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David Eddie's Damage Control

I scratched my friend's car - do I tell? Add to ...

The question

I was house-sitting for friends of mine while they were away on vacation. They had left the car on the street. I decided to put their car in the garage, thinking it would likely be better for the security of both the car and their house. Unfortunately, I did not make it unscathed. I turned into the garage too quickly and left a two-foot-long scratch in the side of the car.

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Did I mention that this was a brand new car? Yes, it was a stupid thing to do, I know. Anyhow, I went down to the local auto-parts store and bought rubbing compound and wax, and with the addition of a bit of elbow grease, I buffed the thing out - well, for the most part. You can still see the scratch a little bit. Now that my friends are back, I'm paranoid that they will notice something. I also feel guilty about not telling them, but I wonder if in this case - ignorance is bliss? Should I mention it?

The answer

Well, I can understand your reluctance to come clean.

People can get a little crazy when it comes to their cars.

In the movie Pulp Fiction, John Travolta, as Vince Vega, tells his drug dealer someone keyed his mint-condition, cherry-red 1964 Chevy Malibu (a beautiful car); Eric Stoltz, playing the dealer, tells him people who do that "should be ... killed. No trial, no jury, straight to execution. ...You don't [mess with]another man's vehicle."

(Having kids cured me of whatever vestigial emotion I might have had vis-à-vis my vehicle. Now we have a dinged-up, cookie-crumb-filled Honda Pilot. Great car, but hard to get too emotional about. You could probably come and paint it a different colour in the middle of the night, I wouldn't notice for several days.)

I'm not trying to throw a scare into you. Just to say I can understand why you may be fearful to break the news to your friends that you, in effect, inadvertently "keyed" their brand new car.

But, little as you may feel like it, and painful as it may be, your best bet in this circumstance is to "man up" and confess not only to the original scratchification but also your subsequent cover-up attempts.

Now, I'd give you this advice even if I thought you would get away with your little rubbing-compound caper. The whole affair weighs on your conscience, I can tell. And confession is good for the soul.

But it doesn't appear to me that you will get away with it. I don't know too much about the ins and outs of DIY auto-body-repair, but this wax/rubbing compound/elbow grease combination sounds to me like the ingredients of a ticking guilt-bomb set to detonate in your face after the first heavy rainfall or trip to the car wash.

No, before your hasty cover-up attempts washes away and reveals your culpability to the world, you have to go to your friends and unburden your soul.

Be honest, humble and human: "I'm really sorry, I scratched your car, and then I tried to cover it up with some kind of compound, but I now see that was dumb, I'm sorry."

Then - crucial detail - not only offer but insist on paying for the damage.

Don't squawk, or even wince or bat an eyelash, if they accept. Accept their acceptance with gratitude, and look upon it as the price of forgiveness. After all, it was your fault. They didn't ask you to move their car.

(Brace yourself, though, for a stiff bill. That's why we just let our Honda get all dinged. These auto-body dudes charge usurious rates for the smallest dent or scratch.)

But it was an accident, too, and anyone can understand that. The attempt to cover up with compound is the bigger sin. Don't "compound" it by letting it go on any longer.

I've said it before, but it bears repeating: People's capacity for forgiveness can surprise you. People can forgive you just about anything, even you lying to them, as long as you don't insult their intelligence.

People hate having their intelligence insulted. That's when they get out the pitchforks and torches and buckets of hot tar and bags of feathers.

And you're kind of insulting your friends' intelligence with this rubbing compound/elbow grease business, aren't you, hmmm?

No, come clean about the whole deal, and I predict soon enough you'll all be sipping chardonnay in the sunshine, having a good laugh over what, really, in the grand scheme of things, will no doubt be a minor dent in your relationship, easily buffed out.

David Eddie is a screenwriter and the author of Chump Change and Housebroken: Confessions of a Stay-at-Home Dad.

*****

I've made a huge mistake

Have you created any damage that needs controlling? Send your dilemmas to damage@globeandmail.com, and include your hometown and a daytime contact number so we can follow up with any queries.

Man, did I get an earful from you, my beloved readers, about last week's column.

*****

About last week ...

I've never had so many letters. And almost everyone disagreed with me.

To recap: My question came from a woman whose husband threw his mother out of the house, right before Sunday dinner, because she appeared to be favouring their biological over their adopted child. (Read the column, We gave my mother in law the boot, here.)

I said the couple should apologize unreservedly to the mother for throwing her out and then have a discussion with her about her bio-favouritism.

The entire country, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, rose up with a yowl of protest.

Now perhaps it will give you a window into what a stubborn, impossible man I am (just be glad you're not married to me, and if you are: Hi, honey, see you tonight, mwah) if I say I stand by my advice. I still think it was over the top for the husband to boot his mother out.

But who knows, maybe I could've been tougher on the old lady and spent more time talking about the pain her gesture inflicted.

I'm not apologizing! My advice, as always, was the best I had to give. But I wanted to say to the couple who wrote in: In this case, if the letters pouring into The Globe were any indication, mine was clearly the minority viewpoint.

Now, history teaches us that just because a viewpoint is in the minority doesn't mean it's wrong.

On the other hand, there is a saying: "If five people tell you you're drunk, maybe you should lie down."

And hundreds of people told me I was way off base on this one.

To everyone who wrote in: Thank you for caring and keeping me on my toes. I love hearing from you and always learn from it, even when my opinions fill you with anger, "mounting horror" (as one person put it) and disbelief.

David Eddie

 

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