a plastic bumper it’s not going to get worse by leaving it. You don’t have to make a decision immediately.”

Be sure it’s safe

Bare metal or not, Madai said it’s important to get damage checked if you have any concerns about the vehicle not being safe to drive. What should you do if you’re not sure it’s OK to drive?

“They should talk to somebody that they know and trust,” said Madai. “They could go to their favourite collision repair shop on the North Shore and a quick pop-by is all it takes. I’m sure most managers are more than happy to come out front and discuss all the options with the client. … Every situation is different. Most collision repair shops are going to spend the time to understand the client’s wants and needs and evaluate the vehicle – whether it’s safe to drive or not.”

Know your options

Once you’ve touched up your bare metal and determined that it’s safe to drive the vehicle in its current state, you’ve got decisions to make about how to handle any cosmetic damage. At this point it’s important to know that you have options and should be able to include considerations about your budget, your insurance options and your desires for the appearance and functionality of the vehicle.

“A shop that is really customer-focussed would probably give a variety of options,” said Madai. “What does the client want? Once you can answer that, then you can walk them through the process. Is it a $10 touch up? Is it an insurance claim? Collision repair is so varied – no two scratches are exactly the same.”

This story originally appeared in the Car Care section of the paper, a special feature focusing on auto-related content.