Tuesday, March 20, 2007

Company Car Drivers: Show Some Respect

We have the Fiat back! Actually, we've had it back for a couple of weeks now, but I've been too busy to write anything.

The car is (nearly) as it was. We've used it a few times for shopping trips and mechanically it's perfect, however, I must report the after-market body pressings currently being produced for the Fiat 500 in central and eastern Europe are not of the same quality as the original Fiat pressings. Perhaps I was naive for ever hoping they would be?

Not only is the new engine cover missing the charming, albeit unnecessary, Italian stickers warning you not to do silly things like rest your hand on the exhaust manifold, it also doesn't quite fit properly. It's immediately obvious when you know how it used to be. Bob (bless him) has done his best with the pressing he could get, but you can just tell it isn't right.

The handle no longer closes neatly behind the latch (indeed, he had to cut an inch or two out of the existing rubber seal), the lid seems a fraction too wide and tall for the hole it is supposed to cover and while it used to fit like a glove, now it just about closes tightly with a bit of jiggling and jostling.

What a shame! And all because some silly idiot wasn't paying attention.

The person responsible for this mess doesn't realise, and would never appreciate or probably even accept, is that while this was only a £500 repair, it knocked a small fortune off of the "saleability" of the car.

Little details like this make a big difference to charm of the vehicle and a little bit of the car's soul was lost the day that stupid fool mangled the original Italian engine lid beyond repair. It's not like replacing the plastic bumper on a 2004 Ford Focus.

Call me melodramatic, or even overly sentimental, but I'm serious. This sort of detail makes the difference between a truly sound, original car and a "restored" car. The former will always be more desriable to the purist and a little bit of that desirability was lost that day.

But you know what winds me up the most? The fact it was a company car.

Doubtless the offender in this case got a replacement car immediately, was totally unaffected by her careless antics and is free to do the same to someone else tomorrow, totally without penalty.

We had endless hassle and stress dealing with solicitors, doctors, insurance companies, valuers, garages (we had to fight just to get it fixed by a specialist), recovery companies and more besides ... and we had to pay a £50 excess for the work!

While she signed a piece of paper admitting liability and handed it in to HR.

Where's the justice in that? Where's the punishment? Where's the tiniest little piece of incentive for her to not drive around like Britain's Worst Driver in the future? Her premiums won't even go up, not that she'd care if they did, because the company is paying.

There seems to be something about not owning your car which makes a person treat it with total disregard. This doesn't bother or concern me, to an extent. I mean if you want your car to be a mobile skip, filled to the brim with burger wrappers and discarded coffee cups, what do I care? If you're not bothered about that four foot scratch down the side, where you used the supermarket railings as a parking guide, who am I to comment? However, if your attitude extends to privately owned cars belonging to other people, then I, nay we, have every right to be angry.

I hope the lady concerned felt at least a small pang of guilt when she saw my girlfriend choking back the tears as she observed the mess that was the rear of our Fiat 500. The Fiat 500 her brother sourced for her from a proud, elderly collector in Milano. The Fiat 500 we drove from Italy in a 5 day adventure. The Fiat 500 which has been a part of people's lives, and a part of her native Italy, for nearly 40 years. The Fiat 500 which is so much more to someone than "just a car".

Sadly, I fear she felt nothing more than a slight pang of iritation that now she was going to be late for lunch at her mother-in-law's.

So what you gonna do?
Simple: if it were up to me, people with company cars would be obliged to organise their own insurance.

Sure, the company can provide you with a car. They can do the routine maintenance and pay the road tax. But every individual should organise their insurance personally, so they get the hassle and the paperwork when they run into someone. Then, just maybe, a few of them would be a little less blasé about other road users and a little less prone to using their 4-door family saloon as a mobile battering ram.