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NOT IN MY CAR: WHY THE TEST DRIVE SHOULD BE LIMITED TO TESTING

By Sara B. Morgan, Esq.

One recent morning while leaving my local Starbucks drive-thru, I waited while two men wearing mechanic uniforms crossed the parking lot to what I assumed was their vehicle. I thought nothing more of this until, several days later, I saw the same men, again clad in uniforms, only this time walking to a different vehicle. This time, I noticed the fluorescent writing on the rear window, and suddenly realized these were auto service or repair men who were using customer vehicles to get their morning coffee!

A vehicle repairer to whom a vehicle is delivered has the usual duty of ordinary care and liability of a bailee for hire. Civil Code, Section 1852. The vehicle may not be used for any purpose without the customer’s consent, and the vehicle repairer is responsible for any damage which occurs when the vehicle is used without the customer’s consent. Civil Code, Sections 1835 and 1836.

Now, being the daughter of a mechanic, I appreciate the importance of the post-service test drive. However, I doubt that those customers anticipated the extra risks these men were taking in exposing their vehicles to the small, busy, bustling shopping center, particularly at the height of the Starbucks morning rush. Nor is it likely they would anticipate the vehicle repairer’s employees consuming food and beverages inside their vehicles. Thus, in addition to liability for any fender-benders, the vehicle repairer would also arguably be liable for any stains or cleaning fees in order to restore the vehicle to the condition it was in at the time the customer left it with the repair shop.

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