By: Sito

Dear Sito,

My brother-in-law sometimes asks to borrow my wife’s (his sister’s) car, and she usually acquiesces. The problem is his driving. He is 19 and has only had a license for about a year. It took him several times to pass his road test, and in one of those tries the road test official said he was “a danger.” Most recently, he scratched up the rear fender of my wife’s car. Though he means well, since he’s a student, he has no means to cover the damages.

I would leave the matter to my wife to handle, but since she doesn’t pay for any of the expenses or repairs on the car, the responsibility ultimately falls on me. Should I advise my wife to continue lending him the car? Should I ask him to cover the damages by washing the car (once a week for the next two years)? What do you suggest?

Signed, The Brother-in-Law

Dear Brother-in-law,

When it comes to money and family, there are the practical aspects, which require logic, and an emotional piece, which requires sensitivity. Your wife wants to help her brother by lending him her car. Perhaps it is hard for her to say no to his requests. This is the emotional part.

Practically, though, if the expenses and the responsibility to fix and maintain the car fall on you, then it may not be fair for her to lend out the car without your approval. This may actually put you in a more difficult position, as you would then be the one with the emotional burden of rebuffing your brother-in-law’s requests.

On the other hand, perhaps you don’t have to fix up the damages. If your wife is willing to drive a car with the dings and scratches that tend to accompany new drivers like your brother-in-law, then technically, you may not actually need to pay for repairs. If your wife does not expect you to tend to these repairs, then perhaps it shouldn’t matter if she lends her car to a licensed 19-year-old – even though he was once labeled “a danger.” Of course, you may feel uncomfortable seeing your wife driving a banged up car. But if that is the only reason for the repairs, then your personal preference about the condition of your wife’s car may not be reason enough to prevent her from using it as she sees fit.  

Speak with your wife about the practical side of this good deed and the potential liability. Together, you should come to a decision that makes sense for your family.

Regarding the question of covering the damages already caused, you need to proceed with a measure of sensitivity. If your wife expects that the car should be fixed, then she should ask her brother for his own suggestions as to how he would cover the repairs, as opposed to imposing your own slavery-like sentence. By allowing him to come up with a workable solution, you can not only achieve an equitable settlement, you will also help reinforce in this young driver the grave responsibility that comes with operating a motor vehicle.

Best of Luck,