Print   |   Back
October 18, 2012
The Real Issue
Lending a Car
by Cyndie Swindlehurst


My husband and I just had the most awkward conversation with some good friends of ours.

We live in the same building in a big city. My husband and I are moving abroad for six months, and we are leaving our car parked in the garage under our building. We needed someone to start it once or twice a month while we are overseas, and we asked them if they wouldn’t mind. They said they’d be happy to.

But when they came over to say bon voyage this afternoon, they asked us if they could drive our car when they needed to go somewhere while we are away. I was shocked! It’s less than a year old, and the last time they borrowed it, they returned it with two dents that they didn’t ever tell us about. (We didn’t bring it up, either.)

I thought we had an easy way out because we had cancelled the insurance for the six months we would be gone. But when we told them this, they offered to pay for the insurance!

We ended up saying that we didn’t feel comfortable with that, but only after a long conversation about Zip cars and how much insurance costs. In fact, for every reason we had not to loan our car, they proposed a solution. When we finally said no, they seemed surprised and hurt. It was so awkward. Now I feel stingy, and kind of like a jerk.

But I don’t want them driving my car for six months!

What do we do now?


What do you do now? You buy them a thoughtful gift while you are overseas. And hope they don’t crash the car on a joyride while you are away.

You are basing your question on the assumption that it was outrageous of your friends to ask to drive your car while you are away. But I don’t think their request was totally audacious for two reasons. One, they had borrowed your car before without incident. “Wait,” you say! “They dented it!” Yes, but you didn’t say anything. So as far as they know, the loan worked well and you had no complaints. This is why, when they returned it dented, you should have asked — promptly, but not angrily — what happened.

Two, you asked them to babysit the car while you are gone. This demonstrated your trust in them and also imposed an inconvenience on them. Therefore, I don’t think it was shocking for them to ask to use the car from time to time in exchange.

But it was still perfectly reasonable of you to say no. You say you feel like a stingy jerk, but I don’t think this is an issue of selfishness. I think it is an issue of how much entanglement and risk you are willing to enter into with your friends. It is an issue of what is wise.

In this case, you would not only be giving them an open-ended and unsupervised (because you are not there) six-month license to use your almost-new car, you would also be giving them personal financial information about your insurance bill. Further, should something happen while they are driving the car, you would be the ones ultimately responsible for any deductible and repair costs, not to mention any potential liability as owners of the car.

Do you feel comfortable with that? You might. After all, accidents don’t usually happen. You might not care if they know how much you pay for insurance. And some miles on the car and perhaps another ding might not bother you. Some people might actually enjoy knowing that their friends were using their car. (Although if you enter into such an agreement, make very sure that everyone is clear on all of the terms of use.)

On the other hand, this arrangement might leave you feeling uncomfortable. It might strike you as distinctly unwise to give your friends control of your car and insurance payments for six months. You might question whether you trust them — and their ability to pay if something bad does happen — quite that much.

You are clearly in the second group. So what you should have done is anticipate their request and your response when you asked them to babysit the car.

“We’ve cancelled the insurance on our car while we’re away,” you could have said. “So no one can drive it. But we do need someone to start the engine twice a month. I know it won’t be any fun, but would you mind? We’d really appreciate it.”

In other words, please start our car, but don’t ask to drive it. The potential trade of car babysitting for occasional use would have been expressly off the table.

Perhaps they still would have hatched the idea to pay for your insurance while you were away. But you would have said, very seriously, “Oh, we would not feel comfortable with you paying our insurance bill. And if something were to happen while you were driving it, we would feel awful. I’m sorry, but we can’t do that.” Any further protestations on their part should have been met with a clear and direct, “No. We just can’t.”

You got into the weeds by offering reasons why you could not let them drive the car. This was a mistake. If you had no intention of lending the car, you should not have offered faux obstacles to which solutions could be found.

The thing you did right was sticking to your decision despite your friends’ attempts to persuade you otherwise. You made the decision that you thought was best, and it would have been a mistake to let social awkwardness or discomfort pressure you into changing your mind.

Copyright © 2024 by Cyndie Swindlehurst Printed from