Baby seats and courtesy cars

legal updates

The truth is that a courtesy car is just that - a courtesy; it is neither a right nor an obligation.

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We recently had to advise on a case involving the ‘loan’ of a courtesy car to a customer whose car was being serviced.

A very common situation, occurring daily in many service and main dealer centres across the country, took on a new perspective, when the customer refused the car. They had two reasons for rejecting this ‘courtesy’. The first given was that ‘I am not going to drive around in car of any less quality than the one I own!’, while the second did have some validity, when it was pointed out by the customer that they were transporting their own children who had to be seated in child seats to meet legislation and natural safety concerns.

In deciding whether to offer a courtesy car service to the customer, a dealer or service centre should ask itself why it does so. Is it a marketing tool to attract customers away from those who offer no such facility, or is it offered in the belief that one is obligated to in an age where everyone knows their ‘rights’?

Sometimes, there is an imperative, generated by the obligations arising from the Sale of Goods Act. Under this Act, a customer is entitled to have faults that occur in a newly purchased vehicle put right at no expense or inconvenience to them. A simple remedy, to make sure the customer avoids inconvenience or hire charges, is to give them a courtesy car, but make no mistake, it still is not a right, but merely an expedient solution intended to satisfy both parties. In this case, offering a courtesy car is the right thing to do.

Strangely, customers often believe they have an absolute right to a courtesy car. But perhaps those who do, think also that they are owed, as of right, courteous behaviour at all times from all whom they encounter without the need in themselves to reflect it.

The truth is that a courtesy car is just that – a courtesy; it is neither a right nor an obligation. Furthermore, a dealer or service centre, having made the policy decision to offer a courtesy car, is not obliged to offer one of the same quality as the borrower’s own car. The dealer also is not required to equip the loan car for the needs of the customer. 

Thus where a mother with small children seeks a courtesy car, it might be prudent to point out that you cannot offer a car with child seats. She must be prepared to make other arrangements in these circumstances and not expect others to solve all of life’s little problems!

The service centre or dealer needs to ensure that any car offered for transport is road legal, safe, clean and reliable. They also should make the customer sign a document that makes the driver liable for all speeding, parking and congestion fines, which they agree to pay without demur, while of course making them liable for all damage caused to the vehicle while in their custody. Insurance cover is essential and a copy of their driving licence, pinned to the signed loan agreement would be wise.

Finally, after taking the customer out to the courtesy car, having checked to make sure the current road fund disc is correctly displayed, you might wish to offer a brief instruction about the individual car controls and features, including where and what kind of fuel to put in.

It would, after all, be no more than common courtesy!

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