By Jordan W. Charness

Peter is a nice guy, but sometimes he is too nice a guy. Regular readers know by now that Peter owns several cars, and he has drivers living in his house. He has a nice mix of sports cars and family cars and is never at a loss for something to drive.

In this instance, Peter had close friends visiting from out of the country. They had planned to tour Québec, Ontario and New England over a four-week period basing themselves out of Peter’s house in Montréal. They were going to rent a car but a month-long rental would have been very expensive. Since Peter was going on vacation he really didn’t need his 4×4 and volunteered to lend it to them for two weeks.

His guests were very pleased at the possible savings to their vacation budget but were a little bit leery about borrowing Peter’s car for such an extended period of time. He assured them that there was nothing to worry about since the car was only two years old and was still under warranty. In addition, the car came with 24-hour roadside assistance and in the unlikely event that the car broke down they could always call for help.

Before they set out, Peter made sure to give them the car’s registration and insurance papers and a letter stating that he gave them permission to borrow the car. According to law any driver of a vehicle must carry the first two documents and writing the letter was just a good idea.

He also made sure to give them the driver’s operating handbook as well as the toll-free number for roadside assistance. In the two years Peter had the car he only had to call roadside assistance once: he was at Burlington Airport and ran over a nail. Rather than change the tire himself he dialed the toll-free number for roadside assistance and they dispatched a very nice local tow truck driver.

The tow truck driver changed the flat, but unfortunately, Peter’s car is equipped with a temporary spare tire and it is illegal and dangerous to drive over 80 km/h with that kind of spare. Since Peter had wanted to get home he asked the tow truck driver if he could take him to a garage that could fix the flat. Unfortunately, since it was eight o’clock, all the service centres were closed.

The tow truck driver insisted it wasn’t very hard to fix a flat if you know what caused it. Since Peter’s flat tire had a very obvious nail sticking out, the cause was self-evident. Peter and the tow truck driver went to the local Wal-Mart and bought a flat repair kit. The driver plugged the flat tire and took the tire to a service station and filled it with air. He then changed the tire once again switching the mini spare for the full-size tire.

He didn’t even charge for his service saying that it was all covered by roadside assistance. This was well beyond what roadside assistance covers and Peter gave him a large tip.

With this experience behind him Peter was sure that if his friends ran into any mechanical difficulties on their trip they could count on roadside assistance: how wrong he was.

Not all roadside assistance plans are the same: each program, including those offered by aftermarket companies such as CAA and Mr. Rescue, are governed by the terms and conditions of their contracts. Even though the owner does not pay a specific amount for the roadside assistance plan, the manufacturer is obligated to provide the services listed in that particular program.

But as Peter found out, it doesn’t always work like you think it will. Read next week’s column to find out about Peter’s tale of woe and its legal ramifications.

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