Why Chips and Dings Don’t Bother Me…So Long as They’re Earned
Like most vehicularly-obsessed people, I’m pretty particular about my car’s appearance. I always have been. I park as far away from civilization as possible, regardless of weather, to minimize the chance of a door ding. I would sooner dry my car using old newspapers than scrub the paint with the dirt-encrusted foaming brush at a quarter wash. I’m the guy crazy enough to use a clay bar the first weekend I own a car, even if it’s just to remove rail dust from when it was in transit.
Here’s the thing though: I’ve never owned a car whose paint stayed perfect—including two that I bought brand new and one I restored. I take care of my cars—don’t get me wrong—but I’ve never even so much as sprung for paint protection film. Simply put, I don’t obsess over every little blemish that appears. In fact, so long as it’s earned, it also earns my respect.
First, a caveat though: when I say that chips and dings don’t bother me, I mean within reason. I’m talking about the kinds of little marks I’ll notice in my driveway when I’m washing my car, or in my garage as I’m drying it (hint: not with newspaper). My car’s minute warts aren’t exactly turning it into Jackson Pollock’s long lost art car. The average person in passing likely doesn’t see them. But I know they’re there.
What does bother me, though, and what accounts for all those extra steps my phone says I take each time I park so far-removed from my destination, are the meaningless imperfections caused by the failure of others to respect my property. I get that accidents happen, that almost all door dings aren’t premeditated, and that gravel trucks have a little disclaimer essentially saying “Whoops! Sorry (not sorry!) about the windshield,” but I don’t excuse a lack of due care. It stands out to me as evidence of self-centered people treating every vehicle, even the ones they don’t own, with the same respect and care they treat their washer and dryer.
Once, around a decade ago, I was sitting in my car, with it running, while my then-fiancé ran into the post office for not more than two minutes. Right on queue, an older econobox sporting the obligatory oxidation in its paint parked in the empty space to my right. I felt the rear suspension jounce as much as I heard the thud. I glanced in the mirror and saw boxes on my trunk lid. By and large, I’m a soft-spoken guy who tries to avoid conflict, but I was unbuckled, out of the car, and rounding the quarter panel in roughly half a second, yelling, “What the hell?!?”
It was a gentleman—I’m using the term loosely—in his 60s, who clearly didn’t share my concern. “I didn’t hurt anything,” he said, walking away even as I pointed to the very obvious (to me) six-inch-long scuffs he created by sliding the boxes on the deck lid. To this day, that remains the only time I’ve said, “F*ck you, asshole,” to a complete stranger. Some 2,000 grit wet sandpaper, polishing compound, and a random orbital later, and it was somewhat better, but I could still see the mark whenever I was near the trunk of that car, all the way until I sold it three years down the road. Every. Single. Time.
Those are the pointless pockmarks, the ones for which I have zero tolerance. There does exist a whole other category of chip and ding, though: battle scars.
A paint mark caused by a stone kicked up during a backroad jaunt on a beautiful Saturday afternoon is a price well paid for enjoying the drive. A light scrape caused by bludgeoning a cone at an autocross? I wouldn’t be thrilled (mostly because it’s evidence that I need to tidy up my inputs), but the scuffs wrought from enjoying a car are much easier to live with than those bestowed by some bozo in the parking lot.
Those kinds of imperfections that come from driving a car simply don’t bother me as much. In a weird way, I appreciate them for lending the vehicle the kind of character that a concourse-caliber restoration almost never captures. A flawless car is beautiful in its own right, of course, but at some point trailer-queen perfection can give any car a sterile persona. In much the same way that many prefer the visceral experience of older machinery, the well-worn but well-cared for look is by far my favorite. Provided they’re not egregious eyesores, earned imperfections are badges of honor that prove a car is being driven the way its engineers intended. If nothing else, think of them as the real world equivalent of the wear and tear a Le Mans winner has after 24 hours of unbroken racing, or a rally car after a particularly dirty stage: beautiful for the stories they tell.
If you see a car blighted with a string of senseless door dings, you’ll never appreciate them for anything other than a detriment to the vehicle’s charm. If, however, you see a car with the sorts of battle scars it could only get from years of enjoyment, the overall aesthetic has the potential to take on what we’d all refer to as a beautiful and well-earned patina. A personality. A history.
And that is something to which every car owner should aspire.
Photography by Mate Boer, Jayson Fong, Aaron Miller, Terry Fair, and Andrew Golseth