The Moneyist: My father-in-law returned our truck with a $1,500 fender bender. My in-laws were flippant and declined to pay. Should we push it?

United States

Dear Quentin,

My husband decided to buy a new truck at 0% interest in 2019. At the time our son was 13 years old; he would be driving soon enough, so we decided not to trade in our other 2010 truck during the purchase. 

My in-laws have terrible money-management skills. My mother-in-law drives only when she absolutely must, leaving all the driving to her husband. 

My father-in-law borrowed the truck for the two years we didn’t need it. He carried the insurance and did the maintenance and minor repairs needed to keep it running. The truck remained in my name. 

No police report was filed

A year ago, my father-in-law was involved in a supposed hit-and-run, denting the front fender. No police report was filed. The incident was never disclosed to us — nor was an estimate of repairs sought. 

The day my father-in-law returned the truck for our son, the damage was disclosed. The day before, he reportedly sent photos of the dented fender to a repair shop, and the estimate for repairs came back at $ 1,500. Their deductible is $ 1,000.

My mother-in-law was flippant about the damage — saying that my teen driver would most likely damage it himself, so getting something fixed that will be damaged eventually seems silly.  

My in-laws, in their 70s, are about to take out a 30-year reverse mortgage on their home. They live off my father-in-law’s Social Security. What role should my in-laws play in the repair of the fender?


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Dear Daughter-in-Law,

Let’s assume it was a hit-and-run incident. The likelihood of an automobile insurance company declining the claim increases exponentially the longer a policy holder waits to report an accident.

Your in-laws would need to file a police report. But that does not help them with their deductible. That $ 1,000 is, I presume, the reason they did not tell you about the fender bender in the first place.

The easiest way to deal with a difficult or awkward situation is to fess up as soon as possible. The delay in telling you will only have exacerbated your in-laws’ anxieties over the accident, leading to further procrastination.

‘Their terrible money-management skills may be directly related to this kind of obfuscation.’

Indeed, their terrible money-management skills may be directly related to this kind of obfuscation. As any financial manager will tell you, ignoring debts, addictive behavior or unhealthy spending patterns only makes matters worse.

Tell your in-laws to come to you when something happens in the future, rather than waiting so long after the fact. That allows you to make decisions together. You could, for example, have helped them to pay for the deductible.

Inform them that it is up to you to decide whether your son can live with a truck with a damaged fender, and whether this is a serious issue or not. Keeping secrets erodes trust in a relationship, and you don’t want that to happen to you.

Don’t trust them with your property again, and write off the debt. 

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