Free car ethics

I have an ethical question I wish I could have called in to ask. As a college graduation present, my Dad gave me his car: a 2016 Crosstrek with about 95k on it. When he gave me the car, he specifically said “This is the only car I’m giving you, so you’d better take care of it until you can get your own”. I was thrilled! The car runs great and has quite a few bells and whistles. I love it and vowed to take care of it myself to both learn how to fix cars and save a few bucks. However, I recently changed the brakes and rotors, and when I was looking to see how many miles they had on them (to gauge how often I might have to do this) I noticed that my Dad’s meticulously records were… slim. Come to find out with a little digging, my Dad hadn’t done ANY periodic maintenance on the car, save for a few warranty repairs, oil changes, and new tires. I had known for a long time that my Dad could pinch a penny into 2 half-cent pieces, but I’m confronted with an ethical dilemma here. I’m now overdue for brake fluid, spark plugs, and a fuel filter among other things. Is he on the line for these repairs, since he should have done them anyway? Or should I take care of them myself and be grateful since I’m getting a free car? Some of these repairs are above my expertise, and expensive if I don’t do them myself (the plugs are $320 alone for parts and labor at my local mechanic). I don’t want to seem ungrateful but I know periodic maintenance is there for a reason, and I can’t afford to take care of all these overdue repairs right now, especially the complex stuff. What should I do?

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be grateful he gave you the car for free. look at all the money you saved not having to buy one. explain to your day the importance of maintaining a vehicle. ask him to borrow the money to make the repairs and pay him back. maybe now its time to keep your vow to start learning how to start fixing your car.


Yep, do not mention these, just do all the ‘catch up’ maintenance. Commonly done when one buys a used car.


I don’t know your whole list of maintenance items that have been delayed, but I doubt if it is as dire a problem as you are making of it. There is a wide range of quality of maintenance, the the very best (overkill) to none whatsoever. Triage what needs to be done, get onto YouTube and learn how to do it. It will be a lifelong skill. Your dad was being a good dad when he gave you the car in the exact condition he did. Learn how to do the maintenance and put the savings into your 401k.


You just answered your own question .

Look in the owners manual for what really needs to be done ( brake fluid is on the do now list ) . You don’t have to do these al at once .


If you have to ask us, you probably shouldn’t ask him. Only you know your father and your relationship with him. I’d do it for my daughters in a similar circumstance, but I’m not your father.


If you can do a brake job, you can handle all the overdue items too. It’s a free car, and the person who gave it to you was generous.

Don’t be ungrateful by asking your dad to pay for overdue maintenance.


Edited: Since you’re at 95,000 miles I would also have the transmission fluid changed using only factory Subaru fluid, even though it may not be listed in the service schedule. The CVT transmissions can be a bit fragile, extra care would be worth it.

I’d also do a coolant change with the correct type.


Close the book. The deal is done. It’s yours now so take care of it and pay for it. You may find out that your dad was not so generous after-all and dumped a potential bomb on you. Like I have said before people should not buy (or give) other people dogs or cars.

I should add that after college I ended up with my folk’s car. But I bought it from them at market rates and it was only two years old and knew the history or maintained it myself.


95K, so okay on plugs.
Transmission fluid, coolant, and brake fluid first. Can be spread out over the next six months.




Then don’t even SUGGEST to your dad that he should be on the hook for brake fluid, plugs and fuel filter

Also, don’t bring up the idea that you think he skipped out on maintenance. I’m not sure how you arrived at that conclusion. Absence of paperwork? Lots of people are really bad at hanging onto receipts

have the maintenance taken care of on your dime and keep the receipts. You don’t have to bother mentioning any of this to your dad.


Many out there would slash their wrists to fall into the free car situation you are in. Appreciate what Dad did for you.

This also points out why many of those “I have meticulously maintained my car” claims are totally baseless.

As for the spark plugs, since you have the ability to change rotors and pads you should be able to easily do the spark plugs also; AND the transmission fluid.


IMHO I’d try my best to pay for those myself. i.e. Google “don’t look a gift horse in the mouth”.

But your personal situation may require that you get some help from others on this. Suggest to ask your dad what he thinks. During the transition he may be willing to pay for a portion of this needed maintenance, and you the rest Or he may be willing to float you a loan, which you can (& should) repay later.


I’d have been embarrassed if my father had even offered me a car - then again I’m older than your father. Fix it yourself and be just as grateful, don’t even mention it. Gratitude is healthy.

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If I was your Dad, I would want to know the horrible things I’ve done (like your perceived perception that I gave you a car that might need some “make-up” maintenance) rather than find out about it by reading about it in CarTalk (you don’t know but he might also subscribe to it).

Then I would immediately remove this burden from you and take the car back. I would then sell it, perhaps pay for some of the “undone-maintenance” on my car, since I had to buy another one when I gave you the Crosstrek.

By unloading this liability from your shoulders, you would now be free to buy whatever car your “entitled” heart desires.

I taught my children early to never look a “gift horse” in the mouth. Whatever gift you just received might be the greatest gift the giver could offer. Since you’ve had to ask, you obviously do not understand the concept.

Read the “Gift of the Magi” by O. Henry.

Gift Horse

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I see that you have 3 choices.

  1. Take care of the car you have, because dad said he isn’t going to.

  2. Go buy a car and trade in or sell the one dad gave you.

  3. Give dad back the car and tell him "Thanks for the car but I can’t afford to fix all the things I have neglected to fix when they were due.

Dad told you to take care of it, why didn’t you? I totally blame you for putting off the required maintenance.

So get to work and do the maintenance.

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Do whatever you can to lose the attitude that your father owes you anything. Someday you will feel like the most embarrassed person on the planet for ever even thinking it.

There are millions of youth your age who would give anything to even have a father, let alone one who cares enough to provide a vehicle for them.


Every time I buy a used car, there are no maintenance records, and a lot of obvious missed maintenance. I DIY whatever I can, and pay a professional shop to do whatever I can’t do myself. That’s the nature of the beast, when you receive a “new to you” vehicle.


I hear what you’re saying, but the overdue maintenance is from when he owned the car - I’ve only had it a month or two. I plan on doing whatever I can to fix it, but my main question (that I failed to fully articulate) was if I had any ground to stand on asking him to help me pay for that stuff I can’t do myself. I do, however, see everyone’s point - I wouldn’t do this to someone I bought the car from and I can’t really complain about a free car.

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Thanks to all for your input. I hadn’t really considered a few things. I wouldn’t ask the previous owner to help with maintenance (unless it was massive and not mentioned when I bought it) and I can’t really complain about a free vehicle. Thanks again everyone! I have many things to learn to fix.