QDear Tom and Ray:

Help! I am really hoping that you guys are not basking on some beach today. Here's the deal: While my husband was conveniently out of town on business last week, I inadvertently backed into the right front fender of a friend's rental car . . . a 2004 Kia Rio. Needless to say, while waiting to get the damage estimate from the rental company, I had conveniently neglected to mention this minor incident to the aforementioned husband. My thinking was that it looked like about $200 of damage to me, and in that case, why bother the poor man with such a trifle? Today the estimate arrived . . . $789.40 plus about $130 in "loss of use" and "diminished value" charges, for a grand total of $926.06. This for a car that currently retails for about $9,100. My question is, Does this estimate seem reasonable, or am I being called upon to single-handedly improve the bottom line of the rental company? And . . . since I am the perpetrator of this fender-bender, do I have any options other than paying? Can I insist that they get another estimate? -- Karen

A RAY: Unfortunately, there's no body work that costs $200 anymore. For $200 at a body shop, you can get an almost-invisible dent knocked out and your ashtrays cleaned.

TOM: In your case, I'm guessing you backed into the front quarter-panel. So to fix it, they have to smooth out the metal, prime it, paint it, sand it down and then apply a clear-coat finish. It's pretty labor-intensive. And if you happened to put a little crack in the headlight lens, there's another 200 bucks. So I'm not surprised that the estimate is for $800.

RAY: That said, you certainly don't have to accept the rental company's price. You can insist upon getting your own estimate from a body shop of your choice. And if your estimate comes in lower, you can negotiate with the rental company.

TOM: As for the "loss of use" charge, that probably depends on the contract that your friend signed when she rented the car. It's a questionable charge, because unless they were totally sold out last week, the car might very well have been sitting on the lot anyway, not being used. So that may be negotiable as well.

RAY: Alternatively, you can call your own insurance company and tell them you had an accident. Then they'll negotiate with the rental company and settle with them -- probably for about $200!

TOM: Of course, they'll then jack up your rates for the next nine years, so you have to consider that, too.

RAY: But keep in mind that the rate increase won't come until next year. So you'll have that much more time to figure out how to explain all of this to your husband, Karen. Good luck!

Dear Tom and Ray:

My dog does not ride in the car well. He salivates and sometimes foams at the mouth. On occasion, he will bark at something when his mouth is foamed up. The car's interior then looks like the inside of a winter souvenir globe. He is a good dog, and we would like to take him on trips or around town. What can you offer as help? -- Gary

P.S. Don't suggest trading in the dog. As far as my wife is concerned, I will go before the dog does.

RAY: The poor guy is carsick, Gary. Dogs will salivate a lot like that when they're nauseated. So actually, if all that's been sprayed on the inside of your windshield so far is saliva, consider yourself very lucky!

TOM: We spoke with veterinarian Linda Siperstein about your case. She said if he's a puppy, he may grow out of his carsickness. But if he doesn't, or if you're not willing to keep cleaning your upholstery until he does, you should ask your own vet about anti-nausea medication for Rover.

RAY: There are a number of medications that vets can use to treat carsickness in dogs. But Siperstein warns you not to experiment on your dog with human medicines. While some "drugstore" medicines will work for dogs in the proper doses, some human medicines are extremely toxic to dogs.

TOM: For instance, Tylenol and Advil can poison your dog. I bet you didn't know that.

RAY: I didn't. But I also don't know how to tell when my dog has a headache.

TOM: After spending a couple of hours with you, probably. Anyway, Gary, check with your vet about medicines to help Rover with his carsickness. Then everybody will be happier during car rides.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click & Clack in care of The Post, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com.

(c)2005 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman