When your Au Pair has a Fender-Bender — Who pays, and what, and how?

by cv harquail on September 24, 2008

hound in drivers seat I have dreaded writing about au pairs and car accidents, because fear of accidents is one of the scariest things about having children, and even scarier when you are entrusting your children to someone else’s driving. Even the best of au pairs can have car accidents. (Heck, even the best of drivers can have accidents!) Let’s assume, for the sake of this particular post, that we’re talking about a fender-bender, a situation where no one is injured, no one was driving drunk, and the car is repairable.

There is a lot to think about when trying to figure what to do to resolve all the pieces of this problem, especially if you want to figure out whether & how much to have your au pair contribute to the car’s repair.

You need to think about:

  1. The Agency Rules and Guidelines
  2. Your insurance coverage now and later if a claim is presented
  3. Your own family guidelines
  4. Whether your au pair has any understanding of how insurance works
  5. You au pair’s sense of responsibility
  6. The amount of damage
  7. Whose fault it was
  8. Whether it was ‘on the job’ or on her personal time
  9. Your level of anger and your ability to forgive

Then, decide:  How much to pay, how to gather payment, and what else to change, e.g.: …

10. Other possible reparations

11. Changes to your family system

Let me tell you what I know and have thought about, and then open it up to other host moms & dads for their advice….

1. The Agency Rules and Guidelines

The first thing you should do is check your au pair agency handbook to see what their official guidelines are.  With our au pair agency (Au Pair in America), part of our agreement as a host family was (1) to provide automobile insurance for our au pair and (2) to limit any claim against her for damages to the car to a maximum of $500.  In other words, she can be liable for no more than the deductible you agreed to set.

The $500 limit seems reasonable when you think that an Au Pair gets $170 in pocket money, but seems like very little when you realize how much it costs to replace the left front fender of your average mini van. [Note, this limit has been the same for the past decade, and hasn’t changed as the pocket money has increased in step with the minimum wage. Hmmm.] At the very least, this limit prevents the au pair from being drastically punished for the accident. And, the limit is something she can know up front (and that you can tell her up front) before she even begins to drive your car.

Our agency recommends that host parents share the cost of the $500 deductible with the au pair paying up to $250.  The way that this works is: the agency assumes that you have insured your au pair and your deductible is no higher than $500 (or, if your deductible is higher, you’ve accepted the responsibility for the difference between your actual deductible and the recommended $500 deductible).  In this simple version of reality, it’s assumed that you will file a claim with your insurance company, that any costs of repairs above $500 will be taken care of by your insurance, that you’ll be okay having the au pair pay between 250 and $500, and that you won’t find any potential increases to your insurance premiums too painful to bear.  Thus, the only decision you will make that will affect the Au Pair’s trips to the mall is how much you want her to pay up to $500.

Of course, you still have to worry about….

2. Your insurance coverage & costs now, and later if a claim is presented

I don’t know how you figure out how much your premiums will increase if you file a claim with your insurance company. I imagine that you just call and ask??? (Any ideas, let me know.) Then, you have to assess for yourselves whether the immediate out of pocket cost or the increase in premiums is more acceptable to you. I know that our insurance premiums are already high (about $1,100 for the au apair to be on our policy). We all make those trade-offs about how high a deductible we can manage, whether or not we want to risk our premiums going up if we make a claim, and how much out-of-pocket cost we can bear to cover repairing damage.  All of those concerns are going to run in the background while you figure out your response with your au pair.bad pug

3. Your own family guidelines

When you sat down with your au pair during orientation, did you discuss what would happen if there was damage to the car while she was driving?  Did you tell her about the $500 maximum, or any potential decreases in her driving privileges?

I have to admit that, although we discuss during orientation “what to do” if there is an accident, I’ve never discussed in advance who would be responsible for paying for car repairs after an accident. If we had discussed this with the two au pairs of ours who did have car accidents, it probably would have been easier for me to have asked each of them to

After the more minor au pair car accident, because I’d never explained to the au pair what she would be responsible for, I never got the car repaired.  And, for the next four years until we replaced the car, I resented the cosmetic and mechanical damage to that car every darn time I looked at the car. But that’s another story for another day. I look back now and wish I’d told her what to expect and held her financially accountable. Ah, hindsight…

4. Whether your au pair has any understanding of how insurance works

Most au pairs seem to have no idea how car insurance works — and who can blame them, since American car insurance is a complex concept! And, if your au pair hasn’t had a car accident before or hasn’t owned a car on her own, she’s probably not had any experience dealing with insurance-related decisions and expenses.  It can be very hard to explain how insurance works, liability, increased premiums, deductibles, and so on in a way that helps your au pair take responsibility for the cost of the repairs.  Again, the next time you orient an au pair, it might be nice to have a little conversation about car insurance and responsibility.  (If anyone has anything about that in their au pair handbook — send it in so we can all use it!)

5. Your Au Pair’s sense of responsibility

If your au pair feels responsible for the damage, and is the kind of young women who basically accepts responsibility, it will be much easier to talk with her about paying for repairs to the car.  One of my friends told me she had a hard time convincing her au pair not to pay the entire bill (above and beyond the deductible) because the au pair felt so contrite about having caused damage to the car!  Other au pairs, who are perhaps less mature, just toss up their hands and assume that you will bail them out as though you were their parents.  Let’s hope that’s not the situation with you if your au pair ever has a car accident.

6. The amount of damage

The amount of damage to the car is one of those things that affects our judgment about how we want to proceed with insurance claims, but it probably shouldn’t influence whether we have our au pair pay for part of the repair.

If the damage to the car is inexpensive to repair, it may not be worth it to you to get it repaired. And, if the mechanical and/or cosmetic damages are more costly to repair than seems worth it (yes, I mean that dent in the door that they tell you will cost $700 to repair), you may just let it go. In that situation, there’s no short-term cost. However, their may be a long-term cost. For example, you many be annoyed/resentful, as I was, each time you see the damage. Or, an au pair (current or future) may take less care with an already-damaged car. Or, when you want to sell the car, the un-repaired damage may really depress the price you can ask.

In hindsight, I wish that we had gotten the car repaired after the second accident.  Even though the damage was mostly cosmetic and you could still open the passenger door (!), the car looked so crappy and so ugly with that damage that I was embarrassed to have it in my driveway.  So, if I could do it over again, I would not only ask her to pay to have the damage repaired but also I would have had as much repaired as we could have covered with 250 — $500.

guilty dog 7. Who/what caused the car accident?

If your au pair is clearly at fault (e.g., she backed into a car in a parking lot) it’s easier to ask her to take responsibility and to pay for repairs. This is actually a good way to help her learn that there are consequences for her actions, and can be a maturing experience.

However, if the accident was clearly not the au pair’s fault (like, a deer crossing the road) it seems kind of mean to make the au pair pay for repairing the car.  After all, it was an act of God or an act of nature, why should she have to pay for it? Perhaps you should just chalk it up to “the cost of doing business.”  But, it also depends on….

8. Whether it was ‘on the job’ or on her personal time

Does it matter whether the accident occurred when she was working or when she was driving on her personal time?  For some reason, it it does seem to matter.  Since the personal use of the car is at her discretion, you can understand the accident to have been “caused” by her simply deciding to drive the car for pleasure.  And, if the accident occurs when she’s on duty, it’s one of those accidents that happens at work for which the employer takes responsibility.

So, I’d put the two issues together:

If it is clearly not her fault and it occurred while she was on duty, you should pay all.

If it was not her fault but was off-duty,  then you should ask her to pay part of the deductible.

And, if it was clearly her fault and while she was off-duty, then up to the $500 limit seems reasonable to me.  dog in car

9. Your level of anger and your ability to forgive

I’ll be honest with you — if I was angry at the au pair because I think she was careless, or because I thought she was driving the car too much, or because I thought she took her privileges for granted, or because I thought she took me for granted, or if I was just annoyed at her for other reasons, I think I’d be much more likely to ask her to pay a larger portion of the $500 because, I’ll admit it, I’d want to punish her. I wish I were more noble, but there it is.

I do think that people should be held accountable for their actions and for the decisions that they make, so in general an au pair should be asked to  repair any damage she caused.  That said, I also think there is a learning opportunity here for an au pair. Once an au pair has had to pay for car repairs, you imagine that she’ll be a more careful driver and a more respectful user of the car. She may also have a renewed appreciation for the other material things that you provide for her.

10. Other possible reparations

Consider having your au pair be responsible for the administration/management of repairs. In addition to having the au pair pay part or all of the $500, I would also give the au pair the responsibility for taking the car to and from the repair shop, or telephoning the person whose car she damaged and making repair arrangements for that person, or whatever administrative tasks go along with repairing the damage.  Part of accepting responsibility is accepting not only the financial responsibility but also the administrative responsibility for repairs.  Also, if you as a host mom had to do all of these extra tasks related to getting the car repaired, it might add insult to injury.

11. Changes to your family system

— Change driving expectations

For one of our au pairs, the one who did minor damage but did it by making a dumb, ill advised, and unsafe right-hand turn, there were some additional consequences even though I did not ask her to pay for car repairs.  Shortly after her car accident, we moved from Virginia to northern New Jersey, where drivers are more aggressive and traffic is more dense.  I realized after about three days that I no longer felt comfortable with this au pair driving with my children in the car.  However, she only had a few more months with us and it wasn’t like I was going to go into rematch for just two more months.  (Also, she was very loving and my kids liked her and she was a great au pair in many other respects).  So, I purchased a double stroller, and I had the au pair walk the children in the stroller to and from their pre-K.  The pre-K was slightly more than 1 mile away from our house.  You could say that this was really horrible of me, but it was the only way I could manage getting my children safely to pre-K while I was at work.

dog seatbelt— Change driving rules

I’d also recommend that you look over your family guidelines and consider whether or not you should change some of your rules regarding the car. Consider a curfew, a mileage limit, a passenger limit, a ban on the cell phone, etc.  See our earlier conversation on fender benders.

— Change driving privileges

If the accident was the au pair’s fault and was during her personal use of the car, consider reducing her driving privileges, either temporarily or permanently. There should be consequences, and these should be appropriate to the problem(s) that lead to the car accident.

Finally, regarding how to have your au pair pay for the repairs:

Consider talking with her about the amount she feels able to pay each week, and set up a payment ‘plan’. Personally, I prefer to pay my au pair her entire pocket money, and then have her hand back to me either check or cash. The money physically goes from me to her to me, so that I don’t look like I am not paying her fully, and so that she physically experiences paying me back. Then, I ALWAYS WRITE IT DOWN and have her initial the payment.  I write it on our family calendar, in ink. This way, we have a written record that everyone can track.

I must comment that this post has been a bit of a drag to write! I think that’s because there’s just so much to say, and most of it is bad. However, don’t despair—  there can be a silver lining!!!  I’ll tell all, in a future post, “How a Fender-Bender can Improve your Au Pair Relationship”. Send me some suggestions for that one!

Please be sure to read the related post: After the Car Accident: Advice on what to talk about with your Au Pair

{ 1 comment }

Anonymous July 18, 2009 at 9:19 am

What a great blog and what an important post. Our au pair was a great driver but got into two accidents in her three years with us- one her fault, one the other person’s fault. The one that was her fault was when she was not officially our au pair anymore, she went through a stop sign with no kids in the car and when she was not doing a work related errand. It cost near;ly $1,000.00 and we asked her to barter for babysitting after she had moved out but still lived in the area. It was hard to do b/c we felt she was an indentured servant but we all agreed it was fair. It’s hard being in these situations!

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