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July 14, 2003

Their Mistake, My Problem, Everyone's Bill

Last week I shared the woes we experienced with our new car. I suppose flat tires are bound to happen once in a while, but getting one within the first two hours of ownership (or leaseeship) were not only uncalled for, it was downright disheartening. Finding out that the tires that come on the car are actually half-decent tires that cost a pretty penny didn't help either. I had seriously hoped that on Monday I would simply take the car into the dealership, have a new tire installed, and I would be done with the whole incident. Not this time.

First, the dealer has trouble finding a tire. Somehow, the service manager conjures one up, despite not having any in stock. I'm not too picky about where it came from, and he did mention scavenging one off one of the cars on the lot, but as long as it's the same brand and doesn't have a huge tear in the sidewall, I'm happy. Well, the good news ended at being able to find the tire. During the balancing procedure, just before they get ready to put the wheel and tire back on the car, they notice that something isn't right with the rim. Upon further inspection, they determine that the concrete not only ate a very expensive tire for dinner, but also decided to take a run at my aluminum wheel for dessert. It is bent, and thereby inherently unbalanced and unbalanceable.

After an appropriate stunned silence and seeing dollar signs being flushed away, I ask how much a new wheel runs. Luckily for me, these are production rims from a fairly frugal manufacturer - they run only $250. Of course, I didn't see it that way at the time - I saw an extra $250 bleeding away. On top of it all, the service department recommended a 4-wheel alignment. After all, anything that you run over that can eat a tire and bend a rim just might have done something seriously bad to your alignment. Another $75.

Thinking quickly, I remember that there is a rim repair shop in the area. I call them up and find out that if - and please note that "if" - if the rim is repairable, it will cost $110. Well, that's a lot better than twice that for a new one. Unfortunately, I need four rims to drive around on, not just three. I ask the dealer if there is a steel wheel I can borrow for the time being. As my vehicle is fairly new, and not sold in the hordes that its cheaper brethren are, no such wheels are in stock, and no such used wheels exist in my region either. A new steel wheel, which I would have to wait a few days for, is $90. Between having to buy a steel wheel, repair the aluminum one, and all the labour involved in mounting and re-mounting the tire, it's the same cost as a new aluminum wheel. In the end, I order the aluminum wheel and an alignment, just glad to have the car back to proper working condition. Finally, I can let the issue rest. Right?

I probably would have, were it not for one comment made by the service woman making my appointment. At every opportunity during this ordeal I have explained exactly what happened, hoping to evoke some sympathy (and discounts). This woman was really pouring on the incredulity and the shock, so of course I was enjoying the attention and sympathy. She then exclaimed, "You should go after the city for that!" I paused, and thought that she was right. It certainly wasn't my fault that concrete was lying on the road. I decided to make a phone call.

I called the city's road maintenance division and discovered that the highway in question is actually a provincial responsibility. Fine, I can take it up a level. I called the Ministry of Transportation Ontario, and lo and behold, one of the options on their voice mail system is to file a claim for road hazard damage. Bingo! Within a few minutes I'm talking to a very pleasant lady who tells me exactly what I need to do to file a claim against the MTO. I simply have to send a letter with the date of the incident, a description of what happened, and the invoices for cost incurred. Hey, that I can do!

Once all the servicing and replacing has subsided, I tally the total cost of everything, write a very descriptive 3-page letter and an invoice summary, and send it off to them. They will receive it sometime this week, and I will get a letter acknowledging their receipt of my claim. After that, they hand it off to their Risk Management group (or whatever they're called) and I wait for a phone call and/or a cheque. Pretty sweet, huh?

Sort of. It occurs to me that if the MTO does pay up, I'm essentially being paid off by all Ontario drivers. What's more, the reason I'm being paid off is because one person - who may or may not be associated with road maintenance and/or the Ontario provincial government - did not properly secure their load of construction debris, and left some behind for my car to drive over. In short, all Ontario drivers are getting the short end of the stick thanks to one wank that didn't make sure their concrete was secure.

I'm not going to feel bad about it. If part of my tax dollars (gas, income, or otherwise) go to paying off people who have had incidents like mine, I think that's money well spent. The only problem is that there is no mechanism in this scenario to prevent, deter, or punish the unlucky or incompetent people that allow such debris to make its way onto our roads. I suppose it behooves us all to police each other in this respect; if you see someone with an obviously unsafe load, for crying out loud, don't just pass them, let them know! Trust me, someone out there will be grateful!

Meanwhile, I wait for my answer from MTO. I've been told that due to the specific circumstances of my incident, if MTO doesn't pay up the police are on the hook. As much as I'd like to put this all behind me and move on, I'd also really like my money back for an unfortunate incident beyond my control. On the upside, if I can repair my old bent rim, I'm halfway to that full-size spare I've wanted.


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