Should I Fix The Dent or Keep The Cash?

Should I fix the dent or keep the cash?
Last month, we got into a little car accident when we were in California for Christmas. That was a drag because we haven’t been in an accident in years. We met up with a friend for a playdate and went to grab lunch afterward. Unfortunately, this parking lot was terrible. There were a bunch of cars trying to find a spot and people making u-turns to get out of the tiny parking lot. I was driving down the lane when I noticed a car backing straight toward us. I honked, he kept going, and bang! Fortunately, it was a low speed collision and nobody was hurt. Mrs. RB40 was shaken up, though. Our car got a good size dent on the rear quarter panel and the bumper.

Anyway, this was the guy’s first accident and luckily he had insurance. He was shaken up too and didn’t want to move the vehicles until he talked to his insurance company. We were blocking traffic for about 20 minutes while he tried to get a hold of his agent. Eventually, we exchanged information and went on our ways. His car was a pretty new 2015 Toyota.

What to do when you have a car accident

  • Make sure no one is hurt.
  • Take a deep breath and stay calm.
  • Turn on your hazard lights and put up cones or flares if you have them.
  • Do not admit fault. Do not discuss the accident with the other party at all if possible.
  • Call an ambulance or the police if needed.
  • Get witness information.
  • Exchange driver license and insurance information.
  • Take pictures.
  • Call your insurance company immediately.

Actually, I put off calling my insurance company until after we had lunch and got back to my brother’s house. I described the accident and gave them all the information. The other party’s insurance company called me soon after and I went over the accident again. Basically, it’s your fault if you back into another car. Now I need to figure out if I want to go with my insurance or his insurance.


My insurance

  • $1,000 deductible. I’d have to pay $1,000 out of pocket for any repairs. My company would go after the other company and send me a check if it works out.
  • No rental car coverage.
  • My insurance company has my best interest at heart. (That’s what my agent said anyway…)

Their insurance

  • They can work with the body shop or send me the check directly.
  • I don’t have to deal with the deductible.
  • Keeps my record at my insurance company clean.

We established that the accident wasn’t our fault so I decided to go with their insurance company to start with. If I ran into any problems, then I’d get some help from my insurance company.

We had an uneventful drive to Portland and took a few days off just to rest. I went to a local body shop to get an estimate and both insurance companies sent an estimate guy to take a look at the car. Here is what we’d get if we choose the cash out option.

  1. $100 – Kid car seat replacement. Apparently, the car seat needs to be replaced when you have an accident. This was just a small fender bender, but they still need to cover the cost of replacement. We agreed on $100.
  2. $1,946 – The cost to repair the damage.
  3. $175 – The body shop estimated that it would take 7 days to fix the damage. The cash out option is $25 per day.

That’s a total of $2,221.

Here is a close up of the dent. It looks worse from certain angles.

Should I fix the dent?

Should I fix the dent?

Now the question is – Should I fix the dent? It was a low speed collision and it’s just surface damage. Our car is a 2010 Mazda5 and it is in good shape. Let’s go through both cases.

Fix the dent

  • Our car will be spotless again.
  • Maintain resale value.

Leave the dent

  • We get to keep $2,221!
  • The dent isn’t very noticeable. I hardly see it anymore.
  • I’ll need to clean it up and put some touch up paint on.
  • The car is over 5 years old and we plan to drive it into the ground. The car wouldn’t be worth much in 10 years anyway.
  • We plan to move to our rental home in a few years. The home is in a very crowded part of town and there will be no dedicated parking spots for us. We’d have to park on the street and I’m sure we’ll pick up a few more dents there.

Right now, I’m leaning toward not fixing the dent. The car isn’t new and it is bound to pick up more dents soon. I could use the money to shore up our cash position and invest when the market is low. Maybe that would be a good experiment. We can see if the investment will be worth more than the car at some point in the future. Lastly, we paid for the car with cash so we don’t have a car loan on this vehicle.

What do you think? Would you fix the dent or pocket the money?

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Joe started Retire by 40 in 2010 to figure out how to retire early. After 16 years of investing and saving, he achieved financial independence and retired at 38.

Passive income is the key to early retirement. This year, Joe is investing in commercial real estate with CrowdStreet. They have many projects across the USA so check them out!

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74 thoughts on “Should I Fix The Dent or Keep The Cash?”

  1. I am glad that your article goes into both the benefits as well as the disadvantages that arise when dealing with a dent in a vehicle. My truck recently has been damaged in an accident, and I have been looking into the benefits of getting its body repaired as opposed to simply leaving it. I think that I will conduct further research beforehand in order to get a more informed opinion.

  2. I like that you mentioned if in the event of getting a dent in a vehicle if you have the vehicle repaired the resale value of the car will stay where it is at. I feel like my family and I are always getting new cars every couple of years. If I was in a situation like this, I would probably get the dent fixed so we could the most money back from the car if we decide to sell it.

  3. I have had the same dent on the back of my car for 2 years now, from tightening a bike rack down too much.

    It annoys me every time I see it, but sure, the car still drives lol.

  4. Good point about the having a good resale value. It’s tempting to keep the cash but it might be hard to sell high if my car isn’t in perfect condition. With my newer car, I think I’ll go with getting mine fixed.

  5. Sorry I am late to this post. There is NO WAY I’d ever fix that dent. I would take that check straight to my investment account, and smile at my less than perfect older car.

    Of course, you are talking to a man who’s “new” car is a 2008, and his car he almost never drives (I bike commute to work) is 16 years old and still running strong (2001 Acura CL Coupe, not designed for a family of four, but very functional).

    I once had my 1989 CRX totaled. I was so happy to get a check from the other guy’s insurance company, for far more than what my car would have ever sold for. I probably would have been better off not having gotten hit, but it still was a good way to get rid of an 11 year old vehicle.

  6. A small incident happened to our new car in a parking lot. They gave my father-in-law $100 to fix it (he was driving the car). My husband told me it would cost 3-5 times that amount to fix the dent. We ended up leaving the dent and using the $100 for groceries.

  7. Make sure you replace the car seat – Insurance companies are required to replace them for a reason! Unless you spent the money on a Britax, all car seat manufacturers recommend replacing the seat even after a minor fender bender. Cut the straps on the old one before tossing to make sure no one else can use it either.
    I’d have taken the cash, got a new car seat, and then evaluate the dent for exposed metal – you don’t want to potentially have an issue with rust and not passing inspection in the future. And check with a mechanic that does inspections, sometimes dents with scratches through the metal/plastic like that will prevent you from passing inspection (depends on the state, and specifics).

    • It was such a minor fender bender. I’m sure the car seat was not compromised. I will replace the car seat soon. The kid is getting bigger. I ordered a tube of touch up paint and will touch up the metal spot. It’s very tiny.

  8. Take the cash. Invest it and see if you can’t double the value couple times. Like you said, if you move and have to park on the street, you will most likely get a couple more dents. Who are you going to impress with a shiny car anyway? No-one and I bet you are thinking that same thing.

  9. If you determine you want to keep the cash, just make sure your diy will keep paint on the spot. Chipped and scratched paint leaves the car open to rust which can create more damage to the spot!

  10. Bodywork tends to be quite expensive, and nearly serves no purpose other than cosmetic and structural integrity to protect you from future collisions. The scratch on your car is likely small enough that it wouldn’t compromise safety in case you end up in a fender bender later on. If any of the scratched areas are metal, I’d definitely seal that area to prevent corrosion. If it’s all plastic, then you can just retouch the paint as needed.

    FYI, there are credit cards that provide primary collision insurance for rentals too, like the Chase Sapphire card. Look into it to see if it’s worth your time. I will save your readers from my shameless self-promotion. 😉 (hint: you can find my posts about this via my twitter).

  11. I have to agree with Amy B. I fix my car when there is a dent. I went once to a shop and charged me only $200 for a dent similar to yours. It all depends where you go, get a few estimates. Once my niece had a big dent on the side of her brand new car, I got the toilet plunger and fixed it in a couple of minutes. Your case might be different but it looks easy to fix. Imagine my Toyota Celica GTS is 15 years old and still care for it. Yep, you can do both, fix it before corrosion takes over and pocket some of the money as well. You don’t want that dent to be the center of conversation every time you see it, you get in the car, meet someone, imagine how many times you have to repeat the same story, boring, yada, yada.

  12. I have done both. It may be able to be buffed out a bit. Or you can get a better offer from MACCO and pay cash. Often, insurance fixes are back to 100%. You may not need 100% and can get by with just a bit less.

    If you can get it (mostly) fixed for $1200, and pocket another $1200, it would be great.

  13. If I were you I would probably keep the cash, but personally I would feel the need to have it fixed. My car is used regularly in a professional capacity, with clients riding with me, etc. I feel it’s important when I pull up to an appointment for my car to be neat and clean. I don’t believe the craziness that Realtors need to drive luxury cars, but it’s difficult to convince someone that small repairs are important to the value of someone’s house if you have a large dent in your car.

  14. If his insurance will actually pay the $2k amount to you instead of adjusting the estimate to a discounted amount that most insurance companies will do with any bodyshop, then keep the cash. If you decide to, you can fix your level of damage for far less price than $2k at most shops. If you’re willing to pay in cash, they can knock the price down.

    • Yes, they just sent me the check. It was pretty painless. I will ask around. I took a very close look today and the dent was very shallow.

  15. I’m surprised by the majority saying keep the cash. I really shouldn’t be as this is a personal finance blog site.

    I personally have never driven a car with body damage and choose not to. I feel I spend a great deal of time in my vehicle (life and travel). I want it to be reliable first but also clean, comfortable, and good looking (damage free). I buy only used but want it to feel and look new. My chosen quality of life includes a vehicle that is free of damage. Since I would not ” need” to pocket the money for essentials I would chose to repair the car. I sure hope my neighbors chose to repair their vehicles when in a similar position. I’ve always read that when selecting a place to live you should focus on the vehicles in the prospective neighborhood to get a feel for the neighborhood. I would not choose a neighborhood with damaged vehicles. It is simply not what I desire.

    I think it similar to landscaping my yard. Flowers and trees are non essential to the house providing shelter to my family. I can live in my house for 30 years and it will provide its basic purpose “shelter” with a barren yard. Why spend the money? I spend the money and select beautiful plants to add to my experience. Again not essential but I chose to spend the money on plants to add to my quality of life.

    • It is surprising to see the overwhelming majority pick keep the cash. We don’t spend much time in our vehicle if that makes any difference. Mrs. RB40 rides in the car about once a week when we go food shopping. I drive the kid to preschool. The neighborhood where we plan to move is a dense urban area. Some of the cars there have body damages. If I will continue to have a garage, then I would consider the fixing it option more.

  16. With the reason to keep the cash that you quote, this seems to be a no brainer to keep the cash.
    Invest it wisely, and 10 years from now, it could be a decent start already for the replacement of this car!

  17. The only thing I have to say is replace the child’s car seat. If something happen with the seat after the accident then they would put the blame on you for not replacing the child’s seat.

  18. It’s a yes-brainer to keep the cash! With even a conservative or low-risk investment approach, it will surely appreciate, but all cars do is depreciate and consume more $ in maintenance, insurance, tolls, gas, etc. Cars are nothing but a money pit. I just sold a 20 year old car recently and throughout its lifecycle, all I did was routine and preventive maintenance plus anything safety-related. I would have even skipped repairing its rusting hood, but it was developing holes that could damage the engine. I found a new hood when it was 15 years on eBay. Then I had a 2-tone car with a white hood and a black body and I got a lot of compliments on it! I considered painting it but a good quality pain job is $2K – $3K and I would rather grow that into $4-> 6 -> 8> 10K with compounding over time. Besides, once your car becomes a dented beater, you gain all the leverage in parking lots!!

  19. I would keep the $2200. Of course neither of our cars are worth more than $2200 so it’s an obvious choice. 🙂

    Honestly though, if you plan on driving for a long time, it won’t be worth much when it comes time to sell. Buyers will probably care more about how well it runs when you’re selling a 10+ year old car. A small dent/scratch won’t detract from the value that much.

  20. I don’t quite understand US insurance policy, you’re saying that if you decide not to fix the car you’ll get the cash equivalent? In that case I’d keep the cash.

  21. Since you plan to keep the car another few years, even a “good” condition would probably be worth <$5k resale. May not make a difference to someone looking at sub-$5k vehicles if they can verify it's only an external issue and the engine and components are unaffected.

    Unless the eye sore bothers you, it seems to be fine. Your point about moving and parking on the street regularly may increase the likelihood that there's another dent/scratch in the future as well. If it turns out you need to fix them before selling, it should be possible to do later, no?

  22. I’d keep the cash. I have a 10 year old car with it’s fair share of dents and dings. I park it out in the open and intend to drive it until it literally falls apart, so I’m not concerned with exterior problems unless it negatively impacts the performance of the vehicle. Since you plan to move to the rental and street parking, I wouldn’t be too concerned about fixing it.

    • That’s my main point. The area we’ll move to is extremely busy and a lot of cars have dents in their bumpers. It’s bound to happen when you squeeze into a small parking spot.

  23. We’ve done the hairdryer trick before and it works well. So, I’m in camp keep the $$ and DIY what you can and then let the rest go. It’s a car afterall.

  24. I would repair the car if it were mine. I like quality goods in good to like new condition.

    I also find that once a vehicle starts to collect damage or un-working functions the more likely the car is traded prematurely.

    I would prefer the vehicle to be repaired than to pocket the money. I could see the temporary delay in the repair if I were cash poor or living close to the line.

    • That’s a good point. I’d probably lean toward fixing it if the car was new. It’s getting older and it will probably collect more dents. It just gets us from point A to point B so we’re not attached to it..

  25. Once you have an accident, your car’s resale value goes down no matter if you fix it or not.

    I’m not sure what your deadlines are with the insurance companies, but I’d hold off on this decision for a bit. If it turns out that you and/or your wife aren’t happy with the way your car looks due to this dent, then fix it and call it ‘peace of mind’ money. If you think you won’t mind seeing that dent every day for the next decade, then that’s a tidy chunk of change.

    Of course, if you’re really stuck, use my method: flip a coin. Not to decide for you; but because in the moment when the coin is in the air, you’ll realize which outcome you wanted all along.

    • We hardly notice the dent at all. My wife ride in the car about once a week so she notice it even less. It’s on the driver side. 🙂

  26. For that dent pocket the money.

    When someone else is insured, clearly at fault, and their insurance company admits liability I don’t know why anyone would ever consider making a claim on their personal insurance. Most states have laws forcing insurance companies to handle you claim in good faith and imposing a time period, 30 days in my state, for them to inspect, make a settlement offer, etc. If they don’t you’re generally entitled to statutory penalties, so there’s no incentive for the other co to jerk you around. Your ins. co. will go after them in subrogation if they even will handle it for you, but you’ll get dinged for a claim. Often they’ll only do if the other driver is un/underinsured.

    I got nailed in the front by a car pulling out just before Thanksgiving and I was considering pocketing the cash, but the other driver nailed me over the front wheel and screwed up the alignment and dented one panel pretty bad. I told the body shop not to replace the other for similar reasons to yours, but from there everything turned bizarre. I dropped it off after Christmas, the body shop and adjuster had communication issues and couldn’t get the estimate to the shop, the shop then had electrical issues, I don’t hear anything for over a week until I find out my car was sent to a shop I never heard of 30 miles away, and they ended up fixing everything. At least they did a fantastic job cleaning it and shampooed all the milk, cheerio, and cookie stains from the back seat.

    • Yes, I went with the other party’s insurance. It was much easier.
      I’m glad you didn’t get hurt in your accident. Did the airbag go off? At least it’s fixed…

  27. Good for you for looking at the big picture before deciding. I can’t believe it would cost that much to fix, must be labor costs. I’m going w/keeping the $$ for now. I would get some scratch out polish, go over it a few times, stand back and see what it looks like. The Turtle Wax brand worked best for me, after trying several brands. Then I would shop around for other estimates. Here’s why-my fender bender was much worse than yours. I took it to my favorite body shop. Manager got on the phone, found an exact match, in a scrap yard, to my fender, had it UPS’d to his shop, it took about an hour to switch it out-old to new. Only 400 bucks. Whew. Give the scratch and polish a try a few times.
    You’re going to keep the car, parking it on the street in the future. I’d take my time, clean it up as best you can, throw the money into one of your accounts, then decide what to do.
    There is an auto body repair franchise in our area, they just do the cosmetic/surface work very successfully. They go around to all the dealerships and touch up dent’s and dings in a mobile van. Very successful and popular here. I will email you the name when I find it.
    It could have been worse. It’s bound to happen to everyone these days. I bet the guy who hit you had his radio blasting.

    • Yes, it was mostly labor. They want to take the 2 panels out, fix it, and repaint. I’m going to get all the other car’s paint off and then put some touch up paint. $400 isn’t bad at all. I should look around for a more affordable option to fix the car. I will check the mobile dent fixer.

  28. Keep the money, Joe! While your car may appear spotless, it will NOT retain its resale value. The accident will be recorded, and some buyers do not want a car that has been in an accident of any kind. The insurance companies should take this into account – there is no return to whole for the victim of an automobile accident. You have the inconvenience of having it repaired and then you receive less money for a trade-in/sale.

  29. Keep the cash! If your car has one of those plastic bumper covers, you may be able to do a pretty good repair yourself. You can use a hair dryer to heat the plastic and make it more malleable, then push on the underside to pop it back into shape. We’ve done this with two repairs, and the results are great. We buy the exact touch up paint from the car dealership, to finish it up. If the dented panel is metal, but the dent is not creased, try this: heat the area with the hair dryer, then spray the area with an upside down can of compressed air. The cold from the spray can should contract the metal and can pop out dents. Good luck!

    • A couple of other points:
      1. Paint transfer comes off easily with a Magic Eraser. Just work slowly, and with a light touch.
      2. YouTube is an amazing resource for information on all sorts of household repairs.
      3. A car insurance payout is like “pre-selling” a portion of your car, to account for an expected lower sales price in the future. Putting the money back into the car, when the accident stays on the car’s record, is a poor investment of the money.

  30. I would keep the money. Dent looks pretty minor. Also, another item to add to the list is your supposed to move over (out of the way of traffic) after the accident, since it’s a very minor bump. This way you won’t be blocking traffic for 20 minutes.

  31. Keep the cash! It’s just a car, not a reflection of your worth. That money is much better in your pocket than in the mechanic’s pocket. My car (a 12 year old Grand am) is covered in scratches and dents, and I love telling stories about how they all happened! It’s like old war wounds- there’s a great story behind all of them. My favourite one is the one on the read driver’s side bumper- my (now) husband was driving my car early in our relationship, and backed into a pole. He thought I would be furious, and looked at me, all wide-eyed… and I just laughed it off. It’s just a car.

  32. My husband and I were in a similar situation several years ago and we decided to keep the money! We did our own scratch repair which cost very little and kept around $1000 from the insurance company. The dent was hardly noticeable.

  33. Keep the money and try to fix it yourself. You will be suprised what you can pull off. If you feel like you made it worse at the end of the project then you can always take it to a professional. I always try to fix it myself. I figure it’s broke how can I hurt it. Best case I learn some new skill, worse case I learn that I should take those projects to professionals. Most people want to hire a professional to fix things because they are scared they will mess it up. IT’S BROKE ALREADY!

  34. I would keep the cash and figure out how to touch up the damage as best I could.

    I have a story related to this. Years ago I purchased a 1976 Old Cutlass 2-dr Coupe for $2,200. Weirdly, I happened to have three different guys hit my car within two weeks. All the cases were clear-cut that none of the accidents were my fault. So I went to each one of the guys’ insurance companies asking for a cash payout. In each case, the insurance company said that their policy was to pay only 80 percent on a cash payout. I read each insurance company “the riot act.” I told them that it was not necessary for me to deal with them because I had no contract with them. If they would not pay me the full amount of damages, I would just sue their insured for damages. Fact is, under Tort Law damages are awarded in cash with no requirement that I have to repair my car or accept a reduced amount if I don’t repair the car.

    In the end, each insurance company realized that I knew what I was talking about. I received a total of $1,625 in cash from the three insurance companies. Around a month later I told a friend that I was going to sell the car and still try to get $1,995 for it without fixing the damage from the three accidents. He told me that I was crazy and that I wouldn’t get even $1,000 for it. So I advertised it in the ‘Edmonton Journal’ for $1,995. Around three hours after the paper was out, I had sold the car for $1,800. Given that I had paid $2,200 for the car and had already received $1,625 from insurance companies, I did okay in the end.

  35. Keep the money! Especially since you plan on driving it into the ground. It’s a battle scar. I recently backed into a tree, you should see my dent! haha. Unfortunately the tree didn’t have insurance….

    And your car will depreciate faster than that 2k will appreciate with compound interest. Sounds like a no brainer to me. Good luck with the decision!

  36. Given that you plan to drive the wheels off the car and the likelihood of future dents and scratches will increase, I would keep the cash!

    I was in a similar situation last April. $900 to replace the hood on my $4,000 car built in ’04, other party’s fault. It was a little more of a messy situation because it was property crime, no insurance involved, cops and prosecutors involved on the enforcement side of things. All said and done, I received the $900, all charges were dropped and I put the money towards student debt I had at the time.

    Also, I’m a bit surprised you don’t have rental car coverage on your car insurance? It costs me $1 per month and I’m in the most costly car insurance demographic!
    Anyways, great post Joe! Keep up the frequent updates 🙂

    • Wow, that sounds complicated with the law involved. I’m really glad the other party had insurance. It was relatively painless.

  37. That’s very interesting about the insurance company having to pay for a replacement car seat. I had no idea they had to do that. I always figured they just insured the car! 😉

    If it were me, and I was going to drive the car another 10 years, I wouldn’t bother getting it repaired.

  38. I say, because of what you listed.

    “”Leave the dent”
    We get to keep $2,221!
    The dent isn’t very noticeable. I hardly see it anymore.
    I’ll need to clean it up and put some touch up paint on.
    The car is over 5 years old and we plan to drive it into the ground. The car wouldn’t be worth much in 10 years anyway.
    We plan to move to our rental home in a few years. The home is in a very crowded part of town and there will be no dedicated parking spots for us. We’d have to park on the street and I’m sure we’ll pick up a few more dents there.”

    parking on the street, more dents, been there, done that.
    keep the cash, little touch up works wonders.
    $ 2,221 goes to the replacement fund, so when it does die, your that far ahead now.

    • That’s a great idea to put the $2,221 in a replacement fund. Actually, I purchased 100 shares of KMI when it was down. I’m pretty sure that will go a long way toward a replacement vehicle when the time comes.


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