Sunday, May 01, 2016

Repairing car now will make gift run more smoothly

Lil, a reader in Boston, is about to give her 12-year-old car to her daughter and son-in-law, once she buys a new car for herself. With a teenage son now driving and two parents driving in opposite directions to work each morning, Lil knew they needed another car, if for nothing else than to give them transportation to the nearest public transit station.

The car was purchased new and has more than 100,000 miles on it, but Lil has taken good care of the car. She's had the car serviced by the same mechanic for years.

About a week ago, the service light lit up on Lil's car's dashboard. She brought the car in to have her mechanic take a look. The car had a leak in the exhaust hose and needed a new thermostat. Her mechanic estimated that to fix the issues, it would cost about $500. The mechanic told Lil that the car would not pass its next inspection without the work being done.

"Am I obligated to fix the car before I give it away?" Lil asked.

When she offered her car to her daughter and son-in-law, she told them that the car might need some immediate work. "They're grateful for the car and know that down the line, it probably will need more work," she writes. "The car has been well maintained, but it doesn't feel right to me to give the car away when I know that it needs work right now."

Lil adds that an additional consideration is that she needs to drive her car for another week or so and she doesn't want to end up stranded anywhere.

If Lil is worrying about being stranded while continuing to drive her car, she should ask her mechanic if there is any danger in continuing to drive it when it needs a new thermostat and an exhaust hose repaired. (Full disclosure: I am not an auto mechanic and have no idea.)

But the bigger question with which Lil is grappling is whether to have the work done or to give the car as is to her daughter and son-in-law and let them take care of any immediate work that needs doing.

As long as she is not putting herself in peril on the road, it's perfectly fine for Lil to hold off doing any repair work before giving the car away. The right thing to do if she chooses this route is to tell her daughter and son-in-law exactly what the mechanic indicated needs doing and the estimate he gave her about the cost, so they know what they are getting into when the accept the gift of Lil's old car.

But Lil offered her car because she had taken good care of it and she figured it would be reliable transportation. Since she indicates that it's still her intention to pass on a car in good order and because she plans to drive the car for a few more weeks, the right thing to do would be to pay for the repairs to be done before she gives the car away. She'll rest easier at night having done so and her kids will be all the more thankful for her gift. 

Jeffrey L. Seglin, author of The Simple Art of Business Etiquette: How to Rise to the Top by Playing Nice, is a lecturer in public policy and director of the communications program at Harvard's Kennedy School. He is also the administrator of, a blog focused on ethical issues. 

Do you have ethical questions that you need answered? Send them to 

Follow him on Twitter: @jseglin 



Azalea Annie said...

Agree - Lil should have the repairs done and give the car with a clear conscience. Giving a gift that needs immediate repairs is not in the spirit of's in the spirit of saving the giver $500.

Anonymous said...

I disagree with both of you. As a car dealer and mechanic, the service engine light will NOT leave one stranded. It is telling the owner about an emission fault and, as the mechanic says, it will not pass inspection when needed. It does NOT need immediate repair to operate. Only for inspection.

The mechanic is being quite honest. Unlike many. The OIL, TEMP. or BATT light will leave one stranded so one assumes this one will also. Not so.

As for paying to fix it, it is a judgment and monetary call knowing these facts. Should the car be worth more than 500, it is probably a good gesture gift anyhow. And fixing it later, should they like it, will be OK. If not, they can sell it.

As for Lil driving it, she should not worry as it will run just as is with no issues. Then decide what to do with it when the new replacement arrives.

Alan Owseichik
Greenfield, Ma.

Jeromy said...

I agree, Lil should have the car repaired before passing it down. After all, she doesn't want her daughter to end up stranded anywhere either. Her daughter and son-in-law are apprecative of te offer itself im sure, but it wouldn't be right to pass down a car that currently needs a repair if you have a way to pay for the repair yourself. Pay it forward.

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