By on January 7, 2013

TTAC contributor David Holzman writes:

Sajeev,

My brother Tom’s Prius has been suffering neglect: a scraped door here, a tear in the bumper there, and my heavens, enough dirt to coat all the government buildings in the Washington DC metro area, where Tom lives and works, and pretty soon a two year old Prius is looking like a common beater. He has no plans to fix all this ugliness, but if there’s a logical, cost-benefit case to be made, he will definitely be swayed, as will his wife.

Will this cosmetic disrepair affect this fine car’s longevity? Is there any other cost-benefit equation at work that might way on the side of some bodywork? Not to mention a trip to the car wash every now and then? Please give me your thoughts, and then let the multitudes on TTAC provide theirs!

All the best, –David

Sajeev answers:

Cosmetic imperfections are important when you sell a car…or look for a soul mate. If you are doing neither, looks aren’t important to many folks. And that’s cool. I wouldn’t be heartbroken if someone gave my 2011 Ranger a good smack in the front, so I can replace the quasi-tough guy front fascia with that of a 2000-ish Mercury Mountaineer. Then I’d have a Mercury Ranger, or Manger.

Well then! Back on topic: if you don’t care, and don’t care about resale/public perception, a dented door is no biggie. Neither is a plastic bumper in disrepair. Your brother’s current problems are too minor to really worry about. At least for now.

Yes, the door will get worse, rust and eventually get rust holes in multiple places in the door. But the rot stays inside the door and thanks to the beauty of online junkyard databases, it’s no biggie. A new (used) door is in order, 10+ years from now, and all the labor involved in switching window parts, etc. And since white is an easy color to find and easy to match, getting a replacement that needs zero body/paint work is very likely.

If the damage was in another place (quarter panels, floorboards, etc), my tune shall change. But, when you consider the opportunity cost of fixing up a Toyota Prius instead of tackling a home improvement project, college education, hot stock tip, etc instead of the dent repair…well, I’m not gonna judge your brother for caring about other things than his ride.

It’s a Prius, bought (presumably) with his money. Cosmetic issues are just that: cosmetic!

Bonus! A Piston Slap Nugget of Wisdom:

To some extent, pouring money into a heavily depreciating asset is kinda stupid. If he’s neglecting an antique (loosely defined) vehicle, oh my damn son, he’d deserve a right thrashing from you. But it’s hard to justify the drama for not adoring a late model Prius.

Send your queries to sajeev@thetruthaboutcars.com. Spare no details and ask for a speedy resolution if you’re in a hurry.

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38 Comments on “Piston Slap: Your Body is A Temple?...”


  • avatar
    Zackman

    I know your car is only a Prius, but right now I wish I would have considered one when I was in the market last summer – solely for the fuel economy, otherwise you aren’t prying the keys to my W-body from my hands with all the power in the world!

    You have a two-year-old car – for goodness’ sake, TAKE CARE OF IT! That Prius is saving you boatloads of money on gas, show your appreciation by taking care of your hybrid beast!

    Every time I clean my Impala it rewards me with the nicest smile and really wants to strut her stuff with that 300 horses under the hood – sometimes I oblige her, too!

    Body damage, especially when the paint seal is broken, goes south very quickly, and if not repaired, you will rue the day. Sure, body damage is expensive to fix – maybe that’s why the damage hasn’t been repaired, but don’t wait too long for the sake of your wallet – it’ll only get worse.

    D.C. is perhaps not the most car-friendly environment as to nicks, scrapes and bumps, but try to take as best care of your machine as possible – short of idolatry, of course! You will be rewarded in the end – that’s of course, if you care…

    • 0 avatar
      Freddy M

      Agreed.

      While I agree with Sajeev’s objective and rational assessment, on a personal note, I would go ahead and fix up whatever body damage needs attention, no matter how non-significant it is from a vehicle performance standpoint.

      But presumably that’s the difference between us and David’s brother. It’s a matter of pride as car guys that we maintain our ride’s beauty and appearance.

      • 0 avatar
        JLGOLDEN

        For many of us, our vehicle choice (and tip-top upkeep) are indicators of our car love. Our car’s appearance and condition reflects us in some way. Even when I drove older cars in high school and college, I kept them tidy and maintained as best as possible. But if a car is merely someone’s appliance, and not representative of anything in their soul, then it shows. Unfortunately, some people also let their lawn look like crap…but that’s another pride / joy / shame subject.

    • 0 avatar
      Herm

      Just hit that scratch with a hit from a spray can of Rustoleum, you may want to wipe off the dirt first.. it will stop any future rust dead in its tracks!

  • avatar
    NormSV650

    Have someone do a vinyl wrap in the color or pattern of choice. Maybe even double wrap the bumpers if he plays bumper tag when parallel parking. I didn’t think Toyota owners did maintence like washing their cars. :)

  • avatar
    Junebug

    As a part time detailer, I can tell ya – it’s either in your nature to keep it clean or not. I have had customers that would bring me their cars every 5-6 months and it would be the same deal every time, FILTH! Nothing done by them since I last cleaned it, kids snacks, dirt, etc and paint covered in bugs guts, mud, road kill. I remember bringing one back one time and their kids saying that it didn’t look like their car, no sh!t, didn’t smell like a hog pen either. They since got tighter on the money and decided that rain would do well enough as a wash. I don’t miss them!

  • avatar
    mikey

    If the car is mechanicly maintained,dirt and dents are okay. Chances are if your too lazy/motivated to clean your car,your maintenance is also hit, or miss.

    Bottom line, your killling your resale on two fronts.

    • 0 avatar
      danio3834

      I was going to point out the same thing. People who don’t bother to maintain the things they can see usually don’t give attention to the things they can’t see.

      • 0 avatar
        dolorean

        And on a Hybrid, that’s double poison. Any Hybrid that looked this rough with a FOR SALE sign in the window would scare me away before taking a closer look (a five-meter car; only good from that distance). Too much under the hood and chassis that I know I can’t fix and would be detrimentally expensive to replace to trust the owner took care of it.

  • avatar
    Luke42

    There is an emotional-economic reason to fix the car: premature beaterhood means that the owner of this Prius will want a new car sooner. If you take care of your stuff, it’s a lot easier to avoid replacing it when the urge to buy again strikes.

    If they’re looking for an AtoB car that will last decades, the Prius is definitely a keeper and there’s no reason to feel dumpy for decades by showing up in a beat-up car. If they’re NOT planning to keep it, than they should fix it to maintain the resale value.

    But, as I said, this only half an economic argument. It depends on being needled by the “details” that jump out at me personally. Its thoroughly possible that the owner of this car just doesn’t care, and is OK demonstrating that to the world every time they show up anywhere. I don’t live like that, I’m OK with people who do!

    • 0 avatar

      He’ll probably keep the car as long as it lasts, which, given the record these cars have, could be until that meteor misses the Earth in 2029, or even longer.

      I don’t think he’s at too much risk of getting
      The odd thing, to me, about his neglect of the cosmetics, is that he loves the car. He’s never been much of a driver before, but he claims driving the Prius is fun (the previous car was a Passat). His best friend, who drives a Boxster, and I just laugh at him.

      @Mikey: I’m 90% sure he’s religious about the mechanical maintenance.

      @thbride: He actually doesn’t commute through DC, although he does drive in DC. He commutes from Bethesda to Arlington.

    • 0 avatar
      DC Bruce

      Luke-

      As a general matter, I think you’re right, although David says, in this specific instance, the owner will not be motivated to dump the car early if it looks like a rolling wreck.

      Most people don’t like to be in a shabby environment, whether it’s vehicular, business or residential . . . although I’ve seen some people’s offices that are appallingly messy.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Personally, My vehicle makes a statement about me. Since the days of my 100 dollar junkers, my cars have always been, washed,vacumed and respectible.

    I don’t drive my Mustang or Camaro in the winter. Salt/rust is just too big of an enemy to fight. I gave up 90% of my man cave,just for that reason.

    My 2009 Cobalt coupe,winter car. Is washed and vacumed, weekly.

    I call myself a “car guy”. Car guys,regardles of thier vehicle of choice,keep thier cars clean,and maintained.

  • avatar
    Lorenzo

    Maybe you should ask WHY a two year old car has so many dents, scrapes and bumper tears. If he’s as bad at driving as he is on simple maintenance like washing, it would be a waste of money to do the cosmetic body work. It’ll look bad in another two years.

    As Junebug pointed out, there are people who have no pride of ownership of their cars, and it may well be that David Holzman’s friend is a classic beater driver whose driving habits will only keep accumulating body damage. Sure, sometimes it’s the other guy’s fault, but blaming the other guy for extensive, however minor, body damage on a two year old car would be hard to believe.

    My advice to David is to let his friend be the guy he is, since he won’t change, lament the “beater-fication” of his friend’s car – and don’t ever, ever let his friend borrow his car.

  • avatar
    bumpy ii

    This is relevant to my interests. I picked up an ’07 Accent hatch last summer with a nice big sideswipe dent in the right rear quarter panel. I drive down a mile-long dirt road to get to work, so keeping it showroom clean, or even presentable on a daily basis is a lost cause. Hence, I really don’t care about the giant dent, or the acorn dings in the roof, or the splash marks under the hood and on the doors.

    Having said that, I did get some floor trays to catch all the crap on my shoes, I do wash and vacuum it out every once in a while, and keep up on the mechanical stuff. Next task is new springs and shocks, and a pesky TPS.

  • avatar
    radimus

    As David’s brother commutes into in the DC metro area I say forget the minor body damage. There is no point in fixing it. Two weeks after doing so some clown will just give him another brand new set of dings and dents for some stupid reason. And outside of running the thing through a car wash in the Spring and maybe once during the Winter to wash the road salt off the thing I say forget washing it too. It would be a never ending battle give the use the car probably gets.

    This kind of car is an appliance and can be treated as such.

  • avatar
    mikey

    Dirt roads? I hear ya. Just about imposible to keep a car clean. City parking, scratches and dents? My Impala was two weeks old when somebody rammed it with a shopping cart. The body shop got it out,but I could still tell.

    Last summer a kid,maybe 7 years old,bounced the front door of a Silverado, twice! off the side of my Mustang. The mother,who could double for Honey Boo’s mom, shrugged her massive shoulders,and told the kid “it was okay”

    • 0 avatar
      DemosCat

      I was cheerfully clueless about “Honey Boo Boo” until I saw your post and decided to do an image look-up. My eyes are still hurting. She looks like a WalMartian.

    • 0 avatar
      krhodes1

      Which would be the point at which I call the cops, assuming there is any damage to my car.

      My BMW has suffered a small door ding and a wierd top of the hood ding that will see the PDR man’s services this summer.

      My Mom is like Holzman’s brother – her car is like the pit of despair, utterly filthy, and she would never pay to have a ding taken out. Which amuses me greatly because she is the ultimate neat freak about her house. Everything is spotless, you could perform surgury on any surface. My house would be a pit if I did not have a cleaning woman, and landscaping is FAR down my list of priorities. But my cars are generally very well kept.

      • 0 avatar
        silverkris

        Sounds like my wife – goes crazy if the house is cluttered, but her car has a lot of stuff in it. I’m the opposite – I can live with clutter in the house, but can’t stand having a lot of junk in my car. Maybe because I do more driving.

  • avatar
    tbhride

    As a fellow commuter in DC let me say that fighting every little bump and scrape is a lost cause. With so many crap drivers in the region, you WILL get some cosmetic damage. In the past year alone I’ve been bumped into while stopped at a stoplight (TWICE!) and walked out from a store to find a new dent in my front bumper that you could fit a softball into.

    I do take care of the worst stuff. I’ll use a little touch up paint on the side panels as needed to keep it from rusting. Most of the damage comes to the bumpers and since mine are plastic I don’t worry about touching those up. I was able to push out most of that softball sized dent at least! Washing off the road salt is definitely a must though!

    So basically – a little touch up paint occasionaly, wash a few times a year, and keep the interior clean! Anything beyond that (in DC at least) will drive you too crazy! Time/money better spent on the cars mechanicals.

  • avatar
    nickeled&dimed

    So I have a similar outlook to your brother when it comes to our Prius.

    As a DC driver and the driver of another white Prius of a (currently) similar un-washed state… I can tell you that it’s a losing battle to keep your street-parked DC car clean and presentable looking. I’m too busy with my other projects to worry about how clean the car is. I don’t generally drive anyone other than my wife and my dogs around.

    Plus, my wife and I know that we’re preconditioned to neglect our rides appearance, so that is a factor when we buy. I definitely keep up with the mechanical maintenance, and look for tells that it was maintained well, but things like missing floormats, cigarette burns, missing funny little wheel rings (why, prius, why?)… all gets ticked off the ‘discount’ checklist. We cease to care about these items because we know that the first 300 mile road trip with two large dogs slobbering in the backseat it’s all over, no matter the blankets you put down, there will be dog hairs and an odor when it’s humid. Unavoidable. We live with it, and plan on keeping the car as long as it’s operable…. which we expect to be a very, very long time.

    Clean and vacuum 3 or 4 times a year, wash by hand about the same, fill in rock chips with white touch up paint, and you’re done. That said, since buying the Prius, we take it on every trip that we can, since it gets 2x the mileage of the Subaru, and it’s fun to play the mileage game, and even if it’s ‘boring’ to drive, the other drivers around here make every trip exciting.

  • avatar
    gearhead77

    No two year old car should look like this, I don’t care what it is. We all know that cars are terrible in terms of monetary value, but that shouldn’t stop you from keeping it clean and dent free (accidents,mistakes and other careless people not withstanding). I’ve got kids,a house and other middle class suburban guy things. I’ve got a job with no scheduled days off that keeps me away from home. But my cars are well cared for, almost as though they were four wheeled kids.

    I have a leased Altima that I take care of like I bought it. Like many other things in life, but especially a leased car, I am just the caretaker until someone else comes along. So I take care of things as much as I can. The scratch I put in the front bumper from a high curb makes me mad every time I see it.

    Our Mazda is in for the long-haul, so I’m even more meticulous about caring for it. When detailed, which I do at least twice a year,it still looks like it could come from the showroom, large scratch in the front fascia from the wife not withstanding.

    Fix the door, that has no where to go but downhill. DC area isn’t salty like my rust belt domain, but there’s no reason no to fix that. Because, where does it stop? If you don’t correct anything, you have one battered looking car that you might still be paying for. And I’m sorry, but I agree with some other posters statement. If you have a late model car that’s beat to Hell and unwashed, I judge you and your driving habits by that. I know it’s wrong on some level, not everyone is a car lover like me, but I know a few people who have filthy cars inside and out, their life choices usually aren’t the best.

    If your brother doesn’t want to wash it himself, run it through a car wash at least once a month. A good automatic car wash is around $12 now around me (Good to me being one that obviously puts money back into its facility to improve it, not just to keep it alive) but you can find coupons, Groupons and other stuff that can lower the price. If that’s too much, then go two months between washings.

    No two year old car should look like that!

    • 0 avatar

      I keep my own car looking good, detailing it periodically, etc., but even I don’t run my car through the car wash every month. I do maybe four times a year. And I live in a different city from my brother, so it would be very inconvenient for me to do his car washing for him. Nonetheless, if I lived nearby, it would have been a great suggestion, although I’d be more motivated to wash his car if he’d fix the dent and the tear.

      • 0 avatar
        gearhead77

        I hate using automatic washes, but living in the Rust Belt during winter( and not being able to wash the cars in my garage without soaking everything) makes it a necessary evil. I have tried waterless washes, but the cars just get too filthy. Both cars get a trip monthly during the winter.

        I try to hand-wash at least twice a month in the spring, summer, and fall.

  • avatar
    APaGttH

    When I see unrepaired body work on a newer car, it is a red flag for me when I’m buying used that the hardware bits are also suffering from “deferred maintenance.”

    If you live in an urban environment a door ding here or a corner rub on a bumper is to be expected. But when a car is banged up I’m left wondering:

    1) Does the driver/owner, at the risk of offending, suck at driving, and has probably then driven over curbs, holes and bumps and God only knows what suspension and brake demons are awaiting down the road

    2) Does the driver/owner just not give a crap. If someone doesn’t give a crap on the outside, then the hidden stuff is in my experience even worse. When did I change the oil last? Owner’s Manual? What’s that?!? You mean I have to talk to a Mexican in my glovebox and he is actually the owner?

    3) Did the driver/owner run around with lapsed or no insurance, and didn’t have the funds to repair (see two above)

    I get for 99% of the universe a car is an appliance for getting from A to B. There is probably no better representation of an appliance on wheels than a Prius (especially in its more base trim levels). Ya, it’s a back handed complement.

    Here is one other thing to consider, but it does depend on where you live. Road salt and deicing chemicals are Hell on exposed metal. A scratch or break in the paint to the steel can turn into a rust spot, and they don’t call rust on a car “cancer” for good reasons.

    If you’re actively deferring maintenance/repairs I don’t fault you. I have a eight year old minivan with a burned out heated seat on the driver side, a cracked CV boot, and a burned out LED (or bulb) behind the 0 to 3 range on the tachometer. You don’t see me running to the dealer to get any of it addressed. It just isn’t a big priority. But I also accept the fact that if I tried to sell it tomorrow, these issues will be a red flag for some other buyer, and what I can get will be diminished because.

  • avatar
    sastexan

    For some reason, the general population in DC is anti-taking care of their cars. Almost like making a snooty statement “I’m more interested in my intellectualism than something redneck like washing a car”. Especially in elitist Bethesda (I have first-hand knowledge).

    Tell your bro-in-law to clip Flagship coupons from the Gazette – $4 off ultimate wash – the location in north Rockville, just north of Rockville Town Center on 355, does a much better job than the one by the “new” Target by Twinbrook. The two Touchfree (I think that’s what it is called) car washes in Gaithersburg are good as well. I prefer to do my own but when the temps are low and time is short, automated is better than nothing.

    • 0 avatar
      Luke42

      Wow, you think Washingtonians are intellectual?

      LOL, you’ve read the news, right? I’ve also lived in the NOVA/DC area and I think you have intellectualism confused with hubris. There are some smart people in DC, but they sure ain’t running the show.

      The college towns where I’ve spent most of my adult life are far from perfect, but they are more intellectual, more put-together, and more humble than DC. I’m glad I left, and I’m sure that the feeling is mutual.

  • avatar
    George B

    David, ask your brother Tom if he plans to wear dirty worn out clothes and go several months between haircuts too. Not sure about DC, but in most of the US your car helps set your image like clothing. I doubt that a guy driving a Kenmore white Toyota Prius is rocking ripped jeans and black leather, so I’m guessing that David isn’t going for the rock musician or biker look. Instead, I’d guess that for him clean khakis make a more positive impression than wrinkled stained ones at the cubicle farm.

    The practical reason for washing and waxing a car is it helps the paint age more slowly, applying a protective layer between the paint and the dirt, salt, and bird crap that attacks it. The inside also needs to be vacuumed and cleaned periodically. Nobody like to ride in a dirty, smelly car. If he hates to spend time cleaning his car, he can pay someone else to do it for him.

    • 0 avatar
      burgersandbeer

      Exactly this. Most people would frown on going to work un-showered and in their PJs. As far as I’m concerned, driving a beat car makes the same impression. Especially when it’s only two years old. Unless of course it is a pickup truck.

      While I get the uphill battle argument, the car pictured is in rough shape for its age. You don’t need to handwash the thing weekly and pull out every ding in the doors, but fix the really noticeable stuff, make sure the paint isn’t broken, and try to get to some sort of car wash about once a month. Try to keep some dignity.

  • avatar
    bikephil

    I wash my car weekly year round. Hand wash from March to November, machine wash in “winter” here in SC. Vacuum the interior too, clean the glass, armor all the dash, etc. It has to look clean. Period.

  • avatar
    DenverMike

    I gotta have a clean car, but I wouldn’t bother with the dings and minor dents. It’s not a show car. I’d attend to broken paint, but I’d leave it alone until it’s time for a new car or time to restore. This way, you pay for just one deductible or repair.


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