When fault is contested, who pays for damage to the car?

by cv harquail on September 21, 2010

Host Mom Ginger sent us a request for advice, that I’ll share with you in two pieces. The first piece has to do with a disagreement over how to pay for damage to the car the au pair uses:

A host family has accused their au pair of having an accident with the car. She says it wasn’t her. The parents themselves have had two other accidents recently. They are very stressed out about it and, it appears, life in general. They wanted her to pay $500.

The au pair is getting conflicting information. Some have advised her that, t if she really didn’t do it (even unintentionally, like having the car parked) that she should very calmly stand her ground.

The au pair talked with her counselor, who doesn’t seem interested in stepping in to help to solve the problem. The counselor didn’t give the au pair any advice about whether or what she should pay, but has advised the au pair to fix things and stay with the family.

The family offered to ask her for half ($250).

The au pair is asking me what she should do. What do you recommend?

For the sake of simplicity, let’s clarify that the au pair and the host parents both drive the car in question, and that the damage was noticed when the car was at home (so there was no specific accident that anyone knows about that would explain the damage.
Grunge car


This is a tough situation for both the au pair and the host parents. If neither one thinks that they were responsible for damage to the car, then each one thinks the other is trying to take advantage of them. So no matter who ends up paying for the repair, this incident is costing both the host parents and the au pair a good deal of trust and goodwill.

The first issue is how to figure out who ought to pay what for the insurance deductible when the car is repaired. o.. here’s my unofficial opinion…

Car Damage from Unknown Causes (aka Random Damage) and Stationary Damage

Host parents are responsible for Random Damage. In the absence of proof that the damage occurred because of the au pair, the host parents are responsible.

If the damage occurred while the car was parked by the au pair legally and correctly while she was on personal business, it’s up to the host family to pay.

Why?  Anonymous, random, damage that ‘nobody’ caused intentionally is accidental. Thus, it’s the owner’s responsibility.  The host parents are generously providing the car for the au pair to use, the au pair is doing her best to drive responsibly and treat the car with respect, and something happened.   Consider that random damage could just as likely have occurred while you were using it. It isn’t your au pair’s fault, it isn’t your fault, it’s just the cost of doing business.

Consider that, if the fuel pump broke while your au pair was driving the car, you wouldn’t make her pay for that repair, would you? No, it happened due to wear and tear, not carelessness.

Another way to think of it?  If you wouldn’t make your mother-in-law pay the deductible in similar situations, you shouldn’t expect your au pair to pay.

Car Damage When the Car is In Motion

If the car is damaged during an accident ‘in motion’ where no one was clearly at fault or where fault was contested, and the au pair was driving, I’d still think it was up to the host family to pay.

However, if I were the au pair this is where I’d offer to chip in for some of the deductible. In many cases where ‘no one’ was at fault, there is a chance that both parties contributed to the damage. As a manner of good faith, if I were an au pair I’d offer to contribution something to the repair.

Keep in mind, though that what seems like a reasonable amount of money for a deductible is quite a lot for an au pair. For an au pair, the deductible is 2.5 times an entire week’s pocket money– to him or her the deductible is quite expensive. Punitive even. So paying half is a big contribution.

Known, Caused Damage, moving or stationary

On the other hand, for known and caused damage, the au pair is fully responsible for up to the full deductible. (Note, some agencies limit the au pair’s expectation to $250 dollars. Check your agency guidelines.)

Au pairs are responsible to pay for damage to the car when the au pair has caused that damage. If she was driving and hit someone, or parked illegally or improperly and was sideswiped by someone else, the deductible would be her fault.

Now, given that in this situation it is not clear whether the au pair was responsible or not—

If we were able to advise the host parents themselves, I’d tell them to pay the deductible, get the car repaired, and not hold it against the au pair.

If we can only advise the au pair, I’d tell her or him to invite the counselor into the conversation, and to sit down with the family to talk.

S/he should be prepared not only to talk about the questions of responsibility for damage and payment, but also about how the trust issues that have been raised by this disagreement should be resolved.

The real issue here is not damage to the car, but damage to the host parent-au pair relationship.

I have more thoughts on this, but I’ll hold them for now while we open this up for comments from our wise community…

What would you advise this au pair to do?


Mom23 September 21, 2010 at 5:00 pm

I agree with CV. If the car sustained damaged and no one knows who was at fault, then I think it is up to the host parents to pay for the damage.

We have never asked our au pairs to pay for damage to our car. Our car has gotten several dents from various au pairs, both on and off duty and we have never asked that the au pair compensate us for the damage.

I think that the au pair should schedule a meeting after the children are asleep and talk with the host parents about what happened. Maybe print out some of the posts from this site.

JBLV September 21, 2010 at 5:35 pm

I’m not sure I agree with the fuel pump analogy and the “normal wear and tear” argument. If an au pair parked the host car safely and legally, and a careless parallel parker caused damage to it, I think it reasonable that the au pair be expected to pay for part of the repair or deductible because the au pair should have a sense of responsibility for something as important and expensive as a car in her care. Use of a car by the au pair is not part of the au pair contract. It’s an extra. And to be clear, this expectation should be enumerated in the family handbook that is given to the au pair before matching. Accidental damage to a car, regardless of fault, is not normal wear and tear. A fan belt that breaks, however, is part of the normal wear and tear on a car.

With regards to this specific case about the au pair being blamed for damage to the car that could have been caused by the host parents… well, that’s just strange. If the au pair knows she didn’t cause the damage, she should refuse to pay. However, she should be prepared to then have angry host parents who want a rematch. If the au pair also wants a rematch, then there is little to advise.

Gianna September 21, 2010 at 8:38 pm

I am wondering why the LCC doesn’t want to help out in this situation and I am going to give her the kindest possible interpretation and guess that she doesn’t know what the agency policy is in this situation and doesn’t want to get involved in what could be a confrontational situation. Assuming that, I would contact the national headquarters and ask for a written explanation of how responsibility is determined. I would not give any particulars ; I would just ask for a written explanation. It may be in your contract but then again, the contract might be ambiguous. I would sit down with the contract or written explanation and figure out how it is applicable to this situation. I do not know from whom the aupair is receiving advise. Her friends ? Her own parents ? Other aupairs ? Other host parents ? The aupair may be receiving direction from folks who have no idea of the host parent obligations. Once you know what your contractual obligations are , you can make a decision without concern that someone will second guess you. For instance, if a host family does not wish to involve their insurance, I am wondering if an aupair can insist on it. I am thinking of a minor scratch to a neighbor’s parked car a few years ago and an aupair who said to me ” that is what insurance is for “. In retrospect, I realize that this was a cultural difference; at the time , I was very put off by what seemed to me a cavalier attitude

KM September 21, 2010 at 9:04 pm

Am inclined to agree with JBLV. Use of the car is a privilege. Given there is no way to prove how, when, where or why the damage occurred, this is the kind of responsibility one takes on when using a host family’s car. The car rental companies charge for dents. They see dents, they charge. Doesn’t matter who caused the dent or if it occurred while parked. The driver is still responsible.

The au pair may be out $250, but he or she needs to understand the host family’s insurance is likely to increase. This increase continues long after the au pair has completed his or her program. The au pair could opt to pay $50 per week toward the deductible. The family is being reasonable by asking for $250. This is a life lesson for the au pair. Sometimes life is not fair. Sometimes we park in the wrong spot.

Host families pay for the au pair’s ticket to the U.S., pay for the workshop plus meals and lodging, pay for the au pair’s medical insurance, pay for $500 toward education, pay for the auto insurance, pays for the car maintenance and more. By comparison, $250 tuition to the school of life’s lessons is not so bad.

First Time HP September 23, 2010 at 2:41 pm

Maybe I misread the story but it doesn’t seem to point to whether the AP had the car when the accident occurred. Given that the HP has had 2 accident with the car it seems they use it as well and its just as likely they had it when it was hit. Based on this I wouldn’t have the AP pick up the cost as it would be significant percentage of her pay for something she might have nothing to do with. I agree that APs have to act responsibly but the same goes for HP as well, this is your car and although its frustrating to have to pay for something that wasn’t your fault that’s life. I think unless it was the APs fault I wouldnt’ make her/him pay.

PA AP mom September 21, 2010 at 9:28 pm

This becomes a much bigger issue than just the car or the deductible.

If the parents pay, they may feel resentful. If the au pair pays, she feels that the parents don’t trust her.

Tough situation.

MTR September 21, 2010 at 9:48 pm

I don’t see how this may become an issue of trust. To me this is an issue of an adult taking responsibility for his or her actions. Au pairs are adults. If they chose to fly half way across the world, to live in a country they’ve never been to, with a family they don’t know, hold a full time plus job (45 hours/week), and take care of children, then they are adults in my book, even they just turned 18 yesterday. As they say, when in Rome… If you claiming to be an adult (i.e. you became an au pair) then behave as such and take responsibility. No family has to provide a car for an au pair’s personal use. If an au pair was given such priviledge, the right thing for adult to do is to offer to pay for damages.

On the other hand, I think it is family’s prerogative to refuse and cover the costs of the repair (provided it is not a hardship), or work out a payment plan with an au pair, what ever. You would be surprise for how many families in this economy unforseen $250 expenses would be hardship, so I would hope that au pair would not just assume that hosts can just magicaly come up with cash.

This is a good situation for both parties, au pair and hosts, to show maturity, problem solving skills, and communication skills.

PA AP mom September 21, 2010 at 11:16 pm

I am not saying driving isn’t a priviledge. I definitely think it is.

I just think that if the au pair said she didn’t do it and the family still has her pay that she will feel that they don’t think she is telling the truth. Maybe that’s not the case at all, but I think it would be easy for the AP to feel that way.

Our first AP had three accidents. All 3 were her fault but she had the kids in the car for the first. We paid the deductible for 2 of the 3 that were “accidents”. The one where we felt she was careless, we had her pay. It was $500 but we made her pay $325.

In this situation I personally feel that splitting the cost might be the best way to go.

Taking a Computer Lunch September 21, 2010 at 10:28 pm

Personally, I think the issue of trust/non-trust is not as relevant as the issue of how the HF feels about the appearance of their vehicle.

In my opinion, if the HF feels that their vehicle must look pristine and impeccable at all times, then they should pay. If the vehicle is not functional without body work, then, in my opinion, the AP should pay the deductible or split the cost with the HF. Driving and parking always come with some percentage of risk. I’ll give you a for-instance. I used to live on a side-street that served as a short-cut when the main roads got busy. My landlord did not provide off-street parking. It was hit twice while parked in front of our apartment house, once by a drunk driver who rear-ended at a high enough speed to push it into the middle of the road (how we came to know he was drunk is another story) and another time by a non-licensed car owner who did not navigate a turn and plowed into the driver-side door. Bad luck. DH and I decided not to repair the damage. Our ability to drive or lock the car was not affected (we continue to have this attitude – so our minivan looks like it’s been in a suburban war zone). [We also learned, when AP #5 scraped another car backing out of a parking space that our company has no deductible for claims on other vehicles – just ours, and I was explicit to our insurance agent that another scratch on our car didn’t matter.]

So, if you haven’t thought this through before, now is the time. Do you care what your vehicle looks like? If it’s really important to you, then maybe you should considering modifying your au pair handbook for the next au pair. “The appearance of our vehicle is important to us…” and decide what your policy is. Personally, my first question to my AP would be “Are you all right?”

I must add, that despite DH and my attitude that the AP vehicle still looks pristine – the APs truly care about it and my handbook says that if it is damaged beyond repair we are unlikely to be able to afford to replace it. Only one of them affected the appearance of the minivan (AP #5), DH and I did the rest.

Chev September 22, 2010 at 1:04 am

I think that whether the AP should be paying for some or all of it depends on when the damage occurred. It may change depending on company but with mine the AP doesn’t have to pay if it was during work duties only if she was using the car for personal reasons during her off time.
I think that trust is a big part of this as the AP is saying one thing and the HP’s aren’t believing her and i wonder if there’s a history of lying or not truthfully sharing everything between the AP and HF.
Since the LCC isn’t being helpful the AP or HF should be talking to their area director for advice or suggestions or the companies policy on who pays for what when.
I think if the AP was at fault and it was damaged during her personal time then she should definitely help pay the deductible.

KM – i think it depends on which company you’re with to what the HF pays – I paid for my flights to and from the US – my HF paid for the flight from training school to their city. I also paid for my health insurance.

Should be working September 22, 2010 at 1:12 am

I agree with CV and disagree with some of the posters here. The HPs own the car, they offer to let the AP use it (hence the risk is theirs as least as much as it is the APs), AND it is unclear on whose watch the dent happened. So they pay for repair.

cv harquail September 22, 2010 at 1:23 pm

Keep in mind that the host parents also drive the car– so it could just as easily have been dented when the car was being used by them. It’s not a situation where the au pair is denying responsibility for something that *obviously happened on her watch. Both could have been responsble; neither one believes herself to be responsible.

NorthCountySDHostMom September 22, 2010 at 4:08 pm

I agree with you here, CV. There is absolutely a chance that it happened while it was under the host parent’s care, too. As a commercial property manager by trade, I have been put in situations by tenants where they KNEW that something occurred with their car in my parking lot (once it was damage, another time it was fuel siphoning), when in fact it DID NOT happen in my lot. In both cases, the tenants were parked in direct view of security cameras and when I went back and viewed the tapes for the entire time periods in question, I was able to difinitively determine that there was absolutely zero possiblity of it happening on my property. Upon viewing the tapes, they had to agree that they were mistaken & it had to have happened elsewhere.

As much as we all think that we know exactly what happens to our cars when we’re driving/parking them, unless your eyes are on them the entire time, you never know. In the case of the tenant that thought that another car hit her, she swore up and down that it could have only happened in my lot (she’d not driven anywhere else) on that particular day. Thank goodness that I had the cameras to prove that it happened someplace else…

Back to the family in question, they had recently had two other accidents, so my guess is that it’s not too far of a stretch for them to be in another accident or parked where someone could’ve hit them and then not noticed until another day, since they are (per the description) stressed & probably preoccupied with these stressors. I’m sure the last thing they want to do is take any responsibilty for further car accidents that they may have contributed to. If I were their au pair and had not been in an accident but was being accused of it, I’d probably start looking into rematch, since it’s obvious that trust is now an issue.

As far as payment is concerned, it would be nice for it to be 50/50, but if it were me as the HP & my AP swore up and down that it didn’t happen while she was driving the car (and I trusted her), I would pay the entire deductible myself. These are year-long relationships and I’d rather pay the deductible, than have my AP feel like I’m putting payment of this issue above her feelings. If I were the AP & I had any level of unsureness as to whether or not the damage could’ve occurred when I had the car, I’d offer to pay 1/2.

I also agree with others that it’s too bad that the LCC/Counselor is not getting involved. This is exactly the type of situation where a mediator would be helpful! A call to the main office is definitely in order.

calif mom September 26, 2010 at 10:12 pm

I would posit that body damage IS indeed “wear and tear” by definition. You can’t expect any car to remain undented–unless you’re someone with lots of cars and lots of garages, and you only park in the farthest row in a parking lot, and you never drive if there is a drop of moisture on the pavement. (And if these stipulations are met, it’s not too far of a stretch to also posit that you’re probably male, and definitely over 50. Just saying….)

Car dings happen, no matter who’s driving.

And hit-and-runs happen, too, which seems to be the case here. It sucks. It sucks for HF and AP.

But it’s not AP’s responsibility to pay a huge chunk of her annual income just because it sucks and there are losers in the world who don’t leave notes after they run into your car. I’m sorry, but we don’t even know when the damage happened!

I would not expect or ask an AP to pay in this situation (assuming that she is telling the truth, because I believe in such things).

Mumsy September 22, 2010 at 9:52 am

I guess it all boils down to a difference in values. I believe that if you borrow something and something happens to it when it is in your care, you should offer to pay for at least some of the damage. This is the right thing to do. I recognize that a difference in values may present another perspective.

PerfectHostMom September 22, 2010 at 12:56 pm

I agree with Mumsy. Our au pair recently sideswiped our garage wall (very clear by the paint left on the garage stones), and she told us she didn’t hear anything or realize she was scraping the car along the garage wall (which is itself a tad scary considering the magnitude of the damage). Because she was the only one who had driven the car over the weekend, she acknowledged that it was “probably” her fault, and she offered to pay. Even though the damage was most likely a result of her cluelessness (trust me on this one), we probably won’t make her pay for the entire deductible, in recognition of the fact that she is doing the right thing. We did tell her that her ability to use the car on personal time is directly related to her record of safe and careful use of the car.
And I don’t think it has anything to do with HFs caring too much about the appearance of their vehicles. Even though it’s our ten-year-old family wagon, we might want or need to sell the car at some point, and I don’t want it banged up. Also, we live in a cold climate where the roads are salted all winter, and I don’t want rust all over because there are scratches on the body. The point is that the car should remain in about the same condition as when the au pair leaves as when she arrived.

Deb Schwarz September 22, 2010 at 7:47 pm

IMO, host family pays since it’s not clear when the damage occurred. BTW – Cultural Care has a rule that if the au pair damages a car while off duty, then they must pay up to $500 of the deductible. If they are “on duty” then they don’t have to pay anything. I was not pleased when our au pair texted and had an accident “on duty” with kids in the car – and didn’t have to pay a dime – but a rule is a rule.

MTR September 22, 2010 at 9:20 pm

Deb, I am so sorry to hear this. I would have been livid if my au pair did that. Texting while driving with children in the car is completely unacceptable. It is in my handbook that there should be no talking or texting on the phone while car is in motion. My au pair always hands the phone to my older kid and my kid answers the phone, if I am calling while they are driving.

Do you mind me asking what were the consequences (other than you fixing the car on your own dime) to your au pair’s action? Is driving an essential part of your au pairs duties? For us, it would be a scary situation. My au pair drives my children every single day. It is essential that she should be a safe driver. If I had an au pair that was not safe driver, I would’ve had a huge problem on my hands.

Taking a Computer Lunchs September 22, 2010 at 10:18 pm

Personally, if my AP texted with my kids in the car and had an accident, I would be in rematch so fast it would make her head spin. The Camel has a life-threatening disease that requires her to have an intramuscular injection if she is injured or unconscious. More importantly, I don’t want my typically developing child to think it’s appropriate – he’s already paying attention to driving and commenting on it. My handbook makes it clear that the phone is not to be used when the car is in motion (I’m not stupid – I know it is – but if there is an accident I can immediately look at the phone log and determine if its use played a role in the accident).

MTR September 22, 2010 at 11:21 pm


I completely agree with you regarding the need for rematch. That is why I asked Deb what she did. I was curious. Also, if driving is not an essential au pair task for her, then may be her AP just stopped driving kids, or lost her car privileges.

For me, those would not be feasible options. My AP drives my kids every single day. If I were ever put in the position where I cannot trust my AP to drive my kids and/or my car, then it will be a rematch. It would not be feasible for us to have an AP without car privileges. But that is not a case for other families.

Should be working September 23, 2010 at 4:30 am

Our handbook says that texting or talking on the phone while the car is in gear (i.e. not safely parked or on the side of the road) is grounds for immediate rematch. (Recently I also added “and picking up hitchhikers”–guess why!) I also tell my kids to tattle on the AP for this, and tell the AP that the kids know to tattle because I consider it important. When the AP calls me and it sounds like she is in the car, I always ask, “Where are you?” and she answers “Pulled over on x street.” And when she calls me and I’m in the car, I ostentatiously say, “Sorry it took a minute to answer, I had to pull over first.”

Deb Schwarz September 23, 2010 at 10:39 am

Hello all – yes, driving is essential (I don’t have an au pair right now and I’m worn out!). In the case of my “texter” (she said she was messing around with the GPS but I suspected that she was texting – checked the phone log but couldn’t tell for sure as I didn’t know the exact time of the accident) – we sat her down and told her under no uncertain terms that she should be doing nothing but driving and instituted the “hand the phone to the kids to answer” and our kids also policed her on this. We paid the $500 deductible and I resented the heck out of her for the month that was left on her year. (her friend had an accident on duty that was clearly her fault and paid so that annoyed me that she didn’t). The really unnerving part was that the AutoBody shop called me when the car was done (I sent her to pick it up) – and they called me to say that she forgot the paperwork. When I told him what had happened he said that she had left the parking lot with her cellphone and GPS in her lap. What a piece of work!

Melissa September 22, 2010 at 8:55 pm

In this case, since the au pair said she did not damage the car and it is not clear that she did, it doesn’t seem fair to require her to pay anything. If the family thinks that she is not being honest based on other experiences, then that seems to be a separate issue that should be addressed.
Regarding car damage in general, I don’t really see any distinction between whether the AP was ‘at fault’ or whether it was ‘accidental’, as CV mentions in the original post. Unless we are not responsible for the deductible at all, such as if the other driver was determined at fault and the other insurance company picks up the deductible (in which case I wouldn’t require the AP to pay, of course), I think the AP should at least pay part of it, depending on the circumstances. Not to be mean, but just because she was not parked illegally or being negligent doesn’t mean to me that she should not have any responsibility for the damage. If damage occurred while I had the car, I have to pay the deductible, even if it’s not my fault.
However, I might be flexible, depending on the circumstances. If our AP who drove a reasonable amount and never abused the car priviledge, and was a very good driver, damaged the car, I would probably pay for most of the deductible. However, our AP who was constantly driving all over the place and putting tons of miles on the car would probably have to pay all or most of the deductible. We have a car that is exclusively for the APs use and how much she chooses to use it and where she chooses to go can have an impact on the likelihood of it getting damaged. E.g., we live in a surburban area where parking on the street is pretty safe. However, if she chooses to frequently go into the city and park on busy streets and in front of bars, etc, there is a much higher possiblity for dings and such, in my mind.
I see this as very different than regular wear and tear on a car, which we of course pay for. I think having an AP contribute financially if she is involved in damaging it, and also having her participate in the maintenance of it (going with me to get it serviced, making her be responsible for telling me when the oil needs to be checked, etc), are all ways to send the message that car use comes with responsibility and help avoid the entitlement trap.

annon September 23, 2010 at 2:57 pm

I wouldn’t totally agree as the AP doesn’t own the car, its the HP asset they own it and that’s why they have insurance. I think to say its my car, and my rules but if something happens we should split the costs evenly isn’t fair. If you let the AP use the car with an understanding that she treats it with respect and she does this and someone hits it when its parked legally then its not her fault. By that logic what if she parked it in the driveway of your home and someone came over the curb and hit it and took off, should she be responsible for that?

Melissa September 24, 2010 at 4:31 pm

Thanks for your comments. Just to clarify, we’re talking about the cost of the insurance deductible (usually $250 or $500), not how much it will cost to repair the damage to the car (which can be in the $1000s). So you’re right, all HFs have insurance and most insurance policies will cover the cost of the damage, after the deductible is paid (although some car owners do not have collision insurance, which means the insurance company will not cover damage or replacement costs). And you’re right that it is the HFs asset (although it is a depreciating asset, unlike a home or other investment) and therefore we pay for the purchase of the car, the annual insurance and all maintainence costs. However, I feel its reasonable for an AP (or other adult living in my household) to compensate for any damage they cause, whether it be a car or a crystal vase. That’s the tradeoff for being allowing to use someone else’s property. I may not require them to pay the full amount (again, of the deductible), but I think it should be their responsibility to at least offer and expect to contribute to it. One of our APs got into a minor accident (her fault, she turned right into another car) – we asked her to pay $150 and we paid the remaining $350, as well as absorbed the increase in our monthly insurance premiums. HD thought I was being too nice and that she should have paid the entire deductible, particularly when she started complaining that she had to take the bus to class for a few weeks while it was being fixed. Another AP parked illegally and the car was towed. We paid 1/2 of the $250 towing charge and $50 parking fee and she paid the other half.

I’m not as concerned with ‘fault’ because I think good drivers and good, responsible, trustworthy APs can sometimes have mishaps, just like the rest of us, and I don’t want to put myself into the position of judging how ‘wrong’ they were in a given situation (unless it’s obvious negligence, like texting or drinking). Our AP who got the car towed was an amazing, smart, responsible, mature young women who never abused the car and was an excellent driver. We allowed her to take the car everywhere, including weekend trips to Las Vegas 4 hours away (we’re in LA). She just was not familiar with our parking signs and accidentally parked in the wrong place. I don’t think just because she was ‘at fault’ she should automatically have to pay the whole cost, just like I don’t think she should have had to pay nothing if the car got dinged while she was parked legally on Sunset Blvd. Regarding the car in the driveway example, no, I don’t think we’d require the AP to pay the deductible, but I think that’s a bit of an extreme example. However, my insurance company would still require us to pay the deductible, regardless of the fact that it was parked in our driveway and someone else hit it.

Anne Marie Segal September 22, 2010 at 9:37 pm

Hi CV, great post. I’m glad you brought up the issue of trust, because I agree that this and the other emotional aspects are to some extent more important than the actual money. Here money is a way of “keeping score” about who is right or wrong or has the power in the relationship, although I also agree with some of your readers who said that the dollars themselves could be hardship for the family or AP.

From the AP’s perspective, she is probably worried that if she doesn’t agree to pay, it will be very uncomfortable to continue living with the family (or they may even kick her out.) From the family’s perspective, I guess they feel like she is cheating them somehow if she doesn’t pay and they really believe it is her fault.

JBLV September 24, 2010 at 2:49 am

“Here money is a way of ‘keeping score’ about who is right or wrong or has the power in the relationship, although I also agree with some of your readers who said that the dollars themselves could be hardship for the family or AP. ”

I think this is a very revealing point about our attitudes toward car damage. In other words, does one’s level of income determine what our host-car policies are? I think we should refrain from assuming that money in this case is a means of control when it could be that this host family simply doesn’t have the resources to fix the car. Most of the host parents in my cluster are medical doctors who need AP’s because they have very strange working schedules and long days. There is even a host family that consists of a CEO of a major company. The doctors and CEO’s are able to take their AP’s on frequent and exotic vacations, provide them with entrance fees to clubs and concerts, and provide large, expensive cars for personal transportation. My husband and I are on the other end of that spectrum. As are the firefighters who are also host parents in our cluster. I think it is best not to assume that the host parents in this scenario are “keeping score.” Not every host family consists of medical doctors and lawyers.

My husband and I would probably cover the costs of repairing our car if it was caused by a careless driver while our AP had it parked somewhere in the city. This is because we have a great deal of respect and affection for our AP, but it would be a financial hardship for us if the damage was extensive. I think we would be inclined to pull back on some car privileges in the future, and my husband in particular would be inclined to think that trips that are not totally necessary should be avoided.

Au Pair Ashley September 23, 2010 at 2:09 pm

I just had to comment on this when I saw all of the “No phone use during driving” rules. I am currently an au pair in Europe and I WISH I had that rule. Let me tell you how my morning last Friday ended in tears:

Preface: I am an American girl (have been an au pair for two-and-a-half weeks) and am still getting used to street signs and European driving (roundabouts, tons of one-way streets, street signs in a language I don’t speak, TINY sixteenth century roads, two-lane highways, etc.) Another side note: I don’t think my HM likes me. Her tone is frequently exasperated when I ask her a question, which I seldom do, almost as if talking to me about what the day’s schedule is a chore to be endured. Okay, here is what happened…

HM told me to I needed to drop off the au pair car at the garage after driving the kids to school and walk back into the center of town (about a ten minute walk). I asked her for directions and she gave me a few vague details (it’s by such and such place, past such and such place) as to how to get there. I told I would call her if I couldn’t find the way. Needless to say, I got lost while driving there and called her. She repeated the same directions as before. I explained that I wasn’t sure how to get there and asked if I could stop by my apartment (I don’t live with the family, they have an apartment for their au pair) and Google directions. To this she vehemently replied, “No! You must get it there in time for the repairs to be made so you can have it back before you need to pick up the kids from school). When I called her back five minutes later, still lost, for more specific directions and took the wrong turn off of one of the roundabouts, she yelled “This is not where you are supposed to be!” and hung up on me. To make matters worse, I was still getting used to driving a manual car. I have never felt more stress and anxiety than I did at that moment, fumbling with gears, searching where to go, and being hung up on. Finally, in tears, I pulled over and asked someone for directions. (This person didn’t speak English but motioned toward the right direction, where I had to pull over again, ask someone else, and miracle upon miracle, I made it.)

However, I made it in tears. I literally screamed with frustration at one point. My HM has lived in this city for twenty-plus years and cannot fathom how I need directions when “it seems so easy” to her. I wish my HM had the “no phone while driving” rule, mainly because it would show some sort of concern for my personal safety, nonetheless the safety of her kids! (I don’t text while driving, with or without someone’s rule.) I also wish my HM realized I don’t know anyone in this city, nor do I speak the language, and am on a different continent from my family/friends….so it would be great if any interest was taken in treating me with a bit more warmth.

…Just my two cents. Also, on the issue of paying for car damages. I don’t have any money besides my weekly stipend, but if there was ever an accident, on or off-duty, I would be absolutely more than willing, (in fact I would insist), on figuring out a payment plan for me to pay them back. I’ve actually thought of this already and am hoping they have me insured to drive their car. Perhaps I should casually ask if I am on their insurance, “in case I get pulled over.”

Aupairgal September 23, 2010 at 2:19 pm

May I ask what country you are in?

Au Pair Ashley September 23, 2010 at 2:27 pm

I’d prefer not to say, in case my HM reads this site.

Au Pair Ashley September 23, 2010 at 4:06 pm

I just want to say, for the record, that my HM and HD are very nice people. I was simply referring to a general aloof quality my HM has. Perhaps I am simply used to more gregarious and warm-fuzzy American people, and am misinterpreting what seems rather cool and distant as dislike.

My 2 cents September 24, 2010 at 2:19 pm

Hi Ashley. OBO of host parents everywhere, I want to say I’m sorry for how your HM is treating you. That’s just not right.

IMHO you need to tell her or enter into a discussion that makes her realize that the way she speaks to you and her body language makes you feel as if you are always doing something wrong, not smart enough, and are just generally and overall disappointment to her. You may want to approach it by asking questions such as what did you expect me to do when I was lost driving the car? Was it wrong to call you? Who should I call should I ever get lost again and I’m not to call you? What if I was with the kids? Who do I call then? Should I leave them in the car and go inside someplace and ask for directions? Should we all get out of the car and risk being late for something? When you hung up on me that told me you were angry and didn’t want to help me. Do you not want me to tell you how the kids’ day went? When I have questions, who do I ask, because when I ask you it seems I’m bothering you and I should know better? Just generally ask questions that make her realize what a jacka$$ she really has been. If she doesn’t apologize or at least recognize she should have behaved differently, then you need to rethink your entire stay IMHO.

I realize this would be a very scary thing to do. But, IMHO, this lady needs to be taken down a notch or you need to leave and find someone better.

Host Mommy Dearest September 24, 2010 at 12:12 am

Regarding the original post, I’m not sure what to advise the AP to do, but I know what I would do as a host parent because we just this month had a similar situation, except there was no question the damage occurred when our AP had the car. My DH & I pulled into the garage next to the car she was driving and there was a long scratch with part of the scratched area dented. My first thought was I hope she tells us about it and we don’t need to ask her. DH looked disgruntled… She did talk to us about it soon after we got home and she said she didn’t know what happened, someone must have hit the car while it was parked, but that she believes the car is her responsibility when she is borrowing it so she wants to help fix it. We told her we believe her, that we of course are not happy about damage to the car, but it’s not her fault and we will get over it. We told her that we would not fix that damage if it happened while we were driving (parked), so we would not pursue a fix for that damage incurred while she was driving (parked).

Some people mentioned trust, and I do think HF response to this sort of situation is totally impacted by trust. Admittedly, if this happened with a AP I did not trust, I would wonder if she side-swiped something and just didn’t want to deal with any consequences. It would affect my attitude toward the situation, even if the end result/handling were the same.

TACL mentioned not needing a car to look pristine, but it is not entirely as cut and dry as function over fashion when you are dealing with a quickly depreciating asset that depreciates even faster with each ding and scratch. It is also about feeling like your AP truly respects your property and appreciates the responsibility of driving your vehicle. I believe the more banged-up the car gets the less of a big deal it will be in the AP’s eyes to add some scratches and dings.

One last thing – if this AP thinks there is any chance the damage occurred while she had the car, I do think it would help with HF-AP relations for her to say that if that is possible, she is willing to share some of the responsibility.

ausap September 24, 2010 at 1:00 am

I had a tiny bit similar situation last week. The car that only gets driven when someone is driving the kids had the side front bumper popped out a little, no scratches or anything, it was just popped out. My HD noticed it on the way out and asked me about it and i hadn’t noticed it until he pointed it out. So we don’t know when or how it happened. His theory is that it happened while crunching a parking space barrier or coming out of the driveway. I’d used the car the last 3 times that week but they’d used it all weekend and since it wasn’t noticed until the end of the week i can’t say for sure that i did it or that they did it. Chances are it was me and i crunched it on the driveway cos i didn’t park in any spaces with barriers. My companies policy it that if damage occurs during work time the ap doesn’t have to pay. They went out saturday and when they came back the bumper had been popped back in. I don’t know whether they did it themselves or paid someone else to fix it. My hm has been away all week and i’ve been working long hours and as soon as my hd comes home i’ve been going straight to my room to wind down so i haven’t had a chance to talk to them about it.
How do i ask them about it now, almost a week later?
I’ve been with them a long time and we’ve always had a great relationship and i don’t want to say the wrong thing or make them think i don’t care about their property by not saying anything. Things have been a bit weird with my hm for the past few weeks and i dont’ know how much of that is me being tired b/c i’ve been working crazy and taking things too personally or her being stressed at work and being tired and reacting differently or if it’s a ‘end of the year winding down, distancing herself’ thing. If everything had been the same as it had been all year i’d have asked them about it when they got home saturday but since things have been weird/strained i just wanted to give them space and take my own over the weekend.
So how do i broach it now and even though it’s not company policy and i so can’t afford it do i offer to pay? Advice would be greatly appreciated please.

A September 25, 2010 at 9:29 am

A lot of posters here seem to posting with the logic that if the AP gets into some kind of accident, she should be responsible, or at the very least OFFER to pay for some or all of the deductible, which makes perfect sense… but isn’t the issue in the original post the fact that both parties deny the damage was caused by them and that in fact nobody really knows who did it? In that case, I don’t think it’s appropriate for the AP to pay or even offer to pay; I certainly wouldn’t, if I were sure that I hadn’t caused the damage.

Host Mommy Dearest September 25, 2010 at 8:29 pm

If both the HF & AP are sure that it wasn’t their/her damage, we all know that one party is probably wrong, and each thinks they are right. I do think the HF should either pay or choose not to fix the damage, but the true damage here is to the AP-HF relationship.

Gianna September 25, 2010 at 11:44 am

If an insurance company could not determine liability in the absence of
1. police report and/or 2. objective witnesses , they would gleefully decline to pay anyone and move on. Police reports often make no determination as to liability.
The owner could choose to leave the car unrepaired, pay for the total repairs or fix the car ( if it had collison ) and pay the deductible. Even if you saw a neighbor scratch your car, without proof you would be stuck. From this point of view, I would say that the aupair should not have to pay for it solely because there is no proof. But the poster who said this is an issue of trust is right on target. The family could retaliate by withdrawing recreational use of the car and the aupair could ask for a rematch on the basis the she is being unfairly accused and coercised into paying money. A clueless LCC will probably make things worse and apparantly, she has already taken sides. I agree that the agency should make a policy decision. At the very least, they could issue a written statement laying out their policy.

Anne Marie Segal September 27, 2010 at 3:32 pm

Hi, I just wanted to step back in about my “money is a way of keeping score” comment above. I have seen many families in my area of the country (where there are many, many au pairs) who have turned situations like these into a power struggle. They use these interactions as a way to vent frustration about other aspects of the au pair relationship or life in general (as CV said, the family has had two other accidents and appears stressed out already). It is unfortunate, because the au pair almost always loses, and it is usually because the host family doesn’t have control of their lives to begin with. JBLV is right that, thankfully, this is not representative of all families. Yet I assume those families are not ones who would be placing the blame with the au pair (without proof) in the first instance.

LuvCheetos August 11, 2011 at 9:47 am

This may be a little OT, but when is bad driving cause for rematch? In the 3 months she has been here, our AP has gotten stopped for running s stop sign (police officer let her off), rear ended another car (no damage so other driver didn’t take her name), and hit a car backing our of a parking space causing not insignificant damage to the other car (we’re making an insurance claim now — and we’re paying the deductible). To her defense, it’s a big car and we live in a heavily congested area of the country, but it does seem like an awful lot to me.

Do I wait until she actually injures someone or pull the plug now? Driving is essential to her duties but we are also very liberal with car use in her personal time. We no longer let her listen to the radio when driving because it’s too distracting and she has it too loud (she seems to be respecting this). I think she’s trying and I get it that it’s hard to come to a new country and find your way around, etc. My only concerns are that either someone will be injured and that I can’t afford for my insurance to keep going up as she gets in all of these accidents (so far only one has been reported and it was relatively minor).


HRHM August 11, 2011 at 11:38 am

I think you may already be there. For us (as for you) driving was an absolute need. If it was my AP I would be at the point of not trusting her with my kids in the car.

Has she started on trying to get her license? If you aren’t ready to rematch, I would pull back her personal use (limited to classes and cluster meetings) and tell her she’ll get it back when she a) gets her license and b) goes x-period of time without ticket/accident. You could also require her to take driving classes at her own expense.

Unfortunately, these are young girls and regardless of how long they have their license back home, very few countries are car cultures to the degree that the US is and so they have less experience than your average American teen. You also have to be concerned that her judgement is not the greatest (distracted by loud music to the point of getting in accidents?) in general.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 11, 2011 at 5:27 pm

While so far nothing big has happened, it’s a red flag that she’s not focusing well. Time to have a chat and give a rematch warning. Personally, I would push her to take some driving lessons (3 strikes after all) if she wants to remain with your family. Do you need a driver? If not, suspend her privileges until she gets a U.S. license? (One family near me does not permit personal driving until the AP obtains her US license, but does permit her to drive the kids around.)

In my city we have a program where off-duty police officers provide driving instruction. While most of it is aimed at high school learners, we found with one AP whose skillls were not up to snuff that the 6-hours of driving gave us a good idea of where her skills lay, and scared her into obeying U.S. laws (instead of behaving as if she were at home).

Of course you may be inclined to feel sympathetic about the steep learning curve of driving a bigger vehicle, but the bottom line is that the majority of APs drive without incident (at least that has been my experience – and the experience of the majority of my AP’s friends). The reality, if she’s not taking car, then she’s driving a weapon, not a car.

Busy Mom August 11, 2011 at 10:22 pm

LuvCheetos, We’ve had 3 au pairs driving a mini-van in northern NJ (super congested road, compounded by impatient drivers). Two drove without incident and the 3rd banged up the fender when she hit a curb pulling into a parking spot. I’m very forgiving of single incidents (actually, 5 of our 6 American-born nannies were involved accidents) because of big car, getting used to level of traffic, etc. But 3 is definitely a red flag. As HRHM and TACL note, it’s time to get tough with the driving.

Returning HM August 12, 2011 at 12:37 pm

Do I recall from another thread that you are in the DC area? If so, Bill Barnes at the Potomac Driving School does an “au pair driving evaluation” — and also offers lessons. When we have had a concern about an AP’s driving, we have called him to do an eval. One time he told us that even with 10 lessons, our AP would have trouble passing the driving test at the “basic” level and that he would not put his own children in the car with he. We rematched that afternoon. With another, all it took was some lessons and some building of confidence, which he was good at doing, and the AP was good to go behind the wheel. If you can’t find his contact info, let me know, and I’ll post it here. Of course if you’re not in the DC area and I somehow made that up, please accept my apologies!

Either way, I definitely think it’s time for you to have “the talk” (ideally with some mandated lessons – and you could ask her to pay some percentage towards the lessons if you think she needs even further evidence of how serious you are). If your AP does not take the driving seriously, then she needs a wake-up call or another family. My guess is that at least half of our APs over the years have had accidents (our most favorite AP managed to hit one of our cars with the other one!), but in all cases, the accident was either not the AP’s fault or so shocked her that she was from then on in “high gear” with her focus around driving. Driving is a serious matter to us – we require our APs to be able to drive on the Capitol Beltway – so we definitely don’t mess around with an AP who, after lessons and a good bit of time getting adjusted, cannot drive at the level required for our family.
I hope you manage to get this piece sorted out. Good luck!

Anonymous this time August 12, 2011 at 8:54 pm

We use I Drive Smart in the Metro DC area. Three 2-hour evals used to cost $477. Because we need an AP to drive as part of her job, we pay half. If we didn’t, we would have made her pay full.

Hindsight being 20-20, I should have made the weakest driver get a MD driver’s license before I let her drive for pleasure. As it was, we managed to get a 50% rebate from the agency because we had an 8-year relationship and she was our 5th AP.

LuvCheetos August 12, 2011 at 1:04 pm

Good memory. We are from DC area (NoVa). DH has driven with her (more than once). He said she’s actually a good driver. I think it’s an attention/maturity thing, which I think scares me even more. We’ve already had “the talk.” She went to get her Va DL today (but she’s German so no test required) so she seems to be taking our requirements (that and the radio) seriously. She seems to care. I think she’s just overwhelmed. I just can’t tell if she just got off to a bad start or if things are never going to improve.

LuvCheetos August 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm

Returning HM, do you know if they can get the VA license that day? I seem torecall our last AP getting the paper that day and the license in the mail a little while later. This AP just went today. She said they are going to mail her a paper in 2 weeks that she has to fill out and bring in. Then she would take the photo and eye test. Does that sound right? I’ve only been communicating with her by text today, so I don’t have the full story yet, but it sounds like something is not right.

I’ll try to sort it out when I get home, but I thought I’d see if you had any recollection of how the process works.

Returning HM August 12, 2011 at 2:10 pm

Sorry – we’re in MD!

LuvCheetos August 12, 2011 at 4:20 pm

Thanks anyway, but the LCC was able to give me the answer. For any other Virginia people that may be curious, the DMV verifies the German license, so the AP has to wait for a paper in the mail and go back.

Taking a Computer Lunch August 13, 2011 at 11:04 pm

I think that there is a myth that German drivers are better than American. It all comes down to experience. In Germany, drivers aren’t fully licensed until 18, so if your young driver hasn’t had a license for a full year, then she needs practice, practice, practice! If your driver grew up in a village, town or small city, and suddenly finds herself driving on a 4-lane road, she needs practice!

Now, when my kids were babies, they had no “after school activities” and DH (who doesn’t gasp as I do] had time to provide instruction in the evening. Now, my special needs child goes to several therapies each week and my typically developing child is a sports nut who would happily run us ragged if we permitted him. We have no time to serve as driving coaches.

If your AP is inexperience (which sometimes translates to overconfidence), then you need to decide: 1) do I really need a driver? (if the answer is no – put the onus hon her to have access to a vehicle – if the licensing is, in your mind, too easy, then invoke a 3-strikes rule and demand that her driving be assessed at her expense before she gets behind the wheel of your car again) (if the answer is yes – then the cost is yours or 50-50, and make it clear to her what costs of the insurance premiums are hers), 2) am I ready to let this AP drive for pleasure? (yes – then decide if friends are allowed in the vehicle), and 3) do I have time to assist her in gaining experience (if no, then figure out if you’re splitting the cost).

Driving is 100% practice and experience. Even the best drivers among our APs were much more confident by the time they left our home. The worst became an intermediate/advanced beginner driver (and we said so when people called to see why we elected not to extend).

A driver’s license is not an accreditation – it is merely a statement that the driver has the minimal skills to drive a car on the road. If your young AP is making a lot of mistakes, make that clear to her.

(I now tell APs that if HD okays driving that they may drive the AP car in the greater limits of our city. If they get a license, then we’ll talk about driving anywhere with it.)

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