While you can easily find reams of information pertaining to etiquette – dating etiquette, working etiquette, hosting etiquette – I believe that car etiquette deserves its own forum. Car etiquette is specialized, and many people are unaware of the subtle, yet important, undercurrent that pulls it along. These people are often non-car owners.
The Unspoken: If you have a friend or acquaintance who owns a van or pick up, and you happen to be moving or buying a large unwieldy item, there is just one way this person will offer to lend you their vehicle. “Would you like to borrow my truck?” That is it. If they don’t say those words, you are not welcome to use their truck. A subsection of The Unspoken is to listen carefully; if they say “would you like me to bring my truck and help you?”, that is inferring the use of said vehicle as well as an extra back. If they do not phrase it that way, do not presume you also have a free mover. Many people who own these types of vehicles hide at month end for a very good reason.
The Return Policy: If someone is good enough to lend you their vehicle to move, there is only one way to return it: clean and full of fuel. I don’t care how much fuel was in it, you return it full. You haul out the empty Timmies cups and wrappers, and if you’ve muddied it up you also put it through a car wash.
What’s Yours is Mine: Lending vehicles at any time is more than handing over the keys. A car owner should check with their insurance company before doing this; begging, bullying or pouting does not change insurance policies.
What’s That Smell?: Sometimes it happens. It might be your motion sick kid, or it might be you after a raucous night of drinking. But if you barf in someone’s car, you get it detailed. It doesn’t matter if you mostly got it in the bag. You do not leave bodily fluids behind in someone else’s car, and if you do, you don’t take a wet nap and scrub at it and pronounce it all better. You get it to a detailer, where they have the tools, the cleaners and the patience to remove the evidence.
Mind if I Smoke?: Yes.
Going My Way: Snagging a lift with someone who is heading that way is usually no big deal. Most of us offer, anyway. No, the problem ramps up when someone expects a ride. Over and over again. “I don’t need a car,” they might say. “Because I have one,” you say, under your breath. Car ownership entails far more than paying for gas. If you regularly get a ride with someone, regardless of whether they’re already going your way or not, you acknowledge this slightly more often than you think you should. If they pull in to gas up, pay once in awhile. If you’ve had months of rides, you can thank them for the door to door service with a gas card. A fill up these days is about $60-80, depending on the car.
Carpool – yes: I’ve interviewed groups who successfully car pool together, and have made it work for years. Much of the success rests on striking the perfect balance between needs and personalities. If money is involved, be prompt in paying. If you’re the only one talking, you should probably stop. If you’re chronically late, you will be voted off Carpool Island. Pay up, shut up, and show up. And maybe don’t eat burritos.
Carpool – no: There are reasons why somebody might not want to carpool with you. Even if you work or go to school together, and you live in the same vicinity, if they turn you down, don’t push it. Some people have very good, private, reasons for perhaps not wanting to organize their mornings around you. Or maybe they just eat a lot of burritos. Either way, a driver has no obligation to explain to you why he or she would prefer not to have a passenger.
Judge not: The best drivers in the world often don’t even have licences. But there they are, keeping up a steady refrain from the passenger seat, telling the driver how to drive. Here’s the thing: if you do not feel safe with the person driving, don’t get in the car. Using someone for a ride, and then telling them everything they’re doing is wrong, is rude.
I insist: Maybe someone really doesn’t expect you to chip in. Perhaps your finances are out of sync with theirs, and extending a hand in kindness (or a ride) is simply that. It’s still only right to make sure they know how much you appreciate it. If someone takes you to your Book Club every week, or your Water Buffalo meetings every month, write them a note, pick up a tab, or bake them some cookies. A little appreciation goes a long way.
The Parent Trap: Notice your teen isn’t asking for as many rides? Notice you’re not heading out to pick her up at midnight in your slippers quite as often? It no doubt means one of the friends finally got a licence. And it probably means that friend is driving their parents’ car. This is the same as mooching a ride, over and over again. See ‘Going My Way’, and offer up some cash, or at least a thank you.
Which reminds me. I have a call to make.