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PRACTICAL VIEW : Avoid Dent in Your Pocketbook

This is the first of two parts.


A minor accident--just a ding or a scrape--happens to almost everyone. The damage can look minor, but the repair bill can shock the senses.

"No wonder insurance rates are so high," a North Hollywood man wrote to me recently. "I have a 1988 Cutlass Ciera that was damaged when I was backing out of a stall a few weeks ago. I bumped my left front fender against a girder. I haven't been in an accident since 1957. As a result, I was totally unprepared for today's cost."

The seemingly small dent in his fender cost $1,032 to repair, including labor of nearly $600. The garage charged $1.85 for hazardous waste disposal, a seeming bargain in the deal.

If you have a fairly new car, you really don't have any choice. Nobody wants to let body damage go unrepaired on a car that is only a few years old. But after five or six years, you might consider saving some money with a home remedy.

As cars have gotten more complex, many home mechanics have given up on back-yard maintenance. But you still can do a lot of body repair without a degree in engineering.

Among the most frequently damaged areas are plastic bumpers, which become scratched or discolored when they encounter even the most benign parking-lot obstacles. Even a novice can easily repaint a bumper. Here's what you do:

* Buy paint that matches your car, either off the shelf or through an auto paint store. The latter can custom-blend paint to match a faded car.

South Bay Paint & Tool in Gardena, for example, charges $7.95 per spray can for a custom blend or $5.50 to package other paint in a spray can.

If you have ever tried to use spray paint, you know it runs easily and sometimes forms a surface like an orange peel. Professional auto paints, however, dry quickly to an even gloss.

* Remove your license plate and turn-signal lens, fairly easy tasks. Then lightly sand the bumper with 400-grit wet and dry sandpaper. Wipe it clean, tape around the edges with quality masking tape and make sure nearby surfaces are covered with paper. (This newspaper will work.) Then paint.

I recently painted the front bumper of my Honda Accord in less than an hour. Ideally, I would have done the job in my garage, but it's full of junk. So, I waited for a relatively windless day and did it in my driveway. It turned out great. (Because my car is white, the work was much easier than if it was a complex metallic color.)

The job cost less than $25--compared to more than $200 for a professional job.

Next: Ways to save money on minor body repairs.

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