Do I take the car to an auto body shop or a mechanic?
August 17, 2018 8:07 PM   Subscribe

My car has been scraped and the side mirror is busted. What kind of professional help do I need? Optional blizzard inside.

I recently took the next step in my battle with driving phobia and bought my very first car. This should be exciting, but instead it has been an extremely stressful proccess with problems and mix ups at every turn.

Now, I have damaged the car- not by getting into an accident, but trying to back into a tight space in my parking garage between a wall and a pillar. I visibly scraped the car and broke the mirror off, and then broke it worse trying to pop it back into place. Now my car is stuck in a spot I'm afraid I won't be able to get back into or out of and I don't know what to do.

I am freaking out. I feel humiliated, incompetent and like maybe I just shouldn't drive. I'm also pretty sure I made an illegal left turn by accident earlier at a confusing intersection that's monitored by cameras, so I've got a big ticket coming. Is my insurance going to go up because of all this? Am I supposed to call the insurance company? Am I just not fit to drive? Should I get rid of the car? How much is this going to cost? Am I even allowed to drive the car to an auto shop with the side mirror hanging by some electrical cords? Is the weight of the mirror going to rip the electrical cords? Is this the kind of thing you have a mobile mechanic make a housecall for? Please hope me.
posted by windykites to Grab Bag (15 answers total)
Oh dear. Take a few deep breaths. This is not that bad! It is not at all uncommon for a new driver to get stuck in a tight spot. I’ve seen it happen to excellent drivers with years of experience.

Here’s what I would do:
Start by getting a friendly neighbor, or passing stranger, to get it unstuck from where it is. Then call your insurance company. They will likely advise you of a local body shop you can take it to. Although it might technically be an infraction to drive it there, you should be fine if you pay extra attention to looking over your shoulder on the lane changes. Use a little tape to keep it from dragging and flopping too much. Duct tape for the win!

And don’t worry about a camera ticket unless it actually arrives in the mail. Then do some internet research on the laws in your city/state. Sometimes they can be safely ignored.

Experience matters a lot in driving and the only way to get it is to keep going. Good luck!
posted by SLC Mom at 8:26 PM on August 17, 2018 [4 favorites]

Congratulations on getting a car and working on your phobia. Phobias suck and getting over them, even just a little bit, is something to be very, very proud of. Pat yourself on the back, you're making progress.

Everyone gets into a fender bender or two when they first start driving. It's normal. It'll happen. Try to be alert in traffic and after a time you'll know the dimensions of your car much better and you'll be able to park it and drive it as if it's an extension of your body.

Don't worry about the intersection monitored by cameras unless you actually get a ticket in the mail. Chances are you won't. It's not like someone is watching every car that goes through to see if they did something illegal. A lot of those "cameras" are actually just sensors to see if there's a car waiting for the light to change. If you do get a ticket, you can fight it sometimes. I got a couple of tickets my first few years driving. Again, it happens. Cut yourself some slack.

To answer your question, you need to take your car to an auto body shop. Mechanics deal more with the drivetrain and other mechanical parts. How much it costs will very much depend on where you take it, how new your car is, how easily the part can be acquired, if it's only the mirror or if the rest of the car is damaged, etc. If you have an older car you might be able to find someone who can get the part in a junkyard. This will be a lot cheaper.

If you can, duct tape or otherwise fasten the mirror to the car as best you can. If you can't, the cables should hold it on. Best to only drive it to the auto body place and if you do get pulled over, explain that it just happened and you're getting it repaired. It's unlikely you'll get pulled over.

Ask around for recommendations for a local auto body shop. Friends, coworkers, and Facebook are all good places to ask for recommendations.

It sounds like you have a lot of anxiety about driving. This is somewhat normal for new drivers but if your anxiety is in excess you might want to see a therapist or someone else who can assist you with that. Driving is a very valuable skill to have and driving while overly anxious is unpleasant at best.

Your car is just a thing. It can be fixed. Be proud of yourself for what you're accomplishing.
posted by bondcliff at 8:30 PM on August 17, 2018

Oops, missed the part where the car was now stuck. As SLC Mom suggested, if you're not comfortable attempting it yourself, ask a friend or neighbor to assist. If the car got in there, it can get out.
posted by bondcliff at 8:32 PM on August 17, 2018

Call your insurance company and ask them where to take it. If they send out an adjuster, ask them to move it out.

I drive a big pick up and have learned really well to judge distance on my sides, but sometimes the pillar/poke/fence/garage door jamb gremlins have a momentary victory.

As for the left turn, I once explained to the judge that while two rights don't make a wrong, one left does not either. He was so confused and amused he let me off with a warning.
posted by AugustWest at 9:16 PM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

You are not the first person to knock a side mirror off of your own car, and you won't be the last. At least you didn't also render your driver's side door unopenable and need to have both it and the front quarter panel replaced. (One of our cars has had this happen to it, though I was not driving at the time. I was in the passenger seat though.)

You're going to make it through this. I'm guessing that you're not smoking, putting on mascara, doing something on a phone, and checking on some improperly secured childern in the back seat while you're driving. This makes you smarter and a better driver than at least one person I've seen. You probably aren't driving a very lightweight car over the highway speed limit in torrential downpour on summer performance tires.

Like everything else, driving takes practice even after you know how to do it.

You can't change or control what's passed, but you can plan for what comes next. So just deal with a ticket when you get one, if you get one.

I'm pretty sure that you do need to at least notify your insurance company about the damage, even if you don't file a claim. But depending on the car, your deductable, insurance company, and coverage, it may not be worth actually filing a claim to get them to pay for any of it. It may make more sense to pay for it out of pocket instead.

You want a body shop. They've seen and heard worse, I promise. I'd start by going to the one that is recommended by your insurance adjuster, at least to get an estimate even if you are going to pay out of pocket. We've had better luck over the years doing that than trying to find one on our own.

I agree with bondcliff about the mirror, though I'd use a lot of blue painters tape instead of duct tape. Less destructive to paint, less gunge left behind, and it isn't like you're making a permanant repair. If you can't tape it, and the weather will allow, open up the window and bring the mirror inside if you'll be more comfortable than having it dangling.

If the insurance company won't send an adjuster, or the person won't move the car and you don't know anyone who can help, sign up for AAA or some other roadside assistance and call in a professional. Heck, if you are feeling that uncomfortable about driving right now, just have it towed to the body shop. Tow truck drivers have seen people do the most insane stuff, and you can always tell whoever shows up that you'd rather ask for help now than later after you've made the problem worse. It is better to be cautious if you are unsure of your ability. It is safer for everyone. Even if it is in a tight spot, there are ways for tow truck drivers to get a car out of it non-destructively. Just mention it on the phone when you talk to them so that they can bring dolleys if they need to.

Story about that: My friend had a flat tire in front of her house, but was so terrified about changing it to the spare herself to drive the 2 or 3 miles to the tire shop that she called a tow truck to have it done by a pro. He was just glad that she didn't drive on the flat and didn't hurt herself. She still doesn't know how to check her tire pressure or fill up her tires, I just showed her how to check her own oil earlier this week.

Hell, if you're uncomfortable, as a friend to come with you to the body shop too. Moral support is important. You are important.

(Little story: The only time we chose a body shop ourselves instead of getting a recommend from the insurance adjuster, it took them over a month after completing the body work to get the paint mixture right. First they couldn't get the color, then the color match, then they painted it with the wrong paint base or something and it wouldn't dry... Even on the same car that didn't happen again when we just took it to the shop that the insurance told us to. Anyway. That car has survived lightly t-boning a Porsche, the above mentioned door incident, being t-boned less lightly by a truck, a mild rear-ending, and some other stuff. It survived me learning how to drive, before I was treated for anxiety or ADHD.)
posted by monopas at 12:04 AM on August 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I did all that when I was 16-17. You'll get better with practice. As often as you can, bring somebody along who can KEEP YOU CALM and coach you into and out of tight spaces. It takes many hours to learn to coordinate the view from the side mirrors, the view out the front, the position of the steering wheel, and controlling the gas and the brake so the car makes tiny incremental movements.
posted by JimN2TAW at 2:39 AM on August 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

Did you do this to your mother's car after a joyride and a hit-and-run? No, you did not. You only gave your own car a bit of a scrape. Fixing it will only cost not-super-outrageous amounts of money. Cars are just expensive. You're fine.

Oh, and body shop, after getting somebody with more parking experience to extract the car from its present position.

It takes many hours to learn to coordinate the view from the side mirrors, the view out the front, the position of the steering wheel, and controlling the gas and the brake so the car makes tiny incremental movements.

Absolutely true. Which is exactly why, when I've been teaching my kids to drive, they learn in a manual and the very first car control skill I've taught all of them is how to nudge the car forwards and backwards by just six inches, just using the clutch.
posted by flabdablet at 7:29 AM on August 18, 2018

I've been driving for thirty years, and snapped off my driver's side mirror five days after I bought my new car. Yes, before I even had plates. I was pretty annoyed with myself, I can tell you.

I live on a busy street, and have to reverse into traffic to get out of my driveway. So I'm watching the rear and right side of my car as I'm backing out one day -- but there were trash cans out by the curb on my left side, and I wasn't watching them.

I didn't want to use my insurance, and because the car was so new (and purple) they wanted a gazillion dollars to replace the mirror. So I duct-taped it in place, and drove on. Due to a combination of lack of money and laziness, I ended up driving around like that for a full year. Toward the end of that time, the fitting between the mirror assembly and the car became worn down enough that the duct tape wouldn't hold, so I just retrained myself to look over my shoulder every time I needed to change lanes to the left and let the mirror dangle. No big deal. Not unsafe, I thought. If a cop had noticed my mirror situation, I would have got a fix it ticket, and have had to fix the damn mirror already, but no cop ever did. I fixed the mirror a few weeks ago, when time had reached its fullness.

I was pretty annoyed with myself, as I said, that my stupidity had messed up my pretty new car -- but at no time did that veer into self-loathing, or doubting my fitness to drive. Why? Because I've been driving long enough to know stupid mistakes happen -- sometimes your fellow motorists make them, sometimes you do. Hopefully no one gets hurt. The fact that you are piloting an expensive and potentially deadly hunk of metal doesn't make you not human.

So be easier on yourself!

As far as practical advice, if you call the dealership and get the OEM part number, then order the part online, any moderately handy person can install it for you -- maybe you yourself!
posted by pH Indicating Socks at 7:35 AM on August 18, 2018 [4 favorites]

I sheared off the driver's side mirror of my husband's car, going 90 miles an hour in a construction zone at night outside of Detroit. I hit an orange barrel. It was a fun, fun car to drive, it was German and would go so fast. We took it to a mechanic to get it fixed because of the electric controls.

I felt really bad because my husband loved that car.
posted by chocolatetiara at 7:39 AM on August 18, 2018

The worst drivers are reckless ones! I don't want to share the road with cocky eighteen-year-olds who think that they're in a race. Nervous drivers who sometimes get into fender-benders, though, are a-OK with me.

When I was a new driver, I ran into my parents house while trying to park. I was mortified. My parents were ... amused.

Since then I've been in no accidents (not even fender-benders) where I was at fault, and it's been over 15 years. Never even gotten a ticket. It just takes some time to get used to the size and shape of your car, especially when it comes to tricky parking situations.

And your illegal left turn - I bet every single driver has done something wrong at a confusing intersection at one point or another. They usually don't get tickets. Obviously, the responsible thing to do is to be aware of your local traffic laws ... but confusing intersections often happen. As you get more used to driving, it will be easier for you to figure them out quickly.

You don't need to be too hard on yourself. When you take it in and they asked what happened, think of it as an amusing anecdote rather than a tale of personal humiliation. They won't be secretly thinking, "Lol, what a terrible driver." It won't even register to them as a stupid mistake, compared to the actual stupid mistakes they've seen. They'll be thinking about how to fix the mirror.
posted by Kutsuwamushi at 8:05 AM on August 18, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been driving for 20 years and I still make poor calculations in garages. It happens. I recently cracked the mirror while backing in to the garage while my husband was watching me. He still won't let me live that down.

That's not to say that your driving isn't going to get better, it's just to say that everyone makes mistakes!

You can totally use duct tape or painters tape to hold your mirror on until you take it to the body shop. Or like, for an entire semester like I did in college when someone knocked off my mirror in the campus garage.

Do you have a friend or family member who can help you get the car out from where it's currently stuck?
posted by radioamy at 10:08 PM on August 18, 2018

Oh, I relate so much to your feelings and your catastrophizing. I felt the same when I first started driving. But guess what! I've been driving for about 15 years now, and last year I bonked the side mirror off in much the same way that you just did. It happens to all of us. You are not a bad person. You are not unworthy of the privilege of driving. This is normal. Everything is going to be okay, I promise.

If you're in the US, that camera ticket may come with a fine but will likely be regarded as a civil (not criminal) infraction, so it won't affect your insurance.

If your repairs cost less than your insurance deductible, you may want to pay cash instead of going through insurance.

Many accident/collision repair shops will give you a quote if you just email them the photos. Pro tip: it takes about 5 mins or less for them to replace your mirror. Buy the part yourself and have them install it so you don't have to pay the mind-bogglingly insane markup. I speak from the experience of a master chump.

Tape up your mirror, call a friend over to help you extricate your car and drive home (slowly and with your hazards on in the far right lane), take a deep breath, and know that your worth as a human being is NOT defined by this one little hiccup. And hopefully, take solace in the fact that you're going to have a hilarious story to tell a couple of years for now.
posted by aquamvidam at 8:07 AM on August 19, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks guys. I feel a lot better about this knowing that it's not so uncommon- when I went back to check out the car I noticed many other cars in the garage with scrapes, dings and dents, which I hadn't noticed before.

In the cool, calm light of day the damage was less severe than I thought, and the uncooperative side mirror mysteriously popped back in with no trouble this time. It's now taped on until I can get to a body shop. Most of the scratches on closer inspection and lots of googling look like paint transfer- I might even be able to repair much of it myself.

I'm still going to need help getting the car out of the parking spot (looking closer, I actually can't believe they even made this area a parking space; it's truly terrible and I don't feel as bad about screwing up), but it's safe where it is for now until I can recruit a buddy to guide me out.

I really appreciate everyone's help.
posted by windykites at 7:55 AM on August 20, 2018 [1 favorite]

If the car is currently still touching the wall or pillar that scraped it, trying to drive it out will almost certainly scrape it more. So if that's the case, I recommend recruiting a buddy who owns a wheeled floor jack, which will allow the back of the car to be lifted and shifted sideways a little before trying to run it out of the space.
posted by flabdablet at 10:08 PM on August 20, 2018

Things to remember for future parking in tight spaces:

1. Lots of parking garages are built to jam in as many profitable cars as possible, the designers apparently considering manoeuvring space to be wasted space.

2. Lots of parking garages exist in re-purposed factory buildings featuring structural pillars that cannot be moved and are spaced just far apart enough for a car to go between them only if it's already perfectly lined up and perfectly parallel to the bay, which is stupidly difficult because of (1).

3. That said: the front of your car can only slew sideways at a limited rate, and the rear cannot slew sideways at all. So when you're planning your approach to a bay, you need to solve a puzzle: how to get the rear wheels positioned such that they can roll forward or backward only (albeit possibly along a curving track) to where you want them at the end of the manoeuvre.

This is the consideration that the inexperienced hit-and-run driver of the Porsche Cayenne I linked above completely failed to understand. The rear of the car can't go where the steering tells it to, not by magic. The only way to get the rear sideways is to swing the front of the car to an angle, then roll the rear along that angled track.

When you're parking in a tight spot, it's often less dangerous to get the rear end into it first. This is counter-intuitive, because reversing gives you very limited visibility compared to driving forward and it's hard to work out exactly where the rear wheels are going. But because positioning the rear wheels often does involve swinging the front of the car outside the width of its final parking spot, going in backwards means you're not trying to do all that front-swinging while constrained by pillars or walls beside the bay; most of it can happen in the manoeuvring space on the approach to the bay.

Take a look at this overhead video of a reverse parallel park and concentrate on where the rear wheels are going. In particular, think about what's happening in the third stage of the manoeuvre, after the steering has been locked to the left and the car is slewing around to get parallel to the kerb. See how the rear of the car is not going sideways? It's just rolling into place.

Now watch again, paying particular attention to what the front of the car is doing. You'll see that the path it takes is designed to make all the necessary swinging about happen in directions away from the obstacles.

That three-step method for reverse parallel parking, along with the sighting points for judging when to switch from each sub-manoeuvre to the next, is one of the standard solutions to the puzzle of getting rear wheels to where they need to be at the end. It's well worth practising, over and over and over until it's not scary any more, because it's a really common parking scenario.

Finally, consider how the track of the car would have to look in order to get the kerbside rear wheel to end up nicely close to the kerb, if the car were moving forward into that bay rather than backward.

The rear wheels would need to follow the same track that they do in the reverse parking case, because they can't go sideways. But because the car is going forward now, the part of the move where that track curves until it's parallel to the kerb would need the front kerb-side wheel to actually mount the curb and then drop back off it again. If it doesn't do that then the rear wheel simply can't end up in the right spot regardless of how much swearing the driver does about it, because Geometry.

The only way to do a forward parallel park and not need to mount the kerb is to do it into a space that's long enough to allow the straight-rolling section of the maneouvre to happen at a really shallow angle to the kerb; typically, this takes two adjacent empty bays.

So reverse parallel parking is the norm for parallel parking, not because driving instructors like to torture driving students but because it's a solution to the rear wheels puzzle that works. You'll spot the drivers who haven't practised it. They're the once circling the block and swearing and waiting for two adjacent bays to show up so they can get in forwards.

Similar considerations apply for the kind of 90° parking you'll often need to do in a parking garage. Even though the amount of manoeuvring space outside the bays is typically fairly pitiful, it's usually a lot less pitiful than the space between them. So if you simply don't have the space to get the car lined up for an essentially straight shot into the bay going forward, there will be several rear-wheel-puzzle solutions available that get you in backwards with room to spare.

The key is to figure out some of those solutions in advance, and practise them outside any parking garage using obstacles that won't hurt your car when you hit them, until they're not scary any more despite the fact that all of them involve driving into places you cannot actually see.

Am I just not fit to drive? Should I get rid of the car?

If you deliberately approach your driving as an ongoing and never-ending game of levelling-up your skills, it can turn from something terrifying into something that's both fun and truly satisfying. First get it right. Then get it smooth. Then get it quick. Don't let anybody pressure you to skip or rush through any of those stages (not even you!) and you'll be fine.
posted by flabdablet at 11:25 PM on August 20, 2018

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