Advice Wanted: How to manage too much “personal” use of family car

by cv harquail on March 25, 2009

I need advice about car usage for our au pair. Our au pair has been with us for a little over 7 weeks now. She is doing a great job and has really blended well with our family. Part of her duties (driving) are to drop-off/pick-up our children from school 3 days a week & take them to a set weekly playdate. She is a good driver and we haven’t had any problems.

We have been completely flexible with personal usage of either of our cars, but I feel like this privilege is being a bit over used and need some advice.

A few details:

Our au pair is currently taking her first class ( to fulfill her education requirement), so of course she has usage of a car for this. She needs to travel 112 miles (roundtrip) for her class once a week, but also goes to some local churches 4 nights a week for ESOL classes (about 20 miles roundtrip for each), used a car to go to the gym every day on her break (about 6 miles roundtrip), and also uses a car several times a week to visit with friends, go to the mall, etc. on her days off.

Here is my dilemma: Etsy onescrappychic.jpeg

  • She is putting a lot of miles on the car weekly for personal/social usage. I am constantly getting in the car with a 1/4 to almost empty tank each time (I fill the car up at the beginning of every week). We want her to feel comfortable and be able to socialize, etc., but every single day of using a car is getting to be a bit much.
  • Also, my husband travels a lot for his job, so there are many times when there is just one car here and if she is using it, I am homebound with the children.
  • I’m also concerned about the wear & tear on our cars.

Can anyone help me with some “fair” limits for car usage? I really want to be fair and don’t want to be a monster about it, but I feel like I have a teenager in the house! :)
Anna

I think the simplest thing to start with, is to have her ask your permission every time she wants to take a car. It makes sense especially because there is no specially designated “au pair car”, but you only have two cars, yours and your husband’s. So, the rule is – if the car is home, you can’t take it and go.

The usage priority is the parent’s, and you have to first ask if they need it and if they mind you taking it, and you have a full right to give conditional permissions – i.e. she can use it but has to bring it home by hour X.

As to gas, asking her to pay for personal gas usage is normal. You are not obligated to pay for that. You might want to help out if you live in the boonies, but its totally optional and is a perk. I don’t ask my au pair to pay for personal gas usage, but she uses the car very little, and never has to go very far (we live in a very lively and well -connected area). We also just have to cars – mine and my husband’s, and she always asks.

Franzi

i’m with anna, you should talk to your ap about the car use. especially when you need the car as well. if you establish an “ask before use” policy i think all sides should be clear about each other’s plans and needs.

if she is so busy socially (which is great to some extent) then maybe she can be picked up by one of her friends from time to time.
E2

We’re having a similar issue with car use right now…our au pair has been with us for a few weeks and is behaving as if the car is hers.

We’ve asked her to ask us first before using the car, but will need to reinforce this. We found with previous au pairs that if you don’t control the car use right away it becomes an entitlement and then correcting the behavior becomes a “big issue.”

We also ask our au pair to keep a log of miles driven and then to put in gas when she goes a certain number of miles. Worked ok with an organized au pair, but I’m not sure our current au pair has even written anything down.

Momof4

Thank you for your responses, it really helps!

I sat down with our au pair tonight and discussed the car usage. We went over her current routine of car usage and discussed mileage, etc.

She was a little defensive in the beginning because two of the girls she has befriended in our cluster have their own cars and two of her friends from her country who arrived when she did (also au pairs in the area) also have their own cars. She is under the impression that they don’t have any limits, etc. I have no idea! She also told me that ALL au pairs that she knows are given their own car.

Anyway, instead of having to keep track of all of her mileage, we came to the agreement that she can just pay x amount of money each week for gas based on her current usage, and when/if that changes we can definitely revisit the issue.

We also decided that if there is only one car here, she needs to find another mode of transportation (i.e. friend, etc.) so there is always a car here for emergencies or for me or my husband to be able to take the children out.

I talked to our LCC to brainstorm about it. She is going to chat with our au pair about how car usage iIs a priviledge and not a given.

We don’t live in the boony’s, but you do need a car to get to places in our area. All of the shopping malls, YMCA, etc. are within 3 to 8 miles from our house, so nothing is very far.

We have also established an “ask before you use the car” rule, so hopefully, that will help. I did ask her to try to give us some notice if she is going to want to use the car for a special outing, etc. because she is currently just coming down the stairs when she’s about to leave and asking for car keys without any notice. I had to say no today and she got really frustrated.

I don’t think she has any concept of how expensive cars are (we have an SUV & a minivan because we have 4 kids) or how expensive car insurance is, especially when you add a foreign driver. She doesn’t come from a poor family and had her own car in her country, so I think the having to have rules about car usage is annoying to her.

Anyway, wish us luck and thank you again for all of your responses!! :)
counselor

Regarding the car. All host families should set the rules for the use of the car and everything else in advance and present a list of rules to the Au Pair in the beginning, or better during the matching process already. This sort of thing that happened to Mom of 4 and E2 is common. Au Pairs easily get the sense of entitlement if you don’t set the rules in advance.

You don’t need to feel bad about not having a designed Au Pair car. Around 50% of my host families don’t. The other 50% of Au Pairs get access to host mom or dad’s car.

Franzi

Mom of 4 and E2: it is true that setting up rules for the car after the au pair has been in the home for some time and had freedom of use will put some strain on the relationship.

Yes, having a car is a privilege not a given, however, if there were no rules before, the circumstance of having such easy access to a car can easily be taken as given.

From the point of view of an au pair it might feel like being “lured” into a match, (if the car was offered as …) with the car dangling as a carrot, and suddenly, there are rules and limits.

For your next match, i would already make the rules clear during the matching process. if you don’t want to seem too strict, explain why you set these rules. for example, my first family had a curfew on the car (not for me though). They explained this with the over-usage of the previous au pair who took the car over night without letting the family know where the car would be parked etc. that makes it easier for the future au pair to understand where your limits are regarding car usage.

Once the AP is in your family and proves to be reliable, rules might change. As for now, making the rules clear is all you can do, i think.

{ 30 comments }

CT Mom March 25, 2009 at 6:33 pm

I totally understand your problems. Be lucky you don’t have a 3rd car, the entitlement issue gets even worse! You should explain to your au pair that while she is making plans that involve the use of your car, she needs to consult you early in the process. Also, do you limit towns she can drive in? We have an older car for the AP and we’ve limited the towns she can take the car. Does she go out and meet up with other au pairs in her cluster? Is there any way they can share driving responsibilities? This has always been our headache– with our last two au pairs it seems like our car leaves the house nearly 95% of the time she is going out– no one is coming to our house to pick her up. We just got a new au pair 10 days ago and we’re hoping this doesn’t become an issue again. I’ve read where others suggested putting a weekly mileage limit on the car so she has to pick and choose where she drives. I think this may be our plan if our new au pair does not share driving responsibilities.

About your au pair stating that other au pairs don’t have restrictions on the car, I don’t think that’s the case. We learned that the hard way. With our first au pair, she felt very entitled and told us that other au pairs don’t have any restrictions on the car. That is not true!! Throughout her year, we learned that they do, although they don’t want to tell you that.

The car issue is really the single most stressful issue for us. I don’t think they have any idea the expenses associated with that. Good luck.

Maya March 25, 2009 at 6:55 pm

I have to say that so far, despite all our other problems, we have not had car issues with our AP. She is an excellent driver and we feel comfortable with her driving anywhere with our kids and alone. We even had one time her drive our kids and her friend (both friend’s mom and AP have agreed to it), and it was fine.

We only have two cars. Our second car is basically and AP car as we are fairly comfortable only having one car for us 95% of the time. We had to rearrange a few things in my DH’s and mine scheduled to make it work, but getting a 3rd car was not an option for us and AP needs a car full time during the week for the kids and her classes. On the weekends, we generally go places together (need 1 car) and AP is out from Friday night to Sunday late night with our car. We are ok with that as she has never given us a reason to worry about the car.

At the beginning of the month, we give her gas money to cover all driving needed for kids, her classes, and monthly cluster meeting. She is responsible for all other gas usage.

Our AP only has one good friend here, and that girl does not drive at all (no driver’s license). So they are always together on weekends and my AP drives in our car. I also for the most part know where they are all weekend as the other girl is my boss’s AP.

However, on those rare occasions when we do need second car, we do not hesitate to take it, unfortunately, sometimes without notice to AP, although we do try to give notice when we can. She has never complained.

However, come September, that will change as my kids schedule will change and car arrangements will change. This AP’s year is up at the end of September, but our next AP will have very different rules when it comes to the car. I am sure I will be back to this post writing down all suggestions and incorporating them into my handbook for next year.

Momof4 March 25, 2009 at 10:18 pm

CT Mom-Yes, we did initially put in our handbook that the car is limited to our town only and if she wants to travel to the next town over (part of our cluster), she does need to ask permission and let us know where she is going. Since she travels to a town 60 miles away for her education requirement, we made the amendment in the handbook to include this for the 8 week period she will be taking the class.
She does meet up with other au pairs in our cluster, but she tells me that she doesn’t want to ride with them because they like to stay out later than she does and if it’s really cold, she doesn’t care to sightsee or do what they are doing and wants to be able to come home.
Maya- I am a stay-at-home mom so I share the responsibility of drop-off/pick-up from school with the au pair. She primarily does it, but if I have an appointment in the morning or am out and about in the afternoon, or just plain ol’ want to take them, I drop-off/pick-up the kids from school. Other than this or a once a week play date for the boys, she doesn’t have any other driving responsibilities for the kids. I also have twin infants and only me or my husband drive when they are in the car. There is no need for the au pair to take them anywhere in a car. So, basically, other than 3 miles down the road twice a day, 2 to 3 days a week, she doesn’t have any other driving responsibilities.
Getting a 3rd car for the au pair is also definitely not an option for us since we only have one income.
We don’t provide the au pair with money for gas for transporting the boys since her driving duties are so limited. We just make sure there is always gas in the cars.
One of the things she asked the very first weekend she had off is if she could take a car for an overnight weekend trip. Even though she is a good driver, I just was not comfortable with this, just because we have very new cars (both less than a year old) and I felt like we needed some time for her to experience some driving in the U.S. and become comfortable driving both of our cars. My husband & I discussed it and came up with what we thought was a fair and reasonable solution. We let her know (during the first week she was with us) that once she obtains an in-state license, which we feel will help prove she understands all the signs & driving rules for our state, she will be welcome to use a car for occasional overnight trips as long as we know where the car will be parked in a safe area overnight and when it will be returned. We do not give her a curfew on non-work days, but do have a curfew for the car on work & non-work days.
She has yet to take the in-state driving test and in our state her international license is only good for 6 months (I even mailed her a manual from our DMV 5 weeks before she arrived so she could study since our state makes you wait 30 days between the written & driver’s test). I recently reminded her to let us know when she wants to take the test and she said she is still “not ready”. She’s had 3 months so far to study, I’ve sat many nights with her doing the online quizes offered on our dmv site (which she pretty much masters each time!) and she’s been driving in the U.S. for 7 weeks now, so I don’t know what the hold up is. Anyway, she understands that if she doesn’t have an in-state driver’s license by July, she won’t be able to drive at all and as social as she is, that is really going to cramp her style. The main reason why we rematched with our last aupair (was with us 4 months) is because she told us she could drive during her phone interviews, yet once here could not park in an empty church parking lot, drove like my grandma, and couldn’t pass the driver’s test in our state. I’m praying this doesn’t happen again because our whole family really likes her and she has blended so well with us!! :)

PA Mom March 25, 2009 at 10:19 pm

We do have a third car, and may mistakes with our first au pair because of it. Our first Au pair was using the car to go to a waitressing, so we really had to rein her in and put a milage restriction on personal use. (only 30 miles a week for non cluster/ non education. Harsh, but we do live in an area with public transportation and she was using it to go to a waitressing job that she was specifically told to quit.)

We havent had many issues with the second, but partly becuase she got in an accident with the car (technically not her fauslt but I’m sure she contributed to the accident) so she lost her nerve to use it much.

We give her enough money to cover the gas milage needed to transport the kids (currently around 40 a week), beyond that she is on her own. She does make 225 a week as an extraordinaire, so I feel that she can affrd her own gas.

It is an old car that doesn’t carry collision, and becuase it is worth so little the fender bender it was in “totalled” the car!

For our next au pair we swill defintely explain ahead of time that
1. we do not have a curfew for her but we do have a curfew for the car
2. we want to know where the car is going and who will be in it.
3. the first 500 in damages will be paid by the aupair.
4. Absolutely no highway driving nor into the city- use public transit or someone else.
5. If you join a gym, it should be the one closest to our house ( which is also the cheapest gym) not more than 3 miles away.

The au pair car is alwys frist in the druveway, and my car is usually behind it- so she often needs to approach me for car keys when the car gets moved.

I REALLY liked the idea of having a designated place for those keys, not giving a personal set. I’ll do that with the next au pair.

I haven’t had to go over the above rules with our current second au pair becuase she hasn’t run up the miles much, generally mentions if she is going to use the car, etc.
On our first au pair, we found out that she was using our car for another job when, after odd behavior and lies, we put a gps tracker in the car. (orsatz? I think the name is) We never did that with our second au pair because she never broke our trust.

(

PA Mom March 25, 2009 at 10:33 pm

I need to add to the “requirements” that-
6. You will need to get a state driver’s liscence within the first three months of being here.

We aked our current au pair to do that- she failed the written four times but did pass and was very proud when she did. I asked her to take it bescause she had done things like drive with the radio speakers really loud while wearing an i-pod!
Having them study for the driver’s licence is the only way I can be sure that they know the basic rules of the road, besides goin through a whole book with them. Also, it reinforceses the “priveledge not a right” idea.

D March 25, 2009 at 11:45 pm

The au pair getting defensive about you needing a car for emergency reasons? She knew when she came you had 2 cars before she came, so this should not be a shock to her.

Isn’t it a given “understanding” & common sense to know you can’t leave your host family without a car, thus leaving you at home with children there stranded. Explain an emergency situation, she needs to understand this absolutely can not happen & why. That she is putting the children is a tough situation honestly.

We have a 3rd car, but our au pair always asks to use it before she goes anywhere. (I never had to ask her, she is just nice to us) She also rides with friends when possible asking them specifically to come get her. She doesn’t need to either.

If the au pair in a family has friends with cars…..then the au pair should ride with other au pairs when possible so they all share in driving whether you have 2 cars or 3 or 10 for that matter. Most au pairs are believers in recycling and good to the environment. This is a way of being economical & way of saving thats appropriate, similar to recycling. Thats common sense for respect & compassion for the family……anything else, is not respectful. She is a member of the family…..but didn’t buy that car & its not hers. No different than how your own children will be expected to behave when they are older.

What about when an au pair finally notices other host families have house keepers & some even clean the au pair bedrooms too. Or another topic is working hours & length of vacations. And the list goes on as it becomes keeping up with the Jones’s. And we all know growing up….we all learned that this is not possible.

Ultimately, you can never have as much as the other families do in all cases…. or in other cases you might have more than others. Explain that she excepted your family as you are. This is a part of life. :)

Dotty

Franzi March 26, 2009 at 1:50 am

if you have a curfew for your car other than the curfew for the au pair (if she has a curfew at all), then please make sure you explain why in the matching process! my first family had a midnight curfew on the car and i never had to work on the weekend so on saturday i could use the car (if i asked) but it had to be back home by midnight – and that was a totally strange concept to me back then. i get it now, but because that rule was never explained to me, it made me feel “supervised”.

that is actually a general suggestion i have to host moms. if you have a rule, explain why you have it! cultural backgrounds can be very different and a curfew can be perceived very differently (either as limiting or as totally normal).

also, if you want an au pair who takes part in family dinners and who doesn’t run out as soon as she is off, then say so during the matching process! if you don’t want the family-lifestyle than say so. there are many girls who are ok with that, just like there are many families and au pairs who love the concept of having a second family.

sorry, that was slightly off topic…

D March 26, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Franzi, is totally right. Say as much up front about your house, schedule, expectations. This starts the year off right at the beginning. :) Its for everybodys benefit. As a host family you can’t change yourself, likewise for an au pair, you have a set of beliefs & ways as well.

And explain things in a way that makes sense. Perception to the girls is “everything”. Meaning, if they think they are being micromanaged then they might become confused on what you mean, I would too if in the same situation potentially. So you have to really think about how things come across communication wise. (actually like my kids or even my husband for that matter. LOLOLOL)

But ya, explain the car issue as “my children might need something for an emergency so I can’t be without a car, its not safe for us. ” Things like that.

Franzi you are completely right. A curfew with a car at midnight should be. “We have no curfew in our home at all, however, we just like to know where our car is late at night past midnight at a minimum. The reason being, there are drunk people out after midnight typically, so this leads to potential accidents putting you & the car in a difficult situation. We prefer You are safe as most important, of course. However, as a host family we understand completely that you may want to be out late on occasion, which is Ok. We just prefer the car be at our home by midnight if this is the choice you make as we like to keep the car safe as well ” Its that easy. This is reasonable for everyone. Franzi, do you agree?

We don’t ever impose a curfew at all any night of the week for the girls or car. Instead, we say you have to be rested & ready for the day with a warm demeanor for the children’s benefit and thats expected. We let our au pairs decide how much sleep they need, whether they stay out late or not. Now of course, if they are tired frequently & it becomes a problem, then we sit down talk about that. Just a reminder to say….we don’t have a lot rules here ……but once they are not caring for the kids appropriately, thats when the fun stops & rules will be put in place to correct the issue if they can’t correct it on their own. As they committed to caring for children adequately, so they get to choose how thats best accomplished. Then the choice becomes theres not ours. So we aren’t taking things away but rather giving priviledges for a job well done.

This sounds like stupid stuff, but its kinda simple sometimes. As a host family, its so hard sometimes as you try to do everything as reverse psychology. I guess sometimes…..like Franzi said, explain the honest reason. That always helps. A “you can’t do this” then turns into “we need your help”

D

Calif Mom March 27, 2009 at 1:55 am

Mom of 4 — sounds like maybe she has test anxiety! Let her know that she can take the test more than once, that sometimes it takes non-native speakers many attempts before passing a test like this in a second language. It really does happen a lot. No shame in it!

Franzi March 27, 2009 at 2:10 am

@ D, i agree, as long as it doesn’t come across as the car’s safety is your #1 and only priority. this is an argument i’ve heard from many au pairs with similar car curfews than mine. it’s a “they allow me to do whatever but beloved car needs to be safe” argument that makes it sound like the safety of the au pair is not valued. we all know that this is not the case (i hope) but it’s something that can be misunderstood and if so, it leaves a “materialistic stain” on the relationship. do you know what i mean?

Jillian April 3, 2009 at 4:41 am

We have a 3rd car for the au pair and this may seem really harsh but what I’m thinking of doing next time is getting it appraised from my mechanic before the she arrives. The deal would be that she pays for personal usage of gas and before she leaves I’d get the car appraised again and if the number of miles she’s driven has decreased the value on the car by more than say $500 (it’s a 1990 Honda so there’s not a whole lot of value left) she would need to pay the difference. Thoughts?

CV April 3, 2009 at 6:09 am

Jillian, your own assessment of this strategy seems correct– it is a bit harsh, imho. Your strategy is kindof like what people do with car leases, where there is penalty if you turn the car in with too many miles. The important advantage that a lease agreement has is that you know *up front* what the incremental cost per mile will be, and you can make the tradeoff. With your proposed strategy, what I personally find harsh is the disconnect between her ability to proactively manage the ‘cost’ by knowing what the penalty will be. Of course, you could easily guestimate this by looking at the difference in the BlueBook value of the car at average mileage and high mileage. I think you’d be better off coming up with a ‘total annual mileage budget’, and let your au pair manage the budget…

What I’d want to hear your thoughts on, though, before suggesting any plan is– if the car is already 18 years old, why do you even care how many additional miles your AP puts on it? Are you trying to protect the car, or are you trying to manage your au pair’s personal driving?
Usually, host parents manage the driving in order to protect the car (cars being the third biggest expense of any family after house and college). You don’t have much of a car to protect, it would seem.
Tell us more about what your real concerns are… and let’s talk about strategies for them…

Justbn April 6, 2009 at 2:50 am

Jillian, Jillian, Jillian what are you thinking? If I was your Au Pair I wouldn’t drive the car and ask you to take me where I needed to go. $500. would be allot for a young girl to come up with especially at the end of her stay. This website has a lot of common sense and hopefully you’ll find helpful advice.

Nice Aupair April 8, 2009 at 9:44 pm

Dear Host Mom

I agree with you that your aupair is using the car more than you expect! But don’t worry! She is new in town and she is still having the “amazing moments” every time she walks at the Macys, walmart and other big store we have here in USA. Just like me and lots of my aupair friends, she will get tired of see her friends and go shopping every day!

About school: I’m wondering why your aupair has to drive 112 miles roundtrip to attend classes. Unless you live far way from everything, it does not make any sence!

About Gas: I think it is nice from your to share the gas with her since our Salary is only $180/week and we really apreciate hanging out with your friends and go shopping when we are not in dutty (we have only one year as an aupair to enjoy it! Life is hard back home!). But if she is expending so much gas, you should ask her to pay for it! But please, don’t let your aupair without car on the weekend because it is really really sad for us to get stuck at home while all your friends are having fun somewhere!

a-Mom-ymous April 8, 2009 at 10:01 pm

Jillian, I don’t think I would want to AP for you! Yikes!!

Nice Aupair April 8, 2009 at 11:14 pm

Jillian,

It that what you gonna do when you kids turn 16???
You want your aupair to be “part of your family” and help you with duties and work hard 45 hours with your kids but you don’t wanna her to have a car to use on her free time to hang out with her friends and keep her sanity?
Remember….. You should treat your aupair nice because SHE is the one who care for your children and you expect her to treat your love ones nice too.

Maria July 22, 2009 at 8:34 am

Hi. I am a host mum in Australia. I am hosting an AP for the first time. It has been 5 months since she commenced living with us. At the beginning it was very difficult because I am a nurturer by nature and we really wanted to make our AP feel at home and comfortable. I was so shocked to see how quickly she took advantage of our kind and generous natures. She expected us to purchase special treats like chocolate, soft drinks and crisps when we normally dont purchase these items for ourselves. Also the use of the car was solely only for the AP to take my daughter to day care. However the AP asked if she could use it to go out and I said no. She went on to debating the issue with me, saying that her AP friend is allowed to have a car 24/7. I have a very expensive car that I have paid for with blood, sweat and tears. I would not expect my boss to give me a car to take all my friends to the beach for the weekend. My AP since has purchased a hippy van with another AP so that they can do some travelling. We have a very good relationship now but only because I tightened the reigns and demanded some respect and appreciation for all that she has. I also resent APs who say they only get a salary of….blah….blah….blah….YOUR salary also includes accomodation, food (and gosh, my AP can eat me out of the house!!!!), electricty, gas, hot water, phone, internet etc. Sometimes I feel AP’s are ungrateful and rather putting energy into doing their job, they are far too consumed by the perks of the job.

My 2 cents July 22, 2009 at 10:00 am

We have 3 cars, but the AP and I trade between 2 of the cars all the time due to car seat issues. What I do is give her stipend each week for my gas usage of the third car since I know exactly how much each week I’m going to need that car (I use it to commute to work so it’s easy). The stipend is tied to the price of gas, although I’m admittedly very generous with what I give. The AP is responsible for keeping the tank in that car at least 1/4 full, while I’m responsible for the other car. This way she has no choice but to pay for her personal use.

We tell APs up front when they are considering signing with us and then again when they first arrive what the rules of the car are, and there are many (gas usage, the stipend, curfew on the car, restrictions on where they may drive, we can revoke privleges at any time for any reason, who pays if there is an accident, the car is not “theirs”, etc.). We tell them they must always tell us where they are (who they plan to be with, and when they will be home (this is Safety 101 in our view). We try to never refer to the car she gets on her personal time as “her car.” We also have them take the car in (and wait) for all oil changes and repairs (we pay).

This stipend and written rules system has worked really well for us so far. We have had a bumps but generally those get resolved with me referring back to the rules coupled with a suffer the consquences approach. Example: one time gas was not left in the third car that I needed for work. So, I went inside and told AP that since she hadn’t left me the required 1/4 tank, I would have to take the car she planned to use for the day. As a result, she didn’t get to go meet her friends for a playdate and then didn’t get to leave the house on her off-time until I got home. No problems with the gas filling after that.

I haven’t had the “other APs have it better than me” discussion, but have had an AP whose parents happened to be extremely indulgent and liberal. I recommend handling these complaints the same way, saying very nicely that essentially you don’t care what other APs or HFs (or your parents) do, this is what you do in your home. If they continue to argue, just keep repeating calmly. This has diffused every difficult time I’ve had where an AP resisted my saying “no” to something.
Of course, if an AP lies or does something you specifically said not to do, I’d take those keys. But if that’s happening, there are larger issues at play.

I guess our overall approach is to treat the AP like we would our own family (except ours will have to pay for insurance, like I did!)

Returning HM September 10, 2011 at 11:21 pm

I’m sorry for digging up an old thread, but I’d like to hear more about how HFs handle gas money. When we last hosted APs, we lived in a different state where it was really necessary to have a car to get anywhere, and so we had a dedicated AP car for her to use when she wasn’t working, and our APs just put in their own gas money for that car but used one of the other cars for driving the children. So gas money was pretty straightforward (I did help some of them with the $$ but that is another story). Now that we live right on the border of a large metropolis and have access to inexpensive ride-on buses literally 2 blocks away, plus the metro less than a mile away, we have gotten rid of one of our cars. So now we are sharing our two cars between my husband, new AP, and me.

All is going very well with AP, and she has settled in well with us and is also doing a great job of making friends with APs nearby. She has recently started driving MUCH more, as she has made new friends who live maybe 15-20 minutes away, and so the question of gas money is just starting to come up. I filled the tank on Sunday of this past week, and usually a full tank lasts about 10 days in our household. Our children require about 20 miles per weekday for their schools and activities, but that is it. So I was shocked when she called me on Thursday morning to say that the gas light was on and what should she do. I knew she was spending her daytimes (she is an Educare and doesn’t work at all during the days since our children are in school) with AP friends, going to malls and to different areas around, but I had NO idea that she would have driven what must have been about 220 miles of her own (we usually get 300 miles to the tank and the children would have used less than 80 at that point) in only 3.5 days!

Last week when she asked about giving me gas money, I told her not to worry about it because honestly, I didn’t think she had gone more than 50 or so miles, but now that I realize how much she is driving during the days, I am rethinking being so blase. When she called and asked me what to do, I asked her if she had $10 to put into the tank and said I would pay her back when I saw her. She did put the $10 in, but when I told my husband about this, he pointed out that really, we should not be paying her the $10 and in fact, she should have put in more money when I filled up the tank later that evening.

She is a lovely young woman, very appreciative and very helpful, and I really really don’t ever want to get into a nickle-and-diming world with her. On the other hand, she used what I would estimate is about $45 dollars in gas in just three days this week, and I really don’t want to get into a situation of paying that much extra each week because I’m likely to start feeling resentful.

So – how do HFs handle gas money? Do you figure out what your children use each week (mine are on a pretty set schedule and rarely vary week-to-week), round up a little, and then give the AP the money for this and have her keep the car filled? Or alternatively, do you ask the AP to keep track of her personal miles and have her pay you for the gas money? I find myself reluctant to get into a situation of asking her to keep track of her miles and give me the money for her gas, and I am very happy to be somewhat generous (i.e. am happy to cover probably 100 miles’ worth of her personal gas usage a week), but since we’re new and figuring things out with each other, I do want to get into a good pattern now and would love to know what has worked for other HFs.

One more thing to add: Our HF handbook specifies that she is responsible for all of her own personal gas so this won’t be a surprise at all for her — I just would like some advice on how to handle it.

Thank you.

Returning HM September 10, 2011 at 11:35 pm

I meant to add, of course we would include gas money for driving to her classes and cluster meetings in the amount we estimate the children use, if we follow the method of giving AP money and having her keep the tank filled.

hOstCDmom September 11, 2011 at 3:34 pm

Do you also use the car? So are you both using the gas in the tank, or is AP the only one using it?

That makes calculations trickier.

You could tell AP that you will pay for one tank of gas per week, and giver her the money every Friday (or every other Friday depending on what makes sense for the level of driving she needs to do + the amount of her personal driving that you are willing to fund) with the requirement that by every Monday morning the tank must be 100% full. If she runs out of gas during the week/two week period, before you give her money on Friday/every second Friday, she must fill it up.

Just a thought….

Taking a Computer Lunch September 11, 2011 at 10:02 pm

I would suggest a log, not to “nickel and dime” as stated below, but for your AP to see how much she drives and how expensive it is. I had one AP who took the bus, once she realized how expensive driving and parking were. Personally, I would want the car returned to me with a full tank before I turned the key in the engine on a Saturday morning, so I could hit the ground running.

My guess is that even in bus-friendly communities, it is easier for APs to take the car. Your AP may decide that the bus is cheaper when a fair chunk of her weekly income goes to purchasing gas. (Our local community college offers free transportation on the commuter buses, so I tell my APs that I have already “paid” for their transportation to college on the bus, and that if they prefer to pay for a parking sticker and driver that they are free to do so at their own expense.)

In my experience the sheer cost of gas (compared with the weekly salary) will usually prevent the AP from excessive driving after the initial weeks. Our “AP car is a subcompact,” but it’s still probably close to 1/5 of our AP’s salary to fill a tank. (The AP car is rarely used to drive the children, because our child with special needs sits in a car seat that only fits in our van.)

ILHM September 11, 2011 at 7:16 am

We weren’t sure what to do initially when AP #1 arrived a year ago We live in a similar area to you – great train service into major city 2 blocks away. With a new (but not terribly expensive) AP car, we were a little concerned with free range driving. We calculated the estimated miles/gas usagevand figured she should use about a half avtank a week but more when she had to drive to school which is quite far away…So, AP and I agreed that every weekend I fill up the car except the last weekend. She fills the car that weekend. It works very well for us as I couldn’t be bothered with A weekly miles calculation….good luck

Melissa September 11, 2011 at 8:00 am

We do exactly as you had mentioned as an option – we determine how much gas she’ll need to use to drive the children, drive to her meetings and school, and give her that amount each month, and she pays for all other gas. I also hate the idea of needing to calculate miles or get into a nickel & diming situation, so this method works very well for us. I do clearly tell our APs that her actual gas usage will likely vary – some months she may actually use less gas if she is not taking classes during that time, or sometimes she might have a month where she has to drive the kids more than usual, but that it will all balance out. I also give our APs the option of calculating miles they use for work, if they feel the other method is not accurate or fair, but none have chosen that. I do err on the more generous side because I always round up when calculating the amount of driving the AP will do. This method is very easy for us because we have a dedicated AP car that only she drives.

On a related note, I would suggest you also think about having some car usage rules in your handbook, if you don’t already. We once had an AP who put tons of miles on our car and was driving all over the place in her free time. Although we were glad she was making friends and was happy, we quickly became resentful of her excessive use and the fact that it didn’t seem to occur to her that there are impacts associated with it. The section of our handbook that covers car usage went from two paragraphs to two full pages.

JMHostMom September 11, 2011 at 5:25 pm

Melissa, what kinds of things did you add to your handbook? We are about to rematch because (among other things), our AP is a TERRIBLE driver. She has not been able to drive by herself because we’ve had so many close calls when practicing that we’re afraid she’ll crash before she even gets out of the neighborhood if she drives by herself.

We’re going to be looking specifically for an AP with driving experience. I have two pages in our HFHB already about driving, but reading your post about your AP using the car excessively makes me wonder if I’ve missed some things. What kind of rules did you put in your HFHB to prevent excessive use of the car? We live in an area where driving time to get to her AP friends will almost always be upwards of 20 minutes, and our AP car is an old one, so I am definitely concerned about this exact problem. Thanks for any pointers you can give!

Melissa September 12, 2011 at 11:15 pm

JM Host Mom — I just cut and pasted below the car section from our handbook. Sorry if it’s rather long, but thought it might be useful. We used to be very lax with car usage when we were new HPs, which worked just fine with some APs, but not with others, so we put in a lot more rules from the beginning. We’ve only had to actually enforce the mileage limit with one AP. Hope this helps.

• You will need to do some driving as part of your childcare responsibilities, but it will be fairly minimal. You will need to drive the kids to school and activities, which will generally be about 20-40 miles/week.
• We’ll give you a gas stipend each month to cover gas costs for when you need to drive for work. You will need to pay for gas for any personal driving.
• Our primary reason for having an additional car is for you to be able to drive the children when needed and for you to have transportation to and from your classes. However, we also have a car for your use so that you can easily get around and have the independence to explore the area and have fun. We live in a very spread-out city and you generally need to drive to most places. There is lots to see and do here and we want to you be able to have fun and see the sights. However, driving in a new country, and especially driving with kids, is a big responsibility and so we have set some guidelines on car usage.

o Maintenance: We will be responsible for keeping the car in good condition and making sure it gets its regular maintenance (oil changes, tires changed, etc.). However, since we do not drive the car very often, please let us know if you notice anything unusual, such as a funny noise, a light on the dashboard, or if it does not drive properly. Although we’ll handle mechanical maintenance, you’ll be responsible for keeping the car in good daily shape, by keeping it clean by taking it to the car wash on occasion and by not leaving a lot of stuff in the car.
o Don’t let anyone smoke in the car.
o It is illegal to drive after drinking. It is also illegal to have any open containers of any type of alcohol in the car, even for passengers.
o For safety reasons, do not use your cell phone while driving, particularly when you have the kids in the car. If you need to, please pull over first. DO NOT TEXT WHILE DRIVING!
o There will likely be some times when we need to use the car (e.g., if one of our other cars is broken or we have out-of-town relatives visiting), and therefore you will need to use other transportation during that time, such as a bus. We can help you find alternate transportation during those times.
o Until you are comfortable and have some experience driving here, we’d like for you to limit your driving to local places (no more than 20 miles and not on the freeway). After you’re here a little while, we can talk about driving other places.
o Do not take the car on long trips (e.g., outside of Los Angeles or Orange County). If you are interested in traveling to other cities or states (e.g., Las Vegas, Northern California), we can help you find the best travel arrangements, such as flying or renting a car.
o During the week (Sunday through Thursday), we would like you to bring the car back by 11pm.
o We generally do not want the car kept out overnight. This is ok on occasion, such as if you want to stay over a friend’s house, but you need to check with us ahead of time and let us know where you will be staying. In those instances, the car must be parked at someone’s house, not in a parking lot or at a nightclub overnight.
o Although you can use the car for your personal use and to explore the area, we don’t want an excessive amount of miles put on the car, since this adds to the wear-and-tear, increases maintenance costs and shortens the use life of it, so we’ll ask that you generally do not exceed a certain amount of miles (about 600 month).
o Do not let anyone else drive the car, unless it is an emergency, since they would not be covered under our auto insurance policy.
o From our experience, it seems that some au pairs have a car for their use (sometimes it is a separate car, but often it is shared use of the family car) and some do not. You are welcome to use the car to go out with friends, but please try to take turns driving with other au pairs who have cars as much as possible, and do not always be the one who has to pick up and drive your friends around. And being the passenger instead of the driver will be nice for you as well. Also, the car cannot fit more than two passengers, since there are carseats in the car (please don’t remove them).
• Traffic Safety and Accidents
o Please always drive safely and adhere to the speed limit and road rules. If you do get any parking or traffic tickets, be sure to let us know.
o If you do have any type of car accident:
? Do not drive away or leave the scene.
? Make sure you, any passengers, and the other driver and passengers are ok. If anyone is injured, call 911. Please also call us as soon as you are able to, especially if the girls are in the car.
? If you are in an area with traffic (such as the middle of the road or on the freeway), try to drive the car to the side of the road, if possible. If you cannot move the car and you are in the middle of traffic or a roadway, do not stay in the car – move to the side of the road or somewhere safe.
? Exchange important information with the other driver (name, driver’s license #, insurance information). There is a small kit in the glove box of the car with information on what to do in an accident.
? Make sure you always tell us about any type of accident or damage, no matter how small and regardless of who was at fault.
? You will be required to pay a $250 deductible payment if you have an accident. We may also decide to end or limit your use of the car, depending on the circumstances.

Lisa September 12, 2011 at 1:13 pm

JMHostMom, I wish I had trusted my instincts with my AP about her driving skills! I spent $600 on private instruction to get her up to speed with US road laws and driving my SUV on the streets of Houston. Luckily, she finally got it but was never really a very confident driver so I have limited her driving for personal use. On duty use was never on the HWY and within 5-8 miles a day to school, activities, etc for the week so we managed for several months. What was helpful is that by the time I felt comfortable with her driving in about 2 months, she had already met a lot of friends with their own cars and apartments and they were always willing to come and pick her up.

Two months ago we relocated to a new city and we moved to our temporary home specifically near the public transportation (a 10 minute walk to the nearest metro rail line) so that she could have access without having to use our car. I still don’t trust her driving and she has been with us for 11 months! When we moved here she wanted to use the car more so I would go with her on short trips around the neighborhood, quiz her about the area, ask about what highways she would take, etc and she was still using poor driving habits (never looking over her shoulder changing lanes, not knowing what the speed limit is, once she even missed a right hand turn and swerved the car 2 lanes over to make it!).

We have 4 more weeks to go and I can’t wait until the new AP shows up. Surely I will have a better time the 2nd time around, right??? I mean, it can’t be worse, can it?
With that said, I am also looking for guidelines on how to handle personal use since I’m banking on the fact that with an AP with better driving skills will come all the issues that i put a halt to with an AP who didn’t drive so well.

LuvCheetos September 12, 2011 at 1:14 pm

I think it’s a tough balance — one which we haven’t yet been able to achieve. We want our AP to get out and have fun, so we have very few restrictions on the car. The problem we’ve encountered is that everyone else in our area seems to have VERY TIGHT restrictions on driving, so our AP becomes the de facto AP taxi. We discussed with her how it seems that her friends take advantage of her becuase she always drives (she doesn’t drink so I think that’s another reason they all ask her to drive). She has started requiring her friends to chip in for gas money (and she puts gas in the tank her and there), which at least makes us feel a little better about it.

Our AP also seems to have one friend that lives about 30 minutes away (with traffic), but she always asks before driving over there, which we appreciate.

It seems that we are finding the balance to some extent. With our first AP, it seemed that the driving was more equitably shared with her friends. I think she was friends with APs from different families, though.

DarthaStewart September 12, 2011 at 4:42 pm

It seemed like we achieved balance once we started requiring the au-pairs to pay for their own gas. Before that, it was a free-for-all. It was a night and day difference too. There were a few au-pairs who didn’t take too much advantage, but several of them were driving a LOT of miles, so this put an end to that problem.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 13, 2011 at 7:10 am

We are extremely flexible about car use, as I have stated elsewhere. Some of our APs have driven 200+ miles for a vacation (although now with MegaBus on the East Coast most of my APs have opted for it because it is so much cheaper). In the past, we have required a US driver’s license to go exploring the country in the car (we have a giant metropolitan atlas that is our limit for those who decide not to get the US license), but now our state has changed it’s laws. APs from several countries, including Germany, no longer have to take the road test, but they are required to surrender their home driver’s license (in effect they are being treated like American drivers). No surprise, no one is willing to do that.

We expect that our APs will drive over 100 miles every week. Some APs in our cluster literally live 30 miles from our home, and because our metropolitan area has 16 +/- APIA clusters, not to mention all the other agencies, our APs quickly meet women from other clusters and agencies who are from their country. (I put 200+ miles on our van every week driving kids to various activities that I wish were in our community, but are often in other suburbs.)

Personally, I don’t mind AP’s driving (although they do pay for their own gas), because the more practice the get, the easier it is for them to drive The Camel to doctor’s appointments (where we meet them), and to and from therapy without our feeling like we need to hold our breath. By the end of their stay, when they schlep our son to his summer camps, they are practiced drivers and know the area well.

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