Dear Tom and Ray:
I heard a caller on your radio show a few weeks ago ask whether passengers are obligated to pay for speeding tickets, and this prompted an old discussion between my friends and me about a similar situation we had several years ago. Two friends and I went on a road trip throughout the West Coast for six weeks in my brandnew car. Because my car was the most reliable, I agreed that it would make the most sense to go in my car (despite the wear and tear that the long trip would put on my vehicle). While we were in Yosemite National Park in California, we had an incident. One morning we woke up, and when we arrived at my car, the passenger-side window was smashed in and the seats were torn out. My instinct was burglary, until I saw crystal-clear bear paw prints all over the interior and outside of the car. The insurance company looked at me like I was nuts when I told them a bear had done it, but they covered the damage and charged me the $500 deductible. Were my two friends obligated to pay in whole or in part for the deductible? — Craig Car Talk
TOM: I’d say yes.
RAY: Sure. If you guys had borrowed a car, for instance, from a third party, and a bear broke the window, you all would have been equally responsible, right? I mean, the only reason the car was parked where a bear could break into it was because you guys were collectively enjoying the park. So you should have split the deductible three ways.
TOM: That’s a pretty cutand dry case. It gets a little dicier when you’re dealing with car repairs that have no single, clear cause.
RAY: For instance, let’s say your car wasn’t brand new. Let’s say it had 70,000 miles on it and you and your friends took a 5,000-mile trip in it. And let’s say that along the way, the transmission died. Well, the trip probably contributed to the transmission failure, but it wasn’t necessarily the cause. The transmission could have been failing for 70,000 miles because you’d been driving like an animal all that time.
TOM: So in that case, the passengers aren’t each liable for a third of a transmission. It’s very hard to determine exactly how much they are liable for, if anything.
RAY: That’s why it’s always best to steal a car before a trip like this. Just kidding, Craig.
TOM: Actually, one way to handle it is to use the IRS mileage rate. The IRS, through extensive study and curmudgeonliness, has figured out how much it costs, per mile, to run a car — including gas, oil, tires, insurance, repairs, tolls and bear visits. That number, at the moment, is 55.5 cents a mile — averaged over the life of the car.
RAY: So, friends setting out on a journey together could decide that they will collectively contribute 55.5 cents a mile. So if there were three of you, that’s 18.5 cents per person, per mile, including the owner of the car (who also is enjoying the trip, and so should contribute).
TOM: Then you would use that pool of money for gas, oil, parking, tolls and anything else required to complete the trip. If a repair is necessary, as the owner of the car, you would pay for it. But at the end of the trip, you would keep whatever is left in the kitty. That money would help cover either repairs made along the way, or the future repairs caused by the wear and tear of those miles driven.
RAY: Alternatively, you could just wing it, and figure things out along the way. And then hold a grudge about it for years afterward, grow old and bitter, and write to newspaper columnists seeking support for your position so you could continue the battle with your now-former friends. Up to you, Craig.
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Get more Click and Clack in their new book, “Ask Click and Clack: Answers from Car Talk.” Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
(c) 2011 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi and Doug Berman Distributed by King Features