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Joanne Will
Joanne Will

Ask Joanne

Did the dealership damage my car? Add to ...

I recently brought my vehicle in for an alignment at the dealership I bought it from. While the car was in its possession, my passenger side door was damaged. It looks like someone or something polished the paint down to the base coat and primer. I got my car back, drove it home and noticed the damage.

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I called the dealership right away and brought it back so they could look at it. The service consultant came out and tried to polish it out. Then he went to get his manager, who came out and looked at it and said there’s no way they could have done this. He told me that their dealership sold me the car that way. I bought the car just six months ago and there was no damage on it. It was a used vehicle but my sales guy also said there’s no way it was sold like that.

After multiple attempts to deal with them, they told me they would pay half on compassionate grounds. The total cost is $700, so I’m on the hook for $350. What should I do from here? – Joe

An alignment doesn’t typically require polishing the passenger side door down to the base coat and primer. So what happened to your vehicle? Did the service department inadvertently scratch the door and try to rectify it with over-zealous buffing?

Or perhaps it’s possible that, in the six months since you purchased this used vehicle, a hidden flaw has finally been noticed.

“A buff and shine is always performed on a used car before it’s delivered to a used-car buyer. And quite often before the car has even been seen by anyone, some cosmetic work has been done to it for scratches, minor dents, and paint chips, which are made invisible by the people who specialize in that kind of work,” says a spokesperson from the Toronto office of the Automobile Protection Association (APA).

“Superficial scratches or nicks in the paint are very routinely touched-up, buffed-out and waxed to make them disappear. But it’s possible after some period of time, especially if it’s been over-buffed by someone trying to eliminate a superficial scratch, eventually the fact that there’s less paint in that area is going to become visible.”

Without photographs showing the condition of the vehicle when you dropped it off for servicing, it comes down to the dealership’s word versus yours.

You’ve discussed the situation with the service manager. Although the dealership denies any wrongdoing, it is prepared to meet you half way in the cost to repair your door.

“You could take the dispute to small claims court, but without evidence in the form of photos or a witness, you can only gain what you’re able to prove. In the absence of a photo of how the door panel looked before, the ‘after’ doesn’t really tell the story,” the APA spokesman says.

“Without an expert witness or someone who can testify they saw it the day it went in, you’re leaving it up to the judge to decide what’s fair and who’s right and wrong. I don’t know what the small claims judges use as their yardstick at all times, but usually it’s common sense. This seems the kind of dispute where it’s difficult to make all parties happy.”

A paint expert at an independent body shop would be my next stop. Let them have a look and provide comment on how a door might get in this condition – whether it’s a faded buff job from many months ago, or something that’s been freshly done. If they say the damage is definitely recent, you can take that back to the dealership. On the other hand, if you have no way to conclusively prove that the damage occurred during the service visit, I’d take the offer.

Send your automotive maintenance and repair questions to globedrive@globeandmail.com

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