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Ethics, Friends & Other Liabilities

Against my better judgment, I sold a car to a friend’s daughter last year. It was a BMW 330 that I purchased new in 2002. The car was in excellent condition, and I got a fair price. My problem is this. While I owned the car, the dealer discovered a problem with my tail lights that could cause a fire if left unrepaired. After doing research, I discovered that this was a common problem and that BMW had refused to do a recall. I had the repairs done by the dealer at a cost of approximately $600. That was about 3 years ago. When I later sold the car, I included copies of all repair receipts. When I gave her the leather binder with all the receipts, she said “Don’t you think that’s a little anal?”, but eagerly took the binder. A few months ago, I discovered that BMW had, under government pressure, indeed recalled all 3 series vehicles from 2002 through 2005 for faulty grounding in the taillights that caused overheating and potential fires.

At lunch today, my friend was praising his daughter’s initiative at submitting my repair receipts to BMW for reimbursement for the repairs that I had paid for before she bought the car. He also told me that she asked him if she should share the reimbursement money with me, to which he said, “No, you need the money more than he does.” Yes, she is in her late 20’s and still lives with her parents.

I don’t REALLY need the $600, and if I got it, it would have been a windfall and I would give it to charity. Also, my friendship with her father is worth more than $600.

So, my questions are,

A) Will BMW reimburse her as the current owner of the vehicle, even though all of the repair receipts are in my name?
2) Ethically, to whom does the reimbursement rightfully belong?



I would guess since you paid for the repairs, the check would come to you & rightfully belong to you. What you do with it is up to you.

A) I dunno, give them a call
2) You, it would be different if you charged more for the car because of the repair (like, say, if you had a timing belt done right when you sold it) but I imagine there was no difference in price because of this.

Being ‘right’ is far different than claiming the money, depends on how much you value the friendship.

The friendship goes back over 20 years and is worth much more than $600. It was more a question of ethics, which I rarely have to ponder. Most things are pretty clearly right or wrong. She submitted the claim to BMW yesterday. If they send me the check (unlikely), then the right thing to do will be to thank her for her donation to the American Cancer Society. If they send her the check, I’ll never mention it again.

Thanks for the comments.

Great story, and thanks for sharing. Obviously, the refund was intended to reimburse the person who paid for the repair. Can you let it go without harboring resentment? If you’ve got no money issues at all, then let it go. BUT, don’t you now question the ethics of the father? One one hand, it may be innocent, as he thinks you don’t need it. On the other, it’s kind of a weasel-like thing to do, no? Can you get past it? I’m not sure I could, b/c it ain’t about the money. But to him, it might be.

Know what, I’ve changed my mind. If you had sold this car to a complete stranger, and BMW gave them a check (unlikely), would you come knocking on his door for the money? No, I don’t think so. So the only reason to worry about the money is because you sold it to a friend. That’s their good luck, I think, not an obligation to pay (if they happen to get the check - unlikely).

Your name is on the repair bill, you were the registered owner when the car was fixed, and you bought the car new, which I’m certain is all reflected in their records. I’m sure they’ll access the records based on the VIN number before issuing a check. I seriously doubt if the company would even consider sending a check to anyone other than you.

Under normal circumstances I’d suggest giving her half as a way of saying thanks for sending in the receipt and letting me know. In this case I say keep the money and say nothing. It’s rightfully your money.

Econobox - I’ve seen his ethics in action many times over 20 years, and I’m not going to judge him on this one issue. He’s done the right thing even when it hurt him a lot. Also, I’m not a parent, and I’ve seen that cloud a lot of judgment in a lot of people. I think it is about the money to him, and he knows I don’t desperately need it.

Texas - Excellent observation, and no, I wouldn’t go back to the stranger and expect reimbursement. I guess, in reality, she just beat me to the punch at submitting the claim. Maybe it is just her good luck.

I can’t believe that I’ve been debating these ethical dilemmas in my head my whole life, and there was all this brilliance available at my fingertips.

Well, I’m a gonna disagree. When you sold the car, you transfered all of the right and title to the car, including your interest in any future reimbursements. The price you got included the value of the work done so you have already been paid your share. So in essense she paid the diminished value of that repair not knowing if it would ever be worth anything. Just like paying pennies for a bad debt that then is fully collected on later on. She bought all of the interest in the car.

I guess if it would have been me though, I would have split the money or returned it, but I think her and her Dad have a point. Secondly, I’m surprised she kept the notebook so I would let her be proud of herself and not dimish her initiative with a guilt trip.

It’s really one of those there are no right answers questions.

Bing - I would never make her feel guilty if she gets the check from BMW… unless, of course, she makes the mistake of waving it under my nose in victory.

Actually, I like them both. When I agreed to sell the car to her (I said no for months), I told her father I would take $500 off the selling price if she could negotiate with me for at least 5 minutes. He coached her, she did and I gave her the $500 off.

It seems to me that you deserve the money. I would not consider someone like this to be a friend. You might approach this diplomatically if you want to get the money. The lesson he just taught his daughter is that it is OK to screw your friends any time money is involved. Nice guy, huh?

Pardon my lack of tact.

If you do get the money back, you might take her out to dinner; maybe her parents, too. But I’m not sure that Dad deserves anything good out of this.

JT - I’ll grant you the part about the lesson it is teaching his daughter. It’s not what I think I would do, but then again, I’m not a parent. Actually, his attitude on this issue seems out of character. But either way, I wouldn’t let it screw up our friendship. This is the first time I’ve entered a discussion forum and I have already gotten more than $600 of valuable insight on an issue that I didn’t think anyone would respond to at all.

Gotta love Car Talk.

You sold the car, hopefully as is. You should expect a refund if you are willing to accept any liabilities. As is removes you from potential refunds or liabilities.

This just got more complicated and has shifted from theoretical debate to tough decision. When I got home this evening, there was a call from BMW National Customer Relations in New Jersey on my answering machine. Apparently she sent the claim in earlier than yesterday, and it was being processed today. They want to “chat” with me about the paperwork they think I sent in. I’m assuming they want to know where I want the check sent, but I could be wrong.

My gut is telling me that I should give her half of the refund as a wedding present, and give the rest to the American Cancer Society as planned.

It’s too late to call them so it will have to wait till Monday, but I would welcome more opinions from this esteemed group.

You should be as generous as you wish if BMW sends you the check. I would not say anything to your friend or his daughter until you give the wedding gift. Given the circumstances to date, you friend might deman that you give it all to her.

You might add the $300 to whatever else you would have given. $400 or so will buy some really nice All-Clad cook wear. You seem like a very generous person, though. You don’t need help determining what is right.

I think you know what you are going to propose, I say you sold the car, you invested that money out of necessity at the time, like needing new brakes or something. If they refund it to you, it is yours and you definitely owe a finders fee, if they refund it to the current owner kiss it goodbye. If they decide they have to send you the check, split it 50/50 and you both will have a little cash you never expected, and I think everyone will be happy.

Just my humble opinion, but it seems to me that once you sold the car you absolved yourself of anything to do with that car and should let it go.

Now, if the transmission in the car dies 6 months from now and they get irritated with you because of that then my opinion would probably swing 180 the other way. :wink:

I am not sure what the right thing to do is; I don’t think there is a right answer. All I can say that your friendship will change because of this. You wouldn’t be able to help it. I guess this story is another stamp of approval on why we should not do business with friends and family. Thanks for sharing.

Let it go. You did indeed get something for your money. You had the pleasure of knowing that the car would likely not start on fire during the last time of your ownership. You also had the pleasure of knowing with a clear conscience that you did not sell a time bomb to a friend’s daughter. Karma will see to the others. You can be thankful too that you had the bucks to do the right thing in spite of BMW’s resistance. Friends have warts; and the longer you know your friends, the warts become larger and more plentiful. Move on!

The money is NOT hers. People here are acting like she found something. She did NOT. BMW is issuing a refund for something YOU paid for. You’ve spent your life debating ethics, well get some balls, and take a stand, on principle. It is NOT this girl’s money.

Or, just offer to split it 50/50. But, then you’ll be viewed as the fault. Actually, hmm, one good turn deserves another. Better yet, just don’t ever mention the call from BMW, and just deposit the check quietly. She’ll forget all about it. LOL.