Written By Sherwood Kohn

The other day, I parked my car in front of Starbucks and went in for a cup of coffee. When I returned, I found that my car – barely a year old – had been wounded.

When I stopped gnashing my teeth (that took about a week), I took the car to a body shop to find out how much it would cost me to have the injury – a scrape barely six inches long at the edge of the right rear wheel well – made whole again.

To my dismay, the estimate was $350. You will not be surprised to hear that it started me thinking; not only about how to find the jerk who defiled my car and whether or not to have the work done, but about the whole phenomenon of parking lot dings (see story, page 55).

I had entered a nasty thicket of ethical, economic and legal issues surrounding the problem of what the Brits call “dent and run,” and car owners, both dingers and dingees, are the ultimate victims.

Obviously, the slightest scratch can be expensive. Car body shops can charge anywhere from $300 to $500 to repair a minor scratch or dent. And insurance companies have been known to raise their premiums or even cancel policies if a car owner makes multiple small claims. Anyway, the deductible for such coverage may cost as much as the repair.

Why didn’t the person who damaged my car leave a note? That would have been the ethical thing to do. I would have, even if no one was watching.

Or would I? Would I risk shelling out as much as $500 to repair someone else’s car? After all, I was loathe to pay $350 to have my own car mended. Or if I admitted guilt, perhaps my insurance company would jack up my premiums or even cancel my policy.

Of course, “dent and run” is against the law. If you are found guilty of inflicting damage on someone’s car and leaving the scene of an accident, you could be arrested.

But no one saw the culprit scrape my fender. I looked around. Some parking lots are equipped with security cameras, and maybe I could check the day’s videos to get the perp’s license plate number. No soap.

In fact, in my situation, there were no winners, except possibly insurance companies. My car was dinged, and I was going to have to pay to have it repaired. And if the person who damaged it had been caught in the act or confessed by leaving a note on my windshield, would he or she have had to stand the expense of rectifying the damage? Not likely.

What was I going to do? Not much. My only options were to pay up, avoid further parking lot dents and scratches (see the tips on page 57) or learn to live with imperfection. I was stuck, as the poet said, with the cold gruel of conveyance.