I’ve watched COPS since 1989 and The People’s Court since I was a little boy. Using both of these informative “what you oughta do” shows as a resource material, I have learned this:
If you ever borrow a car, you are required to make sure that there are no narcotics, guns, stolen clothes, electronics, tools, jewelry, children, burglary tools, or other contraband in the borrowed car when you took possession of it. Don’t forget to check under the seats, the center console, the ashtrays and the gaps between the rear seat cushions. If you intend to carry any passengers, make sure to have them empty their pockets and purses so that you might do a thorough search of their property for anything illegal. Then, you have to make sure that the car is correctly and currently registered with the car owner’s name clearly printed on the registration. You need to verify that the plates match the VIN as reported on the registration, and that the registration and insurance cards are easily available to you within the cabin of the vehicle upon demand by a police officer.
You will then need to do a walk-around with the registered owner to identify any existing damage on the vehicle, marking off trouble areas on a scale drawing of the car on paper. We recommend a flattened top view or an interrupted sinusoidal projection. Mark detailed notes about the location and description of damage on the inspection sheet. Both you and the registered owner should sign off on this document, with copies produced in duplicate, triplicate or even quadruplicate in case the owner might initiate a civil claim for damages against you in the future. To better protect yourself, you will need to write up a lending agreement contract, get a receipt acknowledging that you paid the agreed-upon fees if any, avoiding cash in favor of checks, money orders or credit cards.
It is a very wise idea to invest $100 and get a professional, licensed mechanic to verify that the car is in good working order in case there is a major mechanical defect that you could get accused of causing down the road. Make sure to get a receipt for this transaction as well. If you make any repairs or improvements to the vehicle, retain all receipts and see to it that you have appropriate written permission from the registered owner. If you expect to be reimbursed for these expenses, you need to include that in your lending agreement contract to ensure that you will have a legal claim in the future. Also, it’s probably a good idea to take detailed photos of the car from all sides, including underneath, to demonstrate what the car looked like prior to your taking possession of it. Make sure that the axles are straight, that there is no obvious chassis buckling, and that there aren’t any potentially catastrophic oil leaks. Check the tension on the belts, the fluids and the tire pressure.
When you return the car to the registered owner, you are going to have the RO sign off on the car’s condition as proof that you have brought it back in a condition acceptable to the terms of your agreement.
According to both The People’s Court and COPS, you have to do all of this shit or else you’ll probably get arrested and/or ruled against in a civil suit.
Alternatively, you could rent an economy car from Enterprise for $20, get the damage waiver, and save somewhere between $70 and $5000 depending on the severity of your prior criminal history.
[c] 2009 Russ of America