Car dug out, with added scratches
February 8, 2010 2:34 PM   Subscribe

The hotel employee who dug my car out of the snow left scratches all over the paint. What should I do now?

I asked the hotel super/building engineer if I could borrow a shovel to dig my car out of the snow. In broken English, he told me he'd take care of it in a few minutes. He did not ask for compensation, but he did ask my room number.

I went up to my room; in the ten minutes until I went down again, he was done and gone, so I never saw him working on the car.

He went about the job quickly and thoroughly, digging a path to the door, mostly digging out the wheels, though I still had to rock it and do a little digging myself to finally free the car, and he removed the snow from both front and rear windshields and the roof, hood, and trunk.

But he left numerous and obvious scratches in the paint on the roof, hood, and trunk. The scratches follow the same direction as the "grain" in the remaining patches of snow, so it's obvious whatever removed the snow also created the scratches. Presumably, there was ice embedded in the snow "broom", or possibly he used something other than a broom. Or possibly a day of refreezing had left ice in the snow on the car.

Frankly, I'd have left the snow on the roof and hood and trunk, and let it melt tomorrow. But I didn't communicate this to the super -- given his lack of English --, and I'm sure he thought he was being helpful and thorough. I only needed the windshields uncovered, as all I did was move to another parking space.

Additional information: The hotel is a two star, I've been at this hotel for about two months (at a discount rate), had until now planned to stay a few months longer, and up to now the service has been polite, prompt, and well organized, especially for a two-star, but nothing amazing. The car is a BMW, but quite old (it's a '93), with some minor denting and scratches already, but none as obvious as these new ones.

I have no particular need or desire for a shiny scratch-less car -- if I did, I wouldn't be driving something so old --, but I also don't like adding scratches through carelessness that could have been avoided. Especially so damn many. On the other hand, there's no way I could have dug the car out myself, having already hurt my back trying to do so yesterday, and I'd planned to give the building engineering ten bucks, at least, for his help.

So when I speak to the manager, what should I ask for? And what approach should I take? Good news - bad news, or more in sorrow than in anger, or simmering indignation, or something else?

And what if anything can I or should I do in terms of repair? I think a full paint job would be excessive given the minimal value of the car, but I have no other idea of what might be done to repair or ameliorate the scratches.

posted by orthogonality to Law & Government (18 answers total)
We had something kinda similar happen with a rental car (except it was keyed by an unknown person). We let our insurance company fight with the hotel's insurance company.
posted by desjardins at 2:38 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: My approach would be more neutral; I would mention it without making it emotional at all, and then simply ask if his company is insured to cover such things. If you make it seem simply transactional, I would think there's the less likely chance of the other guy responding emotionally and thus (maybe) getting his employee all worked up and defensive about it.
posted by troybob at 2:40 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

From this Jezebel post on assertiveness:
(1) use your colleague's name; (2) name the topic; (3) explain what you understand their position as; (4) state your feelings; (5) and what you would like; (6) point to the positive outcome for them, and for you.
Personally, I'd ask for a free night or a free week, whatever is close in cost to getting the scratches buffed out or re-painted.

Be prepared for the hotel manager to offer to "fix" the scratches instead.
posted by muddgirl at 2:40 PM on February 8, 2010 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: We let our insurance company fight with the hotel's insurance company.

It's an old car; it's insured for accidents (medical) but not for damage to the car.
posted by orthogonality at 2:43 PM on February 8, 2010

(in terms of repair, if i didn't mind the scratches, I would simply find a way to somehow seal or have sealed the scratches so that it does not lead to further paint chipping or rust or whatever happens when the stuff under the paint is exposed to the air and weather)
posted by troybob at 2:44 PM on February 8, 2010

Response by poster: (5) and what you would like;.

Well, I need help with that too: I don't know what I'd like, as I don't know what repairs are possible for scratches, other than a paint job, and I don't know what's reasonable to ask for, other than the rather vague "status quo ante".

I have a kinda vague idea that buffing involves a cloth and something like a sander and maybe some paste, in the same way I have vague idea that anime is weird big-eyed Japanese cartoons or that hipsters are people who wear weird shoes called "Crocs" and delight in obscure and deplorable music. It's not at all anything I have expertise in or even real knowledge about.
posted by orthogonality at 2:52 PM on February 8, 2010

Depending on their depth, the scratches can be buffed out or painted for not too much money (although on Beamer, who knows?). You're probably talking about a few hundred bucks max, which is definitely not worth too much hassle with insurance or small claims court.

Get an estimate from a body shop, lowest cost, since it's an old car and your needs are reasonable. Take that to the hotel manager (alert them before this, though -- the sooner the better). You can't actually prove this if you've waited and didn't document it (unless maybe you had a companion with you). So you'll need goodwill on their part. I agree that you should come across very neutral and reasonable and even appreciative of the super's effort, and chalk it up to a mistake.

They are in a position to make you whole fairly easily with a few nights of free room, and if they're not super busy there's a good chance you can negotiate to that outcome. Your damages are not severe, just annoying.
posted by fourcheesemac at 3:09 PM on February 8, 2010

if you had hired someone to dig your car out - how much would that cost?

call a couple shops - ask how much it costs to buff out the scrapes.

subtract the digging out price from the fixing the scrapes cost - figure out if it is more than a night stay. if not, drop it. if so, ask for a comp'd night.

fwiw - "doesn't speak much english" along with "did a hospitality service as a favor" probably means that "asking for compensation for that free thing you did" will be met with contention and potentially the need to move. is it worth it?
posted by nadawi at 3:12 PM on February 8, 2010

timsteil, at the very least the hotel should know what happened so they don't repeat the same mistake on another car.

I would call a body shop and ask for a ballpark figure to fix the scratches, then ask for some free nights to make up the difference.
posted by soelo at 3:12 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

No idea about how to approach the hotel but re fixing: how deep are the scratches? Are you seeing bare metal? Does your car's paint have a clear coating? (Even older models can, my 12 year old Honda has it). After the helpful retiree at the carwash used a floor broom on my black car, I learned one can do a surprising amount of restoration using something like a cleaner/wax as a lot of scratches never get past the clear coat and with some luck your car might look fine after a good detailing.
posted by jamaro at 3:15 PM on February 8, 2010

Get estimates on repairing the scratches. Deduct some wear & tear because the car is not young. Estimate the (non-trivial) tip incurred. That's what you want. Or maybe the super could buff it out. Or comp some room and/or meals. I heartily endorse those who stress that it's transactional, not personal, but deserving of repair.
posted by theora55 at 3:21 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: Call the hotel, let the manager know what happened. If they don't offer anything, get an estimate and send it to the hotel.

Also, I don't know where you life, but as far as I've ever seen in the hipster havens of Austin, Texas and NYC, hipsters don't wear Crocs. Nurses and gardeners wear crocs (some of the only acceptable uses for crocs), middle-aged adults wear crocs, and children wear crocs (even though they make kids walk all weirdly).
posted by ishotjr at 3:21 PM on February 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: No idea about how to approach the hotel but re fixing: how deep are the scratches? Are you seeing bare metal?

One in particular -- across the moon roof -- is deep and oddly windy. And several seem to be down to the metal, or at least look more "reflective-y". I mean, one scratch, two scratches, I'd be OK with, but, I'm seeing scratch after scratch, which makes me wonder, "why didn't this guy notice after the first several?" I'm really forced to think he was that damnable combination of trying to be helpful while being careless, which just compounds mistakes.

I'm grateful to be dug out, but frankly, I could have let nature take its course, let the snow melt, taken public transportation tomorrow, and have not had a remaining problem -- how to fix the scratches -- had he been less "helpful". Which really sucks, because I'm sure he thought he was doing a great and selfless job, but now it's a continuing headache for me. Which may even lead to having to change hotels.
posted by orthogonality at 3:29 PM on February 8, 2010

When you're talking with hotel manager remember that you were planning on staying at the hotel for a few more months. If the hotel isn't full, then free nights are a low cost option for the manager. For you it could mean that you're paying a body shop rather than the hotel.
posted by rdr at 3:34 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: subtract the digging out price from the fixing the scrapes cost.

I don't agree that you're beholden to him for what these services would cost from someone from whom you'd made arrangements on purpose. If you'd paid someone to clean your car, you'd likely expect them to not beat up your car while doing it.

If the cleaning service in the hotel broke something in your room, the hotel would be expected to cover it. Ask them to cover the cost of repairing the scratches.
posted by desuetude at 3:36 PM on February 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

if it has a scratch on the hood, then it does

That's not all. It's winter; a scratch, provided it's deep enough, may lead to further damage of the surrounding paint, as ice gets in there and expands. At worst, it could lead to structural damage, if rust begins to form in the areas scratched.
posted by limeonaire at 4:23 PM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: Definitely call the hotel manager, they should have an insurance policy that is specifically set up to take care of unforeseen circumstances like this. Have a sit down meeting with the manager and show them the damage first hand. Take pictures of it ASAP, so you have documentation. I work at a hotel, and whenever something that belongs to the guest is damaged, we take care of it. We had a guest whose shirt was damaged by the bleach cleaning solution the housekeepers used, and we replaced the shirt without a second thought. They shouldn't have a problem doing something to remedy this situation, especially for a regular guest.
posted by ThaBombShelterSmith at 10:23 PM on February 8, 2010

Response by poster: I spoke to the hotel manager, who will send a claim to corporate, who (he says) will contact me. While we were looking at the damage, along with the super who did it, the manager asked the super what he'd done, and the super explained that he'd removed the snow on the hood, roof, and trunk with a (metal) shovel, because that had worked, he claimed, without damage on other cars!

It appears that in addition to several wide, deep scratches on the hood and roof and trunk, he also manged to scratch the windshield.

For whomever who commented that "it's just a hunk of metal", it turns out that a non-factory paint job, which I'll have to get to prevent rusting, is always inferior to factory paint. And as far as "it's just a scratch, thank the guy for digging you out", well, judge for yourselves from this mere sample of the total damage: roof damage, more roof damage, hood damage. Unfortunately, these photos don't show the depth or width of the scratches well.
posted by orthogonality at 6:51 PM on February 9, 2010

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