Driving Other People's Vehicles

If you are not a car owner or had a car that is in the shop, you wound up with something else to drive in. For those who can afford it, loaner and rental cars fit the bill. For others, the kindness of strangers takes on another dimension entirely.

The way I approach automobile ownership is that of a possessive, anal, reverent and spiritual nature. As a conguero, I uphold the traditional point-of-view that the drum is a personal companion through the world of music and spirituality. The drum has your soul connected to the instrument and you are protective of your drum to never let anyone touch it.

Hopefully, this helps to understand the mentality of the owners of Ferraris, Rolls-Royces and any classic or antique vehicle. Don’t touch their car unless they completely trust you and you have the competency required to operate such a fragile machine.

As for the rest of us, it's not the question of "can I borrow your car," but the offer to car-sit one's vehicle while one is off on a trip. So, yes, I’m a car-sitter. I do it for free.

Over the time I lived in Minnesota, I had a friend, a roommate and someone I dated entrusted me with their vehicle at various times. Some cases, their cars were in decent shape. Other times, I got stuck with an issue or two to deal with in their absence.

Is it healthy to let someone, even one you trust, with your car? If your car is having problems that would grow worse with someone else driving it, what's the point of having the car used at all by your trusted non-car-owning friend?

This thought was prompted by a former roommate of mine. He heads off somewhere and asks me for a lift to the airport. This would be a routine for few times in a second generation Hyundai Sonata. It's roomy, but clearly at the end of its viable life. Meanwhile, the line to a rear disc brake exploded. I was losing brake pressure and had to explain to the then-roommate/landlord that his car was falling apart again.

This is perhaps a good reason to never lend a car that is not in good running shape.

In another instance, a friend trusts you with his car. In this case, he takes off with his significant other and his future mother-in-law down to a huge political rally out of state. He entrusted me with his Saturn S-Series sedan during their absence. Fair enough. It's a newer model and certainly his pride-and-joy. However, I felt a bit cramped inside. During the time in my care, the City of Minneapolis designated the first day of car-sitting his Saturn as "Fall Street Sweeping" day on my street, I had no choice but to take it to work. At least I already let him know that I was driving it to work.

He did get his car back upon their return from said political action. No problems were reported.

There were occasions in recent years when I was asked by my roommate to take her vehicle for airport, the light rail and other summary runs. Given that I am currently receiving vehicles for editorial use, my comfort level in driving her vehicle had lessened. That is not to say when those occasions occur that I will do so. I still believe that a person's private vehicle is their own – first and foremost.

Consider these scenarios for a moment. Common sense will tell you a few things here. Establishing trust with a friend, lover or, if you wish, a complete stranger, is important before handing the keys over.

A safe place for the vehicle to sit is another point. Since there is no garage or drive at my new place, the neighborhood itself is safe enough to let a car sit parked for a while. Luckily, I live in a neighborhood without parking regulations. If the person you are lending the vehicle to happen to live in a regulated parking zone or in a neighborhood that even the lendee wouldn't trust during the day, make arrangements to ensure safety. Most cities will let you get a temporary parking permit. Maybe the building's owner will let you park in the garage temporarily.

Insurance is an important point. Is the car covered for everything? What about the driver? Check with local laws to make sure everything complies before you truly hand over the keys.

Lastly, be courteous and mindful that this is not your car. Be nice to the owner of the car and replace the gas you used in it. Better yet, fill up the tank before he arrives to fetch it from you.

All of this brings up something that needs to be addressed. I had many readers ask me to review their car. It is my editorial policy to not do that at all. There were exceptions made. My work with Auto Vault's fleet is one of them. There has to be a real exception for me to drive another person's privately owned vehicle for me to execute this. I am already entrusted with working with vehicles supplied by the manufacturers. Those vehicles are signed off with agreements stating that while protected by their insurance, I agreed to be very responsible with these vehicles while they are under my care.

If you're like me, you would think things out a bit more before taking the keys of a friend's ride. Trust is important, but one must understand when things go wrong, responsibility comes into play.

Photo by Randy Stern

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