December 4, 2023

It wasn’t my fault. I had a green light. I was proceeding through the McCain Boulevard intersection at a leisurely pace. I had almost made it.


A distracted driver meandered through a stoplight into the passenger side quarter panel of my Hyundai Veloster. Not a big deal, as these things go. A couple of decades ago, it might have been a small ding. Maybe you could buff it out. Or tap it out with a hammer and hit it a lick with some touchup paint. Back in the days of Bondo, I might have fixed it myself.

Not these days. These days, quarter panels crack. The good news is they’re modular, easily replaced. Just yank the old one off, weld a new one on, and paint it to match the rest of the car. The bad news is that’s relatively expensive–$1,000 to $2,000, the man at the body shop told me.

These days insurance companies must be alerted. Appointments must be made with collision repair centers. Estimates must be calculated. Parts must be ordered. Texts and emails and phone calls must be exchanged.

The distracted driver was a stand-up guy with good insurance. Still, it’s no fun getting your car repaired. Especially these days.

“Supply-chain problems have rocked the new car industry all year,” reports Kelley Blue Book. “Now, they’re hobbling the system that keeps existing cars on the road. In some cases, drivers are waiting weeks for repairs that used to take hours.”

Because of supply and shipping woes, parts aren’t easy to come by. Automakers are still constrained by the chip shortage and other supplier issues that sent new car prices at dealerships soaring last year.

None of this occurred to me; I thought of the situation as a minor annoyance. After undergoing all the above-mentioned prep work and thinking that it take about half a day to replace my barely damaged bumper, I took my car to its rendezvous with a collision center on a Tuesday afternoon. Two days later, I learned that the car was just beginning to be worked on, and that a part was needed.

Instead of panicking (and driving the collision people crazy with daily calls to nag them), I called my insurance company and inquired about obtaining a rental car. Sure, go ahead, they said, and sent a ticket or notification or something to a nearby car rental facility in downtown Little Rock.

Easier said than done. Just try getting a rental car to drive while your car lounges in a collision center. It’s not that insurance won’t pay for one; it’s that they’ll only pay so much. My insurance–well, the other driver’s insurance–would pay for a compact car to substitute for the Veloster. But no rental company had a compact available.

Rental car companies had sold off hundreds of thousands of vehicles early in the pandemic to stay afloat, but now face the issue of not having enough cars or staff to meet demand, says Autoweek.

And rental companies are still suffering staff shortages after closing some locations early in the pandemic.

Two days later, it became clear that trying to secure a rental car was futile. The rental facility informed me that the earliest it could provide a car in the compact-car price range would be in seven days; earlier if I wanted to kick in $17.25 per day extra for an SUV.

Another call to my insurance company resulted in a switch to another rental car company (apparently an enormous amount of online paperwork) that would, I was assured, do better.

Nope. By now we were on the cusp on the weekend, and the only car rentals hereabouts were available at the airport on Saturdays and Sundays. My insurance company’s claims department (which had 15-minute waits on hold to be connected to an agent) didn’t go for that; airport rentals have jacked-up rates, it said, so I should call around and find a car I could pick up on Monday.

Nobody answers phones on weekends at closed car-rental facilities, and making a reservation online, while appearing to be legitimate, is no guarantee that a car will be available. Did I want to spend another few hours on hold (listening to an annoyingly cheerful tinkling tune) awaiting another useless conversation with a claims agent? Or did I want to walk the dog, take a bike ride, cook something interesting for dinner, drink a martini? Dog/bike/martini/dinner won out.

One more phone call on Monday, to the collision center, got the first hopeful information so far in this entire fiasco: The part had arrived. My car would be ready to go on Wednesday; Thursday at the latest.

The real shocker came on Tuesday afternoon (while riding my bike): The car was ready.

I zoomed home, kicked Philip off his never-ending effort to finish a column on deadline, and beelined across the river to the collision center. The car was washed. The repair looked flawless. And, surprisingly, nobody tried to charge me for the repair.

So think twice before drag-racing down West Markham, not using your car’s camera when backing up, parking too close to somebody else in a crowded Target lot, or getting into a kerfuffle caused by road rage. The cost might be more than you care to pay.

Karen Martin is senior editor of Perspective.

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