I Have Two Cars, You Have None
August 17, 2017 10:41 PM   Subscribe

A close relative of mine is in need of a car. I’d like to help out but I need help figuring out how in a way that feels good. Advice, please? More under the fold!

I recently bought a newer used car to replace my very high-mileage (240,000+ miles) older vehicle. At the same time, a close relative of mine happens to be in need of a vehicle. I’d like to help them out but am struggling to figure out how. This situation is really out of my element for me, so please bear with me as I explain. I’m grateful for whatever insights and advice the community has to offer.

The family member in question is someone I care about and would like to help out. I know they are without reliable transportation and have been talking about getting a car for some time now. I don’t know the exact details, but I have reason to believe this family member is financially strapped.

In addition to being someone I care about, everyone in the family benefits by this family member getting a car because it would be easier for us to get together and see each other more often. It’s hard enough given our respective schedules and the physical distance between us. Add in this family member’s lack of reliable transportation and we hardly see each other at all.

I’m not fabulously wealthy, but I am in a position to assist. We don’t have the kind of relationship where we talk about our personal financial situations, and they’ve certainly never asked for help with a car, so it’s not easy or intuitive for me to figure out how to even bring up my desire to help in a natural way without either party feeling awkward or out of place.

I could pass on my older used car, but I don’t feel great about that option. I got a newer car for myself because the older one was really getting on in years and mileage, past a point I was comfortable with. The car appears to be worth $1,000 or so. There isn’t anything completely wrong with it as far as I’m currently aware, but I’d need to take it to a mechanic to verify. I estimate I’d need to spend a decent amount of money to get it in a shape I’d feel good about passing on (smog check, tire alignment, new battery, new windshield wiper blades, and who knows what else), and then who knows how long it will stay running smoothly after that given its age.

My opinion is that money would be better spent towards getting a nicer vehicle in better shape. It would be so easy to just go ahead and donate the car and be done with it, especially being someone who doesn’t have a ton of free time to run around and get estimates and then work done and a smog check and all that jazz!

I wonder if that’s faulty logic, though? While I currently have a sufficient financial buffer in my life, I’m not so far removed from knowing what it’s like to go without. I know enough to know the difference a decently running vehicle (even one that’s high-mileage and heavily used), can have on a person who otherwise does not have access to a car. I don’t want to be so out of touch that I default to just getting rid of an older used car that still runs. So, I hesitate to donate the car until there’s an alternate way I can help out in a way that feels good. On the other hand, I’d be happier knowing they got a car that suits them, and not just my old leftovers. I currently I don’t know how to bring up the subject, especially since we don’t see each other in person very often.

I have bought this individual a somewhat spendy gift in the past when they dropped hints about wanting a particular item. I had no problem that time because their hints gave me an opening and I recognized how the item would improve their quality of life. While a car also has the potential to significantly improve their quality of life, which is what I care about most, it’s not like I can afford to buy a car for them outright. Which means if I am to help, it’s up to them to get the car they feel is right. If I’m being perfectly honest, I sometimes question their financial decisions. I don’t feel entirely great about contributing funds towards what could be a sub-optimal purchase. And yet I don’t feel like I should have a say in what should be a personal decision. I just want to help, but I don’t want to be wasteful, either.

To be clear, I have no expectation or desire to be paid back if I were to help out financially. I want to offer any contribution I make as a gift, I’d just prefer not to enable poor decision making, if possible. I also don’t have an expectation that this person would owe me or should start making special trips on my behalf; I’d just like it to be possible for us to see each other more often or more easily in general. And while I wouldn’t make all the same financial decisions that this person would, I do feel they are a good person who has had some tough breaks in life and is someone who I’d like to help out where I can. The previous spendy gift I bought was kind of an anomaly; this person rarely asks or expects anything, but often gives a lot in the ways they can. If it helps, their birthday is coming up.

If you were in my shoes, how would you help someone you care about get a car?
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (18 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I'd give them the old car. I got a lot of use out of an old car someone gave me at a time in my life when I couldn't afford anything better; it was a wonderful gift and I never felt that they should have given me money towards a better car or something different.

It was way more useful to get a working car right then than it would have been to get the financial value of the old car towards a new car, as I still wasn't in a position to put my own money into the transaction and it saved me the hassle of buying a car, which can be a lot of stress/work depending on the kind of person you are.

I knew the whole time that the car wasn't amazing and wouldn't last forever given its age and mileage, but it had wheels and it got me to work and that was exactly what I needed.

If the person you know who needs one is likely to feel awkward about getting a high-value gift, the old car also works better here - they're less likely to feel massively indebted/guilty about a gift that has some realistic flaws/limitations but which could also be extremely useful in the short-to-mid-term.

You've got an older car that you don't need. Anything beyond giving the car is overthinking this.
posted by terretu at 11:00 PM on August 17, 2017 [26 favorites]

I want to offer any contribution I make as a gift, I’d just prefer not to enable poor decision making, if possible.

If you're talking about an adult, these two considerations are incompatible.

You hardly see this person, you concede that you don't actually know their financial circumstances, but you're cool judging their wisdom and maturity. If you want to give a loving gift, you really need to put that aside. Preferably permanently.

As for the mechanics of the gift, you could mention that you are getting rid of your old car and say that you'd like to pass the value on to the person--that you think they could get a better car with the cash than they would get by taking the old car and spending the same cash to fix it up. If this person's helpfulness extends to, e.g., caregiving for dependent family members, I would emphasize that you appreciate what they are doing and hope that such a gift would make it easier on them.
posted by praemunire at 11:03 PM on August 17, 2017 [2 favorites]

'Hey, [family member], did you mention you were looking at a car some time? If you want my Oldsmobile to cover the gap you're welcome to it. You might get a decent trade in for it or even decide you like it! Ha ha no seriously it's yours if you want it. Oh, you are / aren't interested? That's great / no problem.'
posted by obiwanwasabi at 11:20 PM on August 17, 2017 [39 favorites]

My best friend has effectively done this for me--recognized that I needed a car and couldn't afford it, and then said, find a car, we can make this work. She is a very, very good friend, and I don't deserve her. I feel pretty confident in saying that your relative will feel similarly, regardless of how you choose to do this.

I would call your relative, and say that you're getting rid of your car, and you'd really like to pass it on to them in some way. Tell them they could have the car outright (plus $x to do repairs etc, if you want--you don't have to do this yourself!) or the proceeds from the sale (either the actual proceeds or the proceeds + $x, as you see fit) to use to purchase/make a down payment on their own vehicle.

This is a life changingly kind thing to do, but I really do feel that you're overthinking it. Offer, give them a way to accept or decline gracefully, and then do the thing.
posted by mishafletch at 11:23 PM on August 17, 2017 [5 favorites]

Another thought is the insurance cost. That older car might be an affordable insurance price, while a newer one might not be. (In my state, registration cost would actually vary, too.)
posted by stormyteal at 11:45 PM on August 17, 2017 [8 favorites]

I gave my brother my old car. I called him up and said if he wanted it he could have it, or I would donate it to charity. He was thrilled. It changed his life in many seemingly small ways. When you're on the bottom like that it is hard to climb up by yourself. My brother gave me money every time I saw him for a few years until I told him to stop. He needs that money to keep that 25 year old Ford Explorer with 250000 miles on it running.
posted by cairnoflore at 11:53 PM on August 17, 2017 [3 favorites]

I did this with an old laptop. It was so slow and heavy and flaky that I felt bad passing it on to my friend even though I knew she needed a computer. So I gave it to her warning her she might hate it and explicitly instructing her to sell it on eBay if she ended up finding it too annoying to use and then put the money from the sale towards something better. Which she did, in the end, so it all ended well.
posted by lollusc at 11:54 PM on August 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

Great Gift: Here's my old car, it's yours!

AWESOME GIFT: Here's my old car, it has new this, this, and this. Soon it will need X and Y maintenance.

Disclaimer: I love older cars and know how to keep them running.

I think you can't pass it on without full disclosure - tire condition, upcoming maintenance issues and the like. Everything you mentioned doing you should do + a detail cleaning because you are being a good human. You're still a good human if you don't get the wipers replaced, but then it is not a gift.

We were once told a hand-me-down car had new tires, when in fact the back tires were down to the radials. We could have died driving in a rainstorm on a 4 hour trip! Don't fail to be thorough! People who don't own cars regularly don't know! After 240,000 miles, you know maintenance. Get them started on the right foot, don't assume they know how to maintain an older vehicle. PASS ON ALL OF YOUR MAINTENANCE RECORDS. Be a mensch. Seriously.
posted by jbenben at 11:59 PM on August 17, 2017 [6 favorites]

especially being someone who doesn’t have a ton of free time to run around and get estimates and then work done and a smog check and all that jazz!

Does your relative have that free time? I so, I might try a white lie and tell them that you would need to get it back in good condition to donate it anyway, so if they could do all the running around to get it fixed, you'd pay for it all and then they could keep the car or donate it themselves. (Bonus points if you find a charity that would in fact use the car, so that if your relative does donate it they don't figure it out).

If they don't know much about cars, then you supervising them getting a bunch of work done when you know what's happening will probably be a good start to their learning about finding a mechanic, where to buy windshield wipers, etc. (I don't own a car and I wouldn't know where to start).
posted by the agents of KAOS at 1:01 AM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Tough one, pass it on and if he can't afford the other costs let him sell it?
posted by jenjen23 at 4:22 AM on August 18, 2017

I have done this more times than I can remember. I used to buy and sell cars for extra income back in the day. Occasionally I'd come across a particularly good deal on a car that only needed a little work and would have a friend that needed transportation. If they could afford it I'd have them cover my costs and they could have a Honda Civic with 98,000 miles on it for $78. Sometimes, if they couldn't come up with the cash I'd make it a gift and just find another deal to cover my expenses.
Just give them the car.
They can then either drive it 'till they can get something better, sell it and buy a bus pass, (seriously, I had a friend do this once. He was afraid to tell me about it. I told him "I wanted you to have transportation. I'm glad I could help!") or trade it in on something more suitable.
posted by Floydd at 6:33 AM on August 18, 2017

If I’m being perfectly honest, I sometimes question their financial decisions.

Don't offer the car unless you believe you can mask these feelings from the potential giftee. When family and friends lend or give money or durable goods, the gifter/lender often starts scrutinizing the giftee/borrower's choices, which is neither fair to the giftee/borrower nor especially constructive. Giving this person your car will not entitle you to judge their every purchase going forward.
posted by schroedingersgirl at 6:37 AM on August 18, 2017 [6 favorites]

In my state vehicle tax is proportional to the value of the car. If it's a gift, then something approximating the blue book value is used to determine the tax. It's a relatively common practice when transferring ownership between family members or friends to document on the bill of sale the price of "$1, love, and affection"

Offer it to him for a dollar, describe what you think needs to be done and let him take the responsibility of ownership and upkeep.

If he wants to sell it and buy a moped, you gotta be ok with that too.
posted by ElGuapo at 6:40 AM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

Yeah, just give him the car. It could make a huge difference in his life. You can give it to him even if you are not 100% on board with his financial decisions.

Someone I barely know once let me use a car for a summer that she had been about to donate to NPR. I was an unpaid intern for the summer and just needed a car to get around. She was really honest with me about the problems with the car (there were a lot!) and the car was a junker but it helped so much to have it.
posted by lunasol at 7:10 AM on August 18, 2017

In your situation, especially where your other option is to donate it to charity, I would absolutely give my relative the car and I wouldn't bring it to a mechanic first. I would run it through the car wash, vacuum the interior, stick on those new wiper blades you mentioned, and fill it up with gas. Anything else would be up to them. Feel good about yourself, know that you DID donate it to charity (a hyper local one), and that whatever your relative decides to do with it is on them.
posted by clone boulevard at 7:30 AM on August 18, 2017 [3 favorites]

My partner and I have been going on an old car that definitely does not run perfectly for about... two years now? It's been a literal lifesaver. We know it's not going to last forever, and that it's definitely on its last legs, but until we can save up for a new car it's made our lives infinitely easier and made it much easier for 1) me to get into graduate school, and 2) them to get a job.

You mentioned you think the cost of getting it up and running to your satisfaction is more than you think is reasonable (in comparison to getting a new car). It's worth considering if anyone in the family works on cars, or knows someone who does, they may be able to make the repairs themselves much cheaper. My partner and I have kept this car running much longer than we possibly could have because my dad is a mechanic and he has repaired the car at only the cost of parts (which is significant; we've had a $600 repair drop down to $25!). Honestly, though, if there's nothing actually wrong with it and none of the not-totally-perfect parts are going to become dangerous if left alone too long... just go for it. Our car's shocks are now nonexistent, the driver's side window doesn't roll down, the battery's nowhere near new... it's still a lifesaver. Sure, these things are annoying, and they will slowly break down over time, but they give a HUGE leg up towards being able to afford a new (as in, 3-4 year old instead of 17 year old) car.
posted by brook horse at 11:20 AM on August 18, 2017

Don't overthink it. This person needs help and you are in a position to help. That kind of opportunity doesn't come along every day.

Call relative up and say " I was planning to get rid of this car but then I thought maybe you could use it." Tell them it's your gift to them, no strings attached. If they really protest taking it for free, negotiate a low price. Say " look, the bluebook is $1K but you're family, how does $400 sound?". Let them negotiate with you a little for their pride if they feel they must. In the end you will both be satisfied.
posted by vignettist at 12:20 PM on August 18, 2017 [1 favorite]

I think it would be great to just offer them the car. That's a generous thing to do. Be honest about the condition of course. Tell them its theirs to do whatever they want with. If they choose to sell it and buy a washing machine or a tea cup poodle, you should be ok with that. A gift given with conditions attached is really no gift at all.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 3:24 PM on August 18, 2017 [2 favorites]

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