my company car is a pain in the ass

A reader writes:

I’ve been working for a company for 10 years, and after my immediate line manager had an accident, I was “promoted” to supervisor (not manager) in his continued absence.

My contract as supervisor states that my position comes with a company car, the personal use on which I pay the correct tax for. However, it has repeatedly come up in conversation with my bosses that they will use this car as and when they see fit, because although the nature of our business is door-to-door, only my car is insured. Previously I’ve been told that I must leave my car for others to use when I’m not working (holidays, etc.), and when I was off sick, they attempted to take my car for their use instead of going through the proper channels of using their own vehicles, recording the mileage, and claiming the correct fuel refund.

I find this unfair on many levels, not least because I do not have a private car, I am very busy with my own job, and I am now expected to drop off and pick up other members of staff despite them having their own cars, as “we’re not giving another fuel allowance as we’ve already got a club car.” Another member of the staff receives a fuel allowance despite being a) office-based and b) uninsured for work business. I feel I am being penalized as I’m on the lowest wage in the department, and it is not my problem if other members of staff will not insure their vehicles correctly. It is also affecting holidays, as there are days I cannot have off as no one is insured to deliver paperwork to other properties.

Can you advise me on what rights, if any, I have over this? Or would be I be better off requesting that they change the nature of the car to a pool car so that no one could use it for personal business, and my tax would reduce?

So you’ve been given the “benefit” of having a company car that’s supposedly partly for your own personal use — which you pay taxes on — but anyone else can use this car whenever they want, you have to leave it at the office upon demand, and you have to act as a chauffeur for other employees? Oh, and you can’t get certain holidays off because of it?

You do not have a company car. You have the company albatross.

Stop letting them engage in this charade. Tell them that you’re returning the car and do whatever paperwork is necessary to relinquish any tax-related responsibility for it.

While it may have sounded like a benefit originally, it clearly isn’t one. It’s an anti-benefit.

{ 38 comments… read them below }

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      I’m not 100% sure if paying the tax on it might have created some sort of implied contract, but assuming that’s not the case, I think it would come down to whether she has a written agreement of any kind with them about the car and, if so, what it says.

  1. me*

    It sounds like a bigger headache to deal with, I think I would just return the car. If you can sue or something though, go for it. Email lawyers if AAM doesn’t have a sure answer. BUT – You can drive yourself to work and the people in your office may stop taking (or so they think) advantage of you. I’m sorry to hear about it, it sounds terrible. Tell them you are turning it in because your husband bought you a Harley! :)

  2. Mary*

    It sounded to me like the OP didn’t have a car of his or her own, so had to use the “company car” — that it is necessary for work. So maybe giving it back is not an option?

  3. Erica B*

    what a PITA…. you must not be in Massachusetts, because you have to have insurance here in order to get your car registered, so I can’t wrap my head around the fact that other people don’t have THEIR company cars insured. That just isn’t smart. Tell them the car was issued to you, not them, and they should be using THEIR company car not yours. If something happens while they are in control, who gets in trouble? Are you liable for damages they incur because you “let” them use it? There has to be a policy on file about this. I”m not sure who you would go to, but you can ask, “Is there a policy that I can borrow about the use of company cars, because I am not sure of a few things” and leave it at that.

    1. Julie*

      In Quebec, you also must have insurance in order to register your car. Every single car that is legally on the road is insured. (Cars illegally on the road are an open question.)

      I agree that OP’s company car seems like more hassle than it’s worth, but if she doesn’t have a private car, it might be tricky for her to get into work or do her work-related tasks without the company car. Perhaps she should negotiate the policy with regards to its use, and get it in writing? (i.e. “I will drive employees to work if they are along my usual route;” “If I am not at the office one day, neither is my car;” etc.)

      1. Heather*

        I think it’s that way through out all of Canada. It’s illegal to drive a non-insured car. Also incredibly stupid.

    2. Amber*

      It seems more like they have personal cars insured for personal use, but not for business use.
      If you have had an accident, you’ll notice the first thing the insurance company asks you is “were you driving the car for business or personal use?”. That’s because your personal insurance doesn’t (normally) cover work activities.

      1. Erica B*

        not necessarily the case. In MA, your insurance travels with you when you are driving another car; it covers you and the car- but also seperately, so it’s common that if you drive a car for work, like I do- your insurance will get billed if something happens.

        1. Emily*

          Yes, your insurance can go from car to car, but a personal vehicle is commonly not covered during work activities unless specifically insured for business use. I used to deliver pizzas and my car had to be insured “for business purposes” in order to be covered for anything that happened while I was on the clock (unless I were to lie to police/insurance co about being at work when the accident happened, which I’m sure plenty of people do). I think the issue is that none of his coworkers have insured their personal vehicles for business purposes.

    3. KayDay*

      That confused me as well…I believe every state in the US requires minimum liability insurance to have/register/operate a car. I am wondering if the OP meant some additional business insurance beyond the minimum liability?

      1. Anonymous*

        You don’t have to have insurance in NH, which is great if, like me, you simply cannot afford it, as public transport here leaves a lot to be desired. The down side is if you get into an accident.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          Wow. What if you hit someone who also doesn’t have insurance and is horribly injured? What if it’s a pedestrian or bicyclist, who would have no reason to have their own insurance? You don’t even need liability insurance for situations like that?

          1. Anonymous*

            Nope. No insurance is needed, unless you are making payments, most car dealerships will require you to have insurance but if you make a private sale or have paid off your car, you do not need to have it.

            It does mean that you are more open to lawsuits. The best thing you can do if you don’t have insurance and get into an accident is to stay at the scene and hope for the best.

  4. Long Time Admin*

    The fact that the OP does not have a private car of his/her own, is not the point. The OP managed to get to work before the promotion, so there is obviously alternate transportation available.

    Give the car back and get your own vehicle. If you have to travel for work, request the car for that trip only.

  5. Lee L*

    Yeah I ditto the comments above. If they insist on using “your” company car for other people, it is NOT “your” car. It is a POOL car. Insist that they remove all tax liability from you. Paying tax for a benefit implies it’s for you and you only.

    As for the insurance issue, I think the OP means that the other people’s cars are not insured for business use as this is in most cases additional to a normal car policy. When I used to use my personal car for business, I paid about $25 per month extra.

  6. Joey*

    Stop calling it “my car” because it’s not. If the company pays for it they can use however and whenever they want…even if it’s a pain in the ass for you. And really it’s not unfair because….it’s not your car. It’s part of the deal- they pay for it, they get to decide who uses it. Your best bet is to ask for mileage or a car allowance. When it’s your car then you can decide who gets to use it.

    1. Mike C.*

      But you forgot that he has to pay taxes on it because it’s somehow a “benefit” to him. Either it’s a benefit and he should get to use it as he sees fit (with the tax bill) or it’s not his to use as a benefit like you say and should incur no tax liability.

      1. Joey*

        They are different issues. They get to say who uses the car and when. If he’s paying taxes to use it for personal use during specified times then those should be adjusted when it’s being used for work purposes. But the better solution is to just give it back and request an alternate solution like mileage or a car allowance.

  7. Interviewer*

    Can you call fleet management and get them to clarify if it’s your car or the club car? If I learned I was driving a club car, I’d hand back the keys and get my own car, stat. Plenty of people out there selling used cars. Having that company vehicle as part of my contract and finding out it’s now the club car without my knowledge or any notice might give me a good point of negotiation for the obtaining much-needed fuel allowance, too. But I suspect they have no idea that your bosses have demanded they have access to it, and they might be absolutely horrified at the thought of all these employees commandeering it on your days off. My husband had a company car, as did several of his co-workers, and while I was insured to drive it (he paid taxes on personal use), none of his co-workers were insured to drive it. Everyone drove their own vehicles, thank you very much.

    I get that gas is expensive these days and they say they’re not doing any more fuel allowances and they want to make sure their drivers are insured when they’re on company business, but a company forcing you to do something like this with your vehicle seems a little beyond the pale in my book. Bottom line: your company is telling you they can’t afford to pay for the fuel to drive their work around town, and they won’t force workers who drive for their jobs to get insured. These are huge red flags to me.

    Good luck to you, OP.

  8. Anonymous*

    Two things make me curious:

    By what means is the employee paying tax for personal use? Is it coming out of his/her paycheck? And on what basis are they determining the amount? I’m not an expert on tax issues, but everything I’ve ever read that says when you use this stuff for a mix of personal/business use, you have to keep records and pay based on the amount of usage. IOW, if the employee never uses it for personal use, how/why is there a tax?

    Second, the “we’ve got a club car, we’re not paying out gas allowances” doesn’t hold muster with me. A gallon of gas is a gallon of gas, no matter what vehicle it’s in. The exception is if the company’s “fuel allowance” is the IRS’s $0.51/mile, which is far more than gas itself.

  9. Student*

    Random thought: You said that there were other company cars available, but not properly insured, for your bosses to use. You said that they’d strongly prefer to use yours instead.

    Is is possible that you have the new, shiny, bells-and-whistles car and they have cars that are old, dirty, and in disrepair? Is this perhaps more of an ego thing and a desire to play with the newest toy than a transportation thing? Some people look at cars as a status symbol more than anything else.

    If this is the case, you should offer to swap company cars with one of them. Repair, clean, insure, and use the older car. Let them duke it out over the shiny toy while you get work done. Get a nice toy when you can afford one for your personal use, or when you’re high enough in the company totem pole to insist on a private company car successfully.

  10. Malissa*

    First off, the tax situation. According to the IRS if a person is issued a company car and uses it to commute then that is a taxable benefit, which is $1.50 each way. This could be a huge problem if the OP isn’t getting to drive the car home and is still getting taxed. So OP needs to keep an accurate record of when they drive the car home.
    The minute this car switches to a taxi service, the employer shouldn’t be taxing the employee on the commute, because the function of the car car just changed from a personal car to a work sponsored car pool, which allows the company to write off all expenses to the car. this means they shouldn’t be taxing the employee for the use of the car.
    Now whether or not the OP wants to play taxi driver for everybody and whether or not it’s getting in the way of their productivity are issues that should be addressed with management.
    If I were the OP I’d give the car back until all the issues where properly addressed with the car.

  11. KayDay*

    If I were the OP I would save up and buy a low cost used car for personal use and then “give back” the company sponsored car and ask the company to treat it as such. (The car would remain on company premises when not in use and employees would have to “sign out” the car for business use). However, this is probably more complicated and time consuming than it sounds.

  12. Scott Woode*

    “You do not have the company car. You have the company albatross.”

    Oh, Alison, your reference to “Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner” totally made my heart skip three beats, and almost swallow coffee down the wrong tube! :) I have such a huge smile now thanks to you.

    OP, to me it sounds like they told you one thing (by accident/on purpose) and then gave you the opposite without you realizing you’d been duped. Is there a paper trail to indicate exactly what you were told you were getting vs what you now have? Go back through your correspondence and if, in fact, you’re supposed to have a car that is exclusively yours, have your supervisor or yourself make it known to the office that the car is no longer a twisted version of public transportation. I think they sold you a bill of goods without you realizing; follow the paper trail and see where it leads.

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