Keying a car is vandalism that can get the person doing it in trouble with the law. But like so many other acts of vandalism, keying a car usually doesn't happen when the streets are crowded with neighbors. It's one of those acts that people do at night on a deserted street, often as passive-aggressive revenge for a real or imagined slight, but sometimes purely random mischief. So how do you figure out who did the nasty deed?
Everybody has heard the term "car keying." It might be defined as using the small end of a key to scratch or create a dent in a vehicle. Usually it is an intentional act, done out of spite or as an act of revenge. It can also be simply a random act by a person walking past.
Car keying damages the property of another person. Therefore, it is illegal and can be classified as a crime. You can certainly file a police report about the incident, since the keying damage is itself evidence that a crime occurred. But don't expect the busy law enforcement officers to invest a lot of time trying to find fingerprints or otherwise track down the suspect. It is unlikely that they will do much unless you know who did it and can prove it.
Proving Who Did the Keying
So, how can you figure out who did the keying? You may think you already know. If you've had issues with a neighbor, especially issues involving vehicles like parking, you may feel that's your suspect. Or you may suspect an ex you're battling it out with in divorce court. But you aren't playing Clue, so guessing who may have done it and why won't get you very far, and you should never act on these suspicions.
You have three shots at figuring out the culprit. First, if you saw someone keying your car, you have sufficient evidence to go to the police. It will be your word against theirs, so it may not get very far in court, but it might be enough to force the person to pay for the damage.
Similarly, if you can find a neighbor who saw the vandalism being done, that can also serve as evidence for the police. Since the neighbor is a neutral third party without an ax to grind, his testimony may be weightier than your own. But frankly, the odds of a neighbor having seen the keying are not very high.
Finally, if you live in a city, the deed may have been caught on someone's home security camera or, if you were near a business, on the store's camera. If a camera records a recognizable person actually keying your car, you may have enough to charge her criminally or sue her in small claims court.
Dealing with the Damage
If the key mark didn't go deep enough to scratch the paint, you can do a quick repair yourself. Wash the part of the car that was keyed. When it is completely dry, rub shoe polish into the scratch, then use sandpaper, dipped into a solution of water and dish detergent to lightly sand the key mark. Alternate 60-degree angles to the key mark in short strokes. Finally, apply a rubbing compound and hand buff out the scratch. As a last step, use car wax and a microfiber cloth to polish the area.
If this doesn't work, run it by your insurer and see what is covered. Key damage may be covered with a comprehensive policy.
It is almost impossible to figure out, let alone prove, who keyed your car unless you or someone else saw it happen, in person or on a security camera.
Teo Spengler earned a JD from U.C. Berkeley Law School. As an Assistant Attorney General in Juneau, she practiced before the Alaska Supreme Court and the U.S. Supreme Court before opening a plaintiff's personal injury practice in San Francisco. She holds both an MA and an MFA in English/writing and enjoys writing legal blogs and articles. Her work has appeared in numerous online publications including USA Today, Legal Zoom, eHow Business, Livestrong, SF Gate, Go Banking Rates, Arizona Central, Houston Chronicle, Navy Federal Credit Union, Pearson, Quicken.com, TurboTax.com, and numerous attorney websites. Spengler splits her time between the French Basque Country and Northern California.