After the Car Accident: Advice on what to talk about with your Au Pair

by cv harquail on September 19, 2008

Fender_Bender_LAs I was working through the possible advice we could offer to MT, the mom whose Au Pair just backed into a BMW, I realized that we need to focus on the really big picture– that is, how to manage the damage that an Au Pair’s car accident can do to your relationship with each other.

As long as no person was physically hurt in the accident, your biggest challenge as a host mom (or Dad) is to find a way to repair your relationship with your Au Pair. I think that car accidents are to Host Mom-Au Pair relationships what funerals and weddings are to families– they are events that have either a negative impact or a positive impact, but never a neutral impact. No matter what the circumstances of the fender-bender, you’re probably going to be ticked off, and she’s probably going to be anxious, apologetic or in denial about the fallout. And, you’ll be faced with the challenge of finding a way to forgive her.

I’m going to proceed with advice for a situation where there has been damage to both a car and a relationship. Keep in mind that before you consider what the damage is to your relationship and whether/how to address that damage, you have to get a lot of other things identified….

#1. Make sure that any legal/police related issues are addressed. Make sure the accident form is filled out, that appropriate information has been exchanged, and confirm whether or not your Au Pair or the other driver(s) involved received any tickets.

#2 Consider consulting with your local Community Counselor– she can help with the conversations, with agency guidelines, with advising you and/or the au pair, and with unfolding and supporting your action plan.

#3.  Decide how to manage the insurance claim and repair process. Who will pay for repairs, how much will be paid, and who will manage all the errands associated with getting the cars repaired?  [I’ll try to get up some advice on that, right after this post.]

Now, move on to the really hard part….

#4.  Investigate and discuss the cause of the accident. Focus on the FACTS of the situation.

girl friving car

You need to know what really happened and your Au Pair needs to tell you about what happened, in a conversation that is about collecting information. You need to separate this conversation — which is all about FACT finding — from the conversation about culpability and responsibility. If you try to talk about facts and fault at the same time, you might directly or indirectly encourage the Au Pair to describe the accident in a way that makes her look less responsible for it.  We all would probably like to think we had less to do with causing an accident that what might really be true– so don’t make it any harder to get the facts by being quick to judge her.

It might help if you and your partner or a friend have this conversation with the Au pair, so that you have another person to help you keep really calm and collected.

You might also need to consult the police officer/report, if there is one, and talk gently with the other driver(s) involved, if there are any, to get more information.

#5. Identify the problem(s) that lead to the accident. Focus on a diagnosis.

— Was she careless, tipsy, too many friends in the car, on the phone, in a hurry? These are problems with unsafe attitude.annoyed woman roadrage

— Is she bad at K turns, a poor judge of distance, unable to modify her driving style for the weather, the terrain? These are problems of driving skill.

— Did she just not know how to respond to a situation? Was she too tentative and scared to respond well? (e.g., made an illegal U turn b/c she missed an exit) These are problems with too little driving experience.

— Was the accident in any way caused by what you asked her to do? (e.g., rush between  a drop-off and a pick up that are scheduled too close together, drive on a highway notorious for accidents). Was the accident in any way facilitated by something about your car? (e.g., bald tires, broken side view mirror, poor alignment, broken headlight). These are problems of your Host Parent system.

— Was the accident caused in any way by other drivers? These are problems that she/you may not control, but to which you must learn how to respond. But they are so varied that we’ll just call them problems you cannot control.

Why does it matter that you figure out what kind of problems lead to the accident? You need to correctly diagnose what caused it, so that you can figure out what to do to prevent another accident and to have both you and your Au Pair learn from this situation.

#6.  Assess the damage to your feelings about your Au Pair. Do you trust her judgement less now? Are you irked about how she is or isn’t accepting reasonability or whether she is taking it seriously? Does she seem disinterested in making changes? You need to get a handle on your emotions and your specific disappointments. You will either have to address these in your action plan or manage them yourself.

#7.  Evaluate your Au Pair’s level and type of responsibility for the accident based on the facts you have gathered.

Wait until after you have identified and assessed your emotions, fears, etc. to evaluate/judge your Au Pair. Car accidents are something nearly every host parent worries about, and they happen to the best of au pairs. Do your best to keep your anger or whatever from clouding your judgement about how much was her fault and how horrible was her contribution to the accident.

#8.  Figure out what you want to change– how you want her to change, how you might change, and how her duties, privileges and expectations might change — to address the root problem(s) that lead to the accident.

If it’s bad attitude: Have a talk with her about responsibility and safety. Consider limiting her driving privileges until she demonstrates a different attitude. If the accident happened when she had the car for personal use, remind her that access to your car is a privilege, not a right.

Consider adding new rules (e.g., no more that 2 passengers, never on a highway, etc.)

If it’s a problem of poor skills or driving experience: Get her driving lessons. Give her driving skill assignments. Quiz her on hypothetical situations and good responses. Be a good role model– be vocal about decisions you are making as you drive that help you drive more safely. Until her skills improve, limit the driving she does with your kids (if you can) AND see if you can find routes & itineraries that are less demanding of the driver (e.g., give her plenty of time to get from here to there).

If it’s a problem of Host Family Systems: See what you can change yourselves. Get the car maintained. Adjust your expectations of how far, how often and how fast she must go in the car. Look over your orientation plan to make sure you teach her what she needs to know about driving in your town. Consider adding or changing guidelines around driving and car use. Prohibit using the cellphone while driving. Make her turn off the music in the car. Whatever it takes.

If it’s problems you can’t control: Do your best with what you can influence and reduce risk where you can.

2 women talking litte #9.  Have another conversation, this time about what needs to change and what needs to be fixed (as per above). Before you start, take a little time to put yourself in a positive and loving frame of mind. Remember you can’t change the past, you can only influence the future… so consider what kind of host mom/person you want to be, what you want from your au pair in this revised relationship, and what kind of model you want to provide for your kids about handling disappointment, anger, and forgiveness. This is a chance for you to be the kind, loving, helpful, firm and fair host mom that you really want to be. Be ready to talk about your feelings and the effect of the accident on your attitude towards her. Keep in mind that her attitude and expectations are being adjusted too– ask her how she’s feeling and what she might want to change.

I wish I had better advice on how to do this. In the meantime, check out the website Conflict Zen. The author, Tammy Lenski, is a professional mediator and has a lovely approach and attitude about how to turn a conflict into a learning opportunity.

#10.  Figure out what you need to do to learn from this situation and to forgive your Au Pair.

Yo, I know that none of this is easy. Every host mom knows that. And it could all just explode, deteriorate, or lead you to give up. This is serious stuff. All of the above is advice off the top of my head– we all make it up as we go along, drawing from our own experience, … doing our best. So do your best. Which of course you will.

More ideas? Please share them in the comments, below….



sunnyvah September 19, 2008 at 4:38 pm

Hi cvh,
I was an au pair (made good and bad experiences aswell :) the ghost of a bad host family can be really threatening too) and I really love your page. It´s just great to see the other side :)

I had a friend who had a car crash (because of snow and bad roads) and I just can say: It was horrible for her. She saw herself already on the way back home… BUT her host family was just great (in general… kind of the family you always want as an au pair). They knew it wasn´t her fault and had some great talk about it.

The accident wasn´t that bad for the car and it was really good for their relationship. They reassured my friend that they still like her, that she´s doing a good job AND: they reassured all the time if she was all right. She never got the feeling that the car is more important than her (I had sometimes the feeling the car was more important than the relationship between the family and me…)

So I know a car accident is always a hard situation, especially as a car is not just a few bucks worth… but it´s possible to get the trust back and to have an even better relationship.

A big hug for MT and her au pair and I hope you can solve this problem!!!


Susann January 30, 2010 at 4:13 pm

I had two situations myself, one scary, one not so scary.
In the not so scary situation I managed to back up one of the cars into the other because theDad parked the one I backed into (au pair car even – I was driving “kids car”) in a really awkward spot on the driveway, where you just couldn’t see it in the other car. Plus, I was very short on time because getting 4 children ready in the morning and drive them two three different places wasn’t easy. I admitted it to the Dad as soon as I got back and saw the damage (God, was I scared!) but he was alright about it. I offered to pay the deductible, but he said the damage wasn’t too bad and they wouldn’t actually repair the car (it had a dent).
The second one was absolutely not my fault, it was very scary and brought me even closer to my host family. There were nails on the motorway and one of them found its way into my wheel. The wheel eventually popped, the car broke out and it was all very scary. For some strange reason, I managed to pull the car over to the side and make sure the baby and I were ok. The baby had fallen alseep literally a minute before the accident happened. We were both ok, the car was slightly damaged (3 wheels left…) and I could NOT get hold of the host parents. One was training for a triathlon in some remote place without phone signal, the other one was at work and not reachable via workphone or cell phone. Emergency contacts out of state, best friends out of state. What to do? This is the most scary part, when you really can’t reach anyone. Please do make sure that your au pair can always reach someone. I eventually managed to get hold of another family friend, she picked us up and we left the car by the road until the Dad later returned. The school of the middle child informed the mother (I had prior informed them that I was unable to pick him up because of the accident and they offered to come and get me) who eventually came home crying, thinking of what could have happened to Baby and me. It did bring us closer together, that’S for sure.
Again, I can’t say how scary it was not to be able to get hold of anyone. Three cop cars passed me, none of them stopped. It’s a foreign country, a foreign language (though at this point I was there 10 months and I spoke very good English even before I came to the States – when you’re scared and crying it is difficult to communicate in another language!). Please make sure you’re au pair can always get hold of someone in case of an emergency – safety does matter!

Anna January 30, 2010 at 9:07 pm

that’s why I provide my au pair with a cell phone and add her to our AAA membership. She can call them from the road and they come and help.

cvh September 19, 2008 at 5:08 pm

Hi Sunny- Thank you so much for adding a comment about the GOOD that can come from a car accident. It offers a great opportunity for everyone to show what she cares about. Not to sound overly gooey or optimistic, but you really can find some good in this situation. Being optimistic and aiming at a good ending is a great way to start!

Iryna December 27, 2008 at 7:15 am

I was an au-pair and I had a car accident. It wasn’t my fault, and my HF is great, so our relationship just got even better.

Edina Stone January 30, 2009 at 12:50 am

Great post on au pairs and driving! Love your photos – they really add to the posts. I just posted a very interesting research study on au pairs and car crashes on my

The study discusses what groups of people are more likely to be at fault in car crashes. Doctors and psychologists rated high but au pairs didn’t. You will be very surprised to read how au pairs did!

JJ host mom February 24, 2011 at 3:08 am

Today our new au pair of three weeks wrecked the car. She rear-ended the car in front of her coming off the freeway because she was looking behind her at the kids. Thank goodness everyone was okay, but the car is probably totaled.

She’s great with the kids, flaky on chores (but it’s only been 3 weeks and it’s hard to tell what’s chronic and what’s just learning) and clearly an inattentive driver.

At this point we’ve offered her the option of her paying for driving lessons and getting her US driver’s license and then we’ll re-evaluate her driving. She’s thinking about it and we’re thinking about it.

I have no idea where to go from here. We just got through a two-month stretch of backup childcare after our last quick rematch and have completely exhausted our children, ourselves, our vacation time, and our backup childcare options. We’ve had one great au pair, two rematches, and now this one. If we rematch we’ll get kicked out of the program and lose about $8K in program costs, plus the cost of increased insurance premiums + new car payments if our car is totaled.

Has anyone been able to make it work with an au pair after an accident? Should we?

My 2 cents February 24, 2011 at 2:09 pm

What is the limit on the re-match rule?? What if she had set fire to your house?

Ugh. What a terrible, terrible ordeal. I have no advice for you. I think what you decided to do sounds like a great plan. She really, really should get that U.S. license if only to make sure she can muster here and your insurer may require it.

hOstCDmom February 24, 2011 at 3:12 pm

Does your contract really stipulate that you will be kicked out of the program?? And lose 8k??? Which agency?? This seems a material situation and legit cause for a rematch.

azmom February 24, 2011 at 3:35 pm

For me, we don’t ‘require’ a driver, so we COULD make it work, but it would make her much less happy.

If you require a driver, I definitely would go higher up in your agency to get an exception to the rule on this kick out. sorry but totally a car 3 weeks in… if you need a driver and she can’t drive (because either she’s unable or unwilling) then it isn’t you or her, but an unfortunate situation. if she can learn to drive better and be more attentive and you’re still comfortable with her (and you don’t need her to drive for the upcoming weeks) then do so…

darthastewart February 24, 2011 at 5:12 pm

I’d be appealing with the agency for a replacement. That’s not cool!

What did you do for backup childcare? There has to be a better option here! I so feel for you.

Taking a Computer Lunch February 24, 2011 at 10:37 pm

AP #5 did not total our car, but she scraped another car because she did not understand how to back out of a pull-in parking space – and the other driver demanded a paint job. Because the damage was not worth repairing on our vehicle, there was no deductible. DH has a pretty tough road test, and after that experience we enrolled in her a 6-hour/3 session evaluation run by off-duty police officers. At the end, the instructor thought she could pass the road portion, but would fail on 3-point turns, parallel parking, etc. We insisted that she enroll in the driving school of her choice and demanded resources from the agency to help pay for them (she paid half). When she didn’t do it, we called a family meeting and invoked the word rematch – and she took 10 lessons. When her driving didn’t improve, I demanded that she practice 6 hours a week and called it part of her work (she was working between 28 and 35 hours a week, so I decided it was well within my 45 hours to add driving). She was accountable for which skills she practiced (our DMV has a package for pre-licensed teens that has a checklist of skills). After four months her driving was passable — and then the snow came — and we had to start all over again once it melted. After six months I stopped reminding her that she needed to get her license, because I had had enough, and used her failure to make that step against her when it became time to extend (among other reasons). She extended with a family that did not permit driving.

Has this AP stepped up in her other deficient areas (the flakiness on chores) since the accident?

As I see it, you have a choice – demand that the agency permit you to rematch on the grounds that she totaled your car WHILE THE KIDS WERE IN IT! If you need her to drive the kids around, then I would press them. If you decide that accident aside, she’s good enough to live with your family, then I would coach her on completing chores and being a good member of your family.

We’ve discussed this elsewhere – this is one area where the agencies fall down. While they use the interview process to assess English-language function (unequally if you ask me – European interviewers are much tougher about language competency than non-European ones), and vet references, they make an assumption that having a driver’s license equals ability to drive. AP #5 proved that some country’s licensing regulations are stricter than others. (I’ve noticed a decided swing back toward European APs in my cluster, probably for that reason.)

Decide what you want and then make demands of the agency. If you’ve not switched back and forth between agencies, then use your loyalty to your advantage.

JJ host mom March 13, 2011 at 12:51 am

We decided to rematch. Our agency worked with us some on the costs but we still ended up losing a hefty amount. Our new au pair (a local au pair transitioning for reasons beyond her control) arrives tomorrow. So far she seems great (but then that’s what I thought about the other two at first…). Our whole family is completely worn out after two back to back rematches that lasted less than a month each. I’m questioning was it me, was it then, can I make the next one work? I really really hope this one works out.

Should be working March 13, 2011 at 11:46 am

Good for you for taking the bull by the horns, sorry for the exhaustion. Please do let us know how things proceed, I’m really curious to see how often rematches work vs. not, and wish the best to you.

Gianna March 13, 2011 at 5:36 pm

How awful – I have heard of aupairs not getting a third family but I have never before heard this rule about a family having a limit on rematches . But it sounds like they gave you an option to take a candidate from their rematch pool . Is that the deal ? That after a certain number of rematches they will only give you a short term candidate ? I am wondering if that is in your contract ( I know it is not in my agencies’ contract – I just looked ). Maybe it is just a decision someone made in the chain of command ? Do other folks have that rule, too ?
Good luck.

Taking a Computer Lunch March 13, 2011 at 7:20 pm

It is my understanding that APIA has a 3-strikes rule. Now, my guess is that it is enforced with difficult families who constantly enter rematch, because just as it costs HF’s money to rematch, it is also a burden on the agencies. I would also guess that long-term HF with good standing might be able to weather a 3-AP year better than others. Personally, if as a HM that has stuck steadfast with one agency for over 10 years, I’d feel in position to put pressure to bear and expect results (fortunately, I’ve never had to go into rematch, although I was sorely tempted once). When there are extenuating circumstances, I would think there is always a way out (and having a non-driving AP have an accident would be one – I would argue).

Gianna March 13, 2011 at 10:22 pm

Thank you for answering that. Every now and then I survey agencies and I will add that question to my list . Suppose you have bad luck a couple of times in a row ?

rob December 22, 2011 at 5:33 pm

Our au pair totaled our car last week and I’m having a hard time with it. Thankfully, nobody was hurt but she should not have been driving in that area with her friends. She is a lovely person and great au pair, so I feel bad that I can’t let go. However, the car was old with low mileage and in perfect condition; I had just put $1,000 into maintenance. The result is that we will have to pay at least $10-12,000 to buy a used car and our insurance rates will go up. In my own view, she or her parents should be partially responsible and should make a contribution towards a replacement vehicle. I have been driving 30 years with a perfect record, so somebody making such a stupid mistake is difficult for me. Moreover, although I think she is a decent driver, I am concerned about my kids driving with her. In short, trust has been broken.

Dorsi December 22, 2011 at 10:58 pm


I would not expect the parents to pay anything. Remember that, while your AP is someone’s daughter, she is an adult. I do not think the parents are legally or morally responsible for her poor driving behavior.

Did you have a $10k car with only liability insurance on it? Or did you have a 2k car and now want to upgrade to a 10k car? We are in the midst of contemplating AP driving (have had 3 non-driving APs) and would probably put her in a high-mileage older $4-5k (at most) car. I think your choice of insurance is relevant; it is part of the hidden cost of your AP is the car/insurance aspect. You saved money by having a liability only policy, probably.

I would be pissed if my AP totaled my car. I feel terrible for you and her. However, I think there is very little financial recompense for it. You can take away privileges, but that is about all….(and collect her portion of deductible — cause you do have that in your handbook, no?)

NoVA Host Mom December 23, 2011 at 12:26 am

Rob, first you need to remember you have kids. That is very impressive you have been crash-free for 30 years, but at some point your kids will also be driving. They will do stupid things, with and without the car. It’s part of growing up. Having an AP sometimes means you have to figure out the parenting of a much older child a whole lot sooner than you had planned. And crashes happen in “good” neighborhoods, too. It’s part of what happens when you let someone else drive other than you. And it’s a hard thing, no question. If you are unsure of her driving skills or decision making while driving, perhaps a driver school refresher might be something you want to have done, just to ensure better choices are made next time, or at least to help you be more comfortable with things.

Our agency is very clear that the AP is responsible only for $500 (the deductible) of the cost when the crash is due to her. Because of that, we carry full coverage on a car that is 10 years old and has over 100K miles on it. Yes, my husband and I use all three cars we own (two for us to go to work and the third for the kids to be transported to school, etc). So, we decided that the basic value of that car is worth the extra each year (plus the $300/annually for the AP to be added to the insurance).

I do feel for you about the cost, but Dorsi is very correct that this “girl” is in fact a legal adult whose parents have no financial obligation here. In fact, other than the $500, neither does she. It’s part of the price we pay to be HP. I also dread having to replace a car (life with no car payments is niiice), but it will happen and I can only hope that no one will be hurt and anything that happens does so without my kids anywhere near the scene.

I think the refresher for driving might make you feel better. Perhaps use some of the deductible payment towards it so that it’s money from both of you. Otherwise, I’d check with your LCC about what, if any, contribution can be given from the agency.

Taking a Computer Lunch December 23, 2011 at 8:06 am

I’m sorry your AP had an accident. I assume from your description that the mistake was hers and not the other driver’s. I agree with the others, accidents happen (now that my typically developing child is closer in age to my APs, I really see how the learning to drive issue is going to play out – it seemed much further away when he was a baby). Our agency makes it clear – you may only ask the AP to pay for the deductible on your insurance. Unless she has been savvy and saving money, she may well need to pay you back over time.

Do you need a driver? If not, suspend the privileges. If so, then ask her to enroll in a driver evaluation course – which will include learning how to react when the other driver is in error. In our community off-duty police officers run a program that includes short-term evaluation.

I do think it is okay to suspend driving for pleasure privileges until the deductible has been paid. I also think that having had an accident in the wrong part of town at the wrong part of night (it happens – that’s where the clubs are – because no one on the right side of town wants to live near them), you may impose a curfew on the car. We had one AP who wanted to drink, so she and her friends took cabs together, which is one solution.

While I would be angry if my AP totaled the “AP car” (which is newer and less of a suburban pin-cushion than the van), the bottom line is I would be far more upset if she was injured or worse, killed, in the process. My guess is that she feels really guilty and is worried that you will send her into rematch. If you’re not considering rematch, then allay her fears and sit down and have a conversation about the next steps.

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