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This morning as I was driving to work I contemplated the aggressive tailgater behind me. My car's rear bumper has some paint dings from anonymous parking-lot damage that I never repaired (I deemed it not worth the cost for a cosmetic, not functional, problem).

I'm pretty sure that if the guy behind me had smashed my car his insurance company would have paid the full cost of the repair, restoring it to new condition.1 But what does halacha say, given that it wasn't in new condition in the first place? I have the impression (from vaguely-remembered articles and/or lectures, nothing particularly deep) that he is only responsible for the differential cost, but what happens when the only possible repair from the new damage (e.g. replacing the part) effects a complete repair? Would I owe him something to account for the prior damage, even though I wasn't previously willing to spend that money to get that repair? (That is, if the repair somehow restored the car to its prior state instead of a better one, that would have been ok with me.)

Does it matter if the pre-existing damage was minor or major? (Are paint scuffs the same as a pre-existing dent?) Does it matter if ignoring certain types of damage is common (everyone I know ignores parking-lot scuffs) versus unusual (almost nobody I know ignores major dents)?

1 Less my deductible, maybe. I don't know if that's relevant.

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The whole idea today of paying damages is I believe against halacha. For instance if one breaks a window in a house. One has to say how much is a whole house worth less because of a broken window which is negligable. The same would apply to a car. – 5730 Aug 27 '13 at 21:48

I seem to recall that you're paid for the difference between the market value of the car before it was damaged and its value damaged: that the payment has nothing to do with repairs. (This differs from assault on a person, where one pays for the difference in value (as above, nezek), repairs (ripuy), lost wages (sheves), and pain and suffering (boshes and tzaar).) That would, if true, imply (a) that the tailgater would not, as the question assumes, need to pay to fix the car; (b) that the tailgater would pay only the difference between the value of a well-dented car and that of a slightly dented car, which would mean the owner is not getting paid for the slight dents at all if not from whoever inflicted them; and (c) that whoever inflicted the slight dents would need to pay the difference between the value of an undented car and that of a slightly dented car. But I have no source.

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Copy-pasted with emendations from my own answer elsehwere. – msh210 Aug 27 '13 at 22:02

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