Best way to replace borrowed tool?
April 20, 2012 1:36 AM   Subscribe

How should I handle the reimbursement/replacement of a tool I borrowed from a friendly neighbor then broke.

I was working in my front yard as daylight was fading when my friendly neighbor offer to let me use his portable work/flood lights.

I took him up on the offer and worked for few more hours well after it was dark with the aid of his handy lights. The light, more specifically the tripod light stand, broke when I tried to collapse it. I loosened one of the fittings on the stand to collapse the telescoping section of the stand. The fitting released completely and suddenly and gravity took over. The telescoping section was about 18 inches long so this was about the equivalent of dropping the stand 18 inches (but evenly distributed on the 3 legs). The stand could not take the force and the plastic hub that connected each leg to the shaft shattered. There is no way a product that is meant to be used on job/construction sites should brake so easily and I don't feel I am at fault.

All that being said; I like my neighbors and I don't think returning a broken item and telling them to buy better quality tools or passing the blame on to them is a good way to thank them for being generous and helpful.

So how should I go about making this right? The item costs about $40 at a big box store. But it is not obvious they need the light (it could have just been used for a projected they finished) and perhaps they would just rather have $40. However I am concerned they would refused either if asked. Lastly, assuming I fully replace the light or give the money to replace it would it be poor form to keep the light I borrowed (it separates from the now broken stand and is in fine condition) ?
posted by Ommcc to Human Relations (23 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Get them a new one (don't just assume they don't need/want it anymore!), apologize while profusely thanking them, maybe even throw in a plate of brownies or something. Go ahead and keep the old/damaged light.
posted by easily confused at 1:44 AM on April 20, 2012 [10 favorites]

Get them a replacement, pay in cash. Give them the new light with the receipt so they can return it if they don't want one anymore. Keep the broken parts.
posted by like_neon at 2:00 AM on April 20, 2012 [44 favorites]

Nthing like_neon in a big big way.
posted by jbenben at 2:35 AM on April 20, 2012

I like my neighbors and I don't think returning a broken item and telling them to buy better quality tools or passing the blame on to them is a good way to thank them for being generous and helpful.

You're right. Maintaining your goodwill with your neighbor is worth spending a little money on, especially when he's the sort who would come to your aid when you need it by loaning you equipment.

Unless forty bucks is going to kill you, just spend the cash and replace it promptly. In fact, if you see a clearly better version of the same thing, maybe one that won't break so easily, and it doesn't cost too much more money, get him the better one. You know it will always be there if you need to borrow it. Just don't break it the next time.
posted by pracowity at 3:07 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

I don't feel I am at fault.

Yeah, you pretty much are at fault, though. Go with your instincts; buy a new light, give them receipt, keep old light. :)
posted by smoke at 3:30 AM on April 20, 2012 [5 favorites]

What I would do is try and find the exact same model and buy that, giving the neighbours it and the receipt for it. If they want the old bits back after that, sell them to them at a reduced price. If they don't want them, keep them. They're already up a brand new light fitment for the cost of loaning the old one to you for an evening.

Generally, things that are designed to be used on construction sites aren't made of plastic and don't cost as little as $40. I used to work somewhere that sold both home-use and professional tools, and the differences between build quality and price were vast. This unit doesn't seem like a construction site quality item to me.
posted by Solomon at 3:46 AM on April 20, 2012

How about showing your neighbor what happened (including that the light itself still works) and asking him what he would prefer for reparations? You can offer to actually replace the light (i.e., if he wants you to do the leg work) or offer the cash equivalent (you can say you checked pricing online). Do offer a specified amount, just to keep your limits straight. That way if it really doesn't matter to him he can tell you that, or if he'd rather buy a replacement himself he can do that too. If he's willing to blow it off, that's on him, not on you.
posted by dlugoczaj at 3:56 AM on April 20, 2012

+1 replace it.

You bend it, you mend it.
posted by BadMiker at 5:16 AM on April 20, 2012

There is no way a product that is meant to be used on job/construction sites should brake so easily... is not obvious they need the light...

Both these statements are not relevant for the issue in question. The first especially has a twist to it: If you're so good in spotting that this is a DIY set and not a professional non-breako one, it would have been your responsibility to take special care, or better still: not even using it at the end, to avoid being the one in charge when it breaks.

Just buy him an new set.
posted by Namlit at 5:18 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

If they want the old bits back after that, sell them to them at a reduced price.

Absolutely do not do this. It's still the neighbor's light, even after you give them a very similar (or even better) replacement. If they want the old stuff, give it to them. If they don't want it, then you keep it.
posted by runningwithscissors at 5:36 AM on April 20, 2012

You make this right by purchasing the same item for them and letting them know about what happened. Give your neighbours both the new and old light with all of the remaining pieces.

Apologize even if you don't think it's your fault. The reality is that something broke that was a) not yours, but b) was in your possession for the time being.
posted by livinglearning at 5:49 AM on April 20, 2012 [2 favorites]

[A couple of comments deleted; the OP is not asking if they should make good on the broken light, but whether they should replace the item or give cash instead. In addition, they would like to know if it would then be bad to keep the original broken light.]
posted by taz (staff) at 6:09 AM on April 20, 2012

I think you can hold onto the old one. When you give them the replacement, ask if they want the broken one back, but they probably won't.
posted by J. Wilson at 6:14 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Seconding whoever said to buy them a new one and keep the receipt. That covers both bases really. And yes, I would expect a normal polite person to refuse if you offer verbally to replace it or give them the money, so I would not bother asking them first.
posted by EatMyHat at 6:28 AM on April 20, 2012

Be careful with social niceties here. If you borrowed something of mine and broke it, then asked me if you should replace it or give me the cash, I would probably feel obligated to tell you not to worry about it. Because that's what one does as a nice person! But deep down I would be annoyed and would certainly want a working item back. Even if you just offered the cash, as a Nice Person it's a bit harder to accept that than to accept an identical or similar working item. I think the way to handle this situation with the least amount of awkwardness is to replace the item and give it to your neighbor with the receipt. That way they can return it if they'd rather have the money, without having to feel like they're taking cash out of your hands.
posted by Jemstar at 6:31 AM on April 20, 2012 [9 favorites]

This has happened to me twice, and it's why I don't borrow things from neighbors anymore.

The first time, a small piece broke off a pressure washer, rendering it unusable. I had only borrowed it for five minutes when this happened. I gave my neighbor a gift card to the big box home improvement store in an amount roughly equal to twice what the part would cost (but not equal to the cost of a new pressure washer) due to the time and effort of finding the part, ordering it, and making it fit. I still feel bad that I didn't replace it entirely, and the relationship with the neighbor was never really the same.
The second time, which just happened the other week, I borrowed a live trap to catch an escaped house cat. It was cheap metal, which is why a live possum was able to rip its way out of the trap and destroy it entirely. I bought the exact same one and returned it to my neighbor. I feel much better about this transaction, plus I had the funny story to relate and it just was a total encounter of goodwill. I feel that I could approach this person again without shame.

In summary, pay for the item completely and don't rationalize your way out of this. This is a great example of the golden rule. Would you like to offer your neighbor something useful just to have him/her return it broken with a shrug? Of course not. Replace it.
Next time, don't borrow something you can't afford to replace.
posted by aabbbiee at 6:53 AM on April 20, 2012

If this happened to me I would go tell my neighbor about it and ask him how he would like me to handle it. All snark completely aside, why not go to him first with this?
posted by No Shmoobles at 6:55 AM on April 20, 2012

Yeah, talk to him first and ask what he would like you to do - mention the replacements that you found online and their prices. Tell him you'd be willing to order a replacement. If he declines, go to local hardware/tool store and get him a $50 gift card and include a thankyou note. But ask first! He may genuinely not care and you can proceed based on your feeling at that time.
posted by amanda at 7:00 AM on April 20, 2012

Replace, buy with cash at nearby store (not online), present new item to him with receipt and thanks. Don't ask him first, because this just puts an additional onus on him to make decisions about the light, to maybe go out and get a new one himself that he has to pick out, to be polite to you, etc - it kind of adds insult to injury. You got a nice favor from him. Return it by being gracious and doing the thing that makes it easiest for him to be made whole.
posted by fingersandtoes at 7:45 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Heh, lots of Ask vs Guess culture in the answers. However, unless you're sure he's an Ask guy who would be fine with telling you "Yes, please replace it for me" (and it sounds like you're not), it seems to me like it's your best move to just do as others have recommended and just buy the replacement (at a place it can be returned for cash) and provide him with a receipt in case he'd prefer the money to the replacement. If that's what he'd think is the right thing to do (and might be reluctant to ask you but feel resentful that you put him in that position), then $40 is a small price to pay for staying on good terms with your neighbor (and continuing to be able to borrow stuff so you don't need to buy your own.) If it turns out he wouldn't've expected you to do such a thing, well, then you've got $40 of good karma/"I owe him/her one"... I'm sure amongst next-door neighbors there will come a time when that pays off for you.

(I think it's fine to either keep the old one unless he asks for it back, or offer it back in a way that he'd be more reluctant to ask for it, i.e. don't bring it over with you when you bring the new one and say something like "I can go get the pieces of the old one if you want that too?" To me, since you're paying the price of a new un-broken one, you should be able to keep the old one-- although if he does want it back it's not worth arguing with him over.)
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:22 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

Forty dollars and a trip to the big box store is a small price to pay for a good relationship with a neighbor. Forget about fault. Forget about meeting some minimum standard of politeness. This is about maintaining a relationship with a member of your community who has been kind to you. Friendly neighbors are a very valuable asset. Friendly neighbors don't just lend you tools or a cup of flour. They water your garden when you're on vacation. They help you clean up after wind damage or dig out of a snowstorm. They give your car a jump when the battery is dead. They call the police if they see a stranger breaking your window. They call the fire department when you're not home and your house is on fire. If you want the privilege of living in a community where people do these things for one another without hesitation, you shouldn't just be fair to a good neighbor. You should be nice.

Buy a replacement. Give it to him with a gift receipt. Apologize for breaking it. Describe how it happened so he can perhaps avoid breaking the new one (politely, without criticizing his ability to choose tools). Then ask him if he wants the pieces of the broken light back. If he does, return them without complaint. If he doesn't, mention that you might find a way to reuse the still-working part (so he doesn't get surprised later when he sees you using it).

And next time you see him working on a project outside, offer to loan him a tool.
posted by BlueJae at 8:38 AM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

Just replace it. You put him on the spot when you say, hey I broke your light, do you want cash or want me to buy you a new one? It just prolongs the transaction over this light, when you buying a new one with cash, giving it to him with the receipt ends the Work Light Chapter of the relationship.
posted by oneirodynia at 8:40 AM on April 20, 2012 [1 favorite]

I am sorry I even bothered with this question. I asked while I was still angry at the broken light. I had just spent the most of the even digging a hole and planting a tree so I was not as jovial as normal. Clearly I should just buy a new light, thank them profusely, and offer them what is left of the broken light. Also I was planning on giving them something as a thank you for their help since I have moved in earlier this year and started fixing up the place, this is unrelated to me breaking the light but relevant to them loaning me the light.

I know more than a few people that told me they do not ever loan out their tools probably because of situation like this that was not resolved to their satisfaction. So thanks everyone for putting me back in my place.
posted by Ommcc at 11:05 AM on April 20, 2012 [3 favorites]

« Older Travel alarm clock that also will charge a USB...   |   How bad is it for you to sleep with the light on ? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.