Dear Tom and Ray:
Although I am not currently participating in a witness-protection program, I think it best not to divulge my true name or whereabouts -- you'll understand. I live in a rural setting near a medium-size U.S. city. That's as specific as I'll get. One recent autumn evening, someone entered our property via a private road and proceeded to pump 12 rounds of high-caliber ammo into the passenger side of my beloved 2000 Toyota Camry that someone (me) had left parked outside our house. The bullet distribution covered the front and back passenger doors, the rear window, and penetrated the interiors and made several nice holes in the leather upholstery, door speakers and center console. This vehicle has 220,000 miles and runs like a top. It has a few exterior bumps and scratches, as it now serves as the family "beater" for my two teenage drivers. I carry only liability coverage on this vehicle in light of the car's age, mileage and my two teen drivers, so there goes the insurance-fraud theory. In case you wondered, the going rate to repair a bullet hole roughly the diameter of a dime in my undisclosed part of the country is $70 per bullet hole, and, no, there is no volume discount based on the number of holes. Here's my question/dilemma: The car's exterior is white. Rather than drive this bullet-riddled car through our unnamed town on the way to the body shop for an estimate and draw the inevitable stares and/or sirens, I carefully applied 12 small strips of duct tape over each bullet hole, followed by 12 strips of white masking tape over each strip of duct tape. The end result was so impressive that I have convinced myself that the body work is unnecessary, saving myself $940. As you might expect, my wife and teenage drivers beg to differ, and have concocted the lame theory that the body work and paint job are necessary to maintain the structural integrity and safety of the vehicle, to which I reply, "BOGUS!" What do you think? -- John (not my real name)
TOM: I think you should be a lot more concerned about the fact that someone strafed your car with gunfire, John, than about how the masking tape looks.
RAY: But putting aside for a moment our deep concern about the safety of your family, and our curiosity about which neighbor's wife you coveted, it sounds like none of the Camry's "internal organs" was damaged by the bullets.
TOM: In other words, even though the bullets went through the doors, the windows operate normally, the door locks work and the doors open and close like they did before. And the bullets that went into the console have not affected anything either, to your knowledge.
RAY: If that's the case, you don't have to do anything. The damage is cosmetic, and your duct-and-masking-tape solution is fine.
TOM: A slightly better solution is to fill the holes with silicone caulk, the same stuff you use around your bathtub. As long as it's silicone, it'll stick to the metal, and from a couple of hundred feet away, in the dark, you won't even notice the holes.
RAY: If the gunfire had somehow cut through the frame, or damaged some wiring, hydraulic lines or suspension components, then you would have to fix it. But mild damage to the sheet metal in the doors is not structural.
TOM: Of course, over time, the spots around the bullet holes probably will rust faster than other parts of the car. But with 220,000 miles on it, the long-term future of this vehicle is hardly a huge consideration here.
RAY: And neither is your long-term future, John, unless you patch things up with the neighbor's husband. Good luck.
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