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Bumper can be left alone if damage is cosmetic

Dear Tom and Ray: So, I drove my car into my house. That's not the opening line of a joke, I really did do that. I got the house fixed right away to keep it from collapsing, but I just can't decide whether I need to get the body on the car fixed. A little background: My husband bought me a 2010 Subaru Outback primarily for its safety rating. Now that I have smooshed the front bumper, is the safety really compromised? To me, it's not worth the $1,500 the body shop wants to fix it if it's just cosmetic damage. But I will bite the bullet and get the body work done if you think I would be safer in a collision. What say you? Thanks!

-- Joanne

Tom: Don't fix it. It sounds like you're just going to smash it up again anyway.

Ray: Yeah. We don't want to cast aspersions, Joanne, but you dropped a couple of hints here. One is that your husband bought you a car primarily for its safety record. That suggests you may have given him reason, in the past, to be concerned about your safety.

Tom: And hint No. 2: You drove into a house. A house! So I think you're absolutely right. If there's no mechanical or structural damage to the car, then you're under no obligation to fix it. Your body shop can tell you whether there's any underlying damage.

Ray: Your car -- like almost all cars these days -- has a plastic bumper cover. That's the bulge you see outside the car that most of us call "the bumper." It's designed to look like part of the whole front grille for styling and aerodynamic purposes these days. But it's just a thin plastic cover.

Tom: The real bumper -- the steel bar that absorbs impact -- is underneath that. As long as that still functions properly, you can leave the outer, painted skin alone.

Ray: And as long as the lights work, the radiator didn't get damaged, and the hood stays closed, you're not obligated to fix anything.

Tom: Leaving it unrepaired might even serve a safety-related purpose. Other drivers will see it, and it'll warn them to give you a wide berth, Joanne!

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It's NEVER cheaper in the long run to buy a new car. Want proof? Order Tom and Ray's pamphlet "How to Buy a Great Used Car: Secrets Only Your Mechanic Knows." Send $4.75 (check or money order) to Used Car, P.O. Box 536475, Orlando, FL 32853-6475.

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Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack via e-mail by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com. Tom and Ray's radio show is heard locally at 6 and 10 a.m. Saturday on WBFO-FM 88.7. Their new book is "Ask Click and Clack: Answers From Car Talk."

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