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As I was backing out of my apartment's parking lot yesterday morning, I thought I heard something behind me but didn't pay it any mind (I was in a hurry to get to work after all). This morning when I looked at the rear of my car, however, I noticed a small patch of white paint about the size of a quarter - not even a dent, just some scuffed paint - on the rear bumper. Likewise, when I got home from work today I noticed a white car in the lot had a small patch of blue paint on its rear bumper at about the same height.

My car being blue, I instantly thought I must have dinged them yesterday morning and that the right thing to do is to offer to pay for it (I have no idea how much it would cost). The thing is, I have no idea who owns this car. Presumably they live in my complex but I have never seen them get in or out of the car. What do I do? Leave a note on the wind shield? What would it say?

This is in Colorado, USA.

  • It sounds like you're really not sure if you even damaged the other car, old dings could be there for months or years even. Would you be happy paying $500, $1000, $1500 because you thought you might have bumped into a vehicle the other day, but didn't even feel or notice anything at the time? Would it make a difference if the person just kept the money & lived with the ding? There's no law or rule that says they have to fix their car afterwards – Xen2050 Dec 13 '17 at 0:14
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It sounds like you're not totally sure if you hit a car or if this is the right car. Unless you never look at your car, I think it's safe to assume you did in fact hit a car the other day. White cars are very common, so that's not overly helpful. However, blue cars are much more uncommon, and there are many shades of blue. Take a close look at the paint left on the white car. Does it match your paint color? If so, evidence strongly points to you being the culprit, and the right thing to do is 'fess up to it.

Leave a note on their car saying you suspect you hit their car at [date and general time of day] and leave your phone number. Include a description of where the damage is so they know where to find it in case they haven't noticed it yet. Keep it short; they can call you to exchange more info.

If it's rainy outside, put the note in a clear plastic bag so it'll still be legible if it gets wet. Put the note somewhere that it's very visible; it's best if the paper is fairly large and brightly colored. It should be obvious from inside the car in case they don't look at that front before they get in. (This is because you don't want them to find the note by turning on their wipers on the freeway! I've had that happen and it nearly caused me to wreck.)

Once they find the note and inspect the damage, they may decide it's not worth calling you and getting insurance involved. If the do decide to call you, then you can talk to get more details from them and confirm you hit their car. Be honest about what happened, then ask them what time they left that day and where they were parked and see if it matches up. Do not accuse them of lying. It's likely you damaged their car and drove off without checking. You're inconveniencing them, so be polite and cooperate. If they claim they can't remember where their car was or anything like that, then you'll need to suck it up and work with them.

If they give info that makes it impossible that you hit them, then say something like "Oh, I guess it wasn't me after all. Sorry to have bothered you, and thanks for your time!" Don't give them an opportunity to argue about it. I think this is unlikely, though.

If you're worried about your insurance, you can ask to pay for it or fix it yourself. You can say it's minor and that it's easier and cheaper to not get insurance involved. You can sometimes have your rates raised for claims that aren't your fault, so you can try mentioning that if they seem hesitant. If they do agree, make sure you get a written estimate from wherever they take it before they get any work done. If they insist on involving insurance companies then cooperate. It sucks, but ultimately you're at fault here, so it's not right to make their life harder.

In the future, if you even suspect you hit something, take the 60 seconds to get out of your car and inspect things. It will make your life a lot easier! There could have been damage to your car that would have been very bad to find on the road, after all.

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The custom in the part of the USA that I live in is to leave a note, on a Post-it or a card under the windshield wiper, identifying the damage and including your name and contact information.

A quick Google search suggests that this may be more than just a custom. Here's a much more thorough answer, that goes into legalities, but be aware that I am not a lawyer, and this is not a laws-oriented Stack Exchange.

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  • I would do this, but the thing is that I don't know this is the correct car (or even that I actually dinged them at all) - what if I tell someone I am happy to pay, and it's the wrong person? – abner Dec 13 '17 at 0:12
  • I'll try to edit my answer accordingly in a bit. In the meantime, I found it a little unclear from the question whether you were looking for answers to 'how do I communicate that I damaged a parked car?' or 'how do I find the owner and begin a conversation about where the damage might have come from?' It might be useful to edit your question for clarity. – PolyPixiePaladin Dec 13 '17 at 1:22

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