Caution: Low Clearance


After a day of mountain biking I tend to drive my car as if still on my bike— leaning into the twists and turns down winding Sunset Boulevard. Late for a party recently, this seemed to be working in my favor as I made it home in record time.

I pulled into the garage only to be startled by a thunderous crash from above. Oblivious to the cause, I backed my car up. This produced another alarming noise of crunching metal meeting aluminum and pieces of plastic shattering. The horror hit me. I’d just driven my brand new $1500 mountain bike mounted to my Saab’s roof rack into the garage.

My first thought wasn’t, “What damage have I done to my bike, car or garage?” but instead, “Oh God, I hope no one saw that!” Mortified, I bolted from the car.

If the loudness was any indicator, my car, bike or garage should have been totaled. By some Angel of Moronic Mishap Mercy, my car had only superficial scratches; the bike — a broken reflector; the roof rack — a broken wheel clip.

Now for the garage door – I braced myself and pushed the remote. A rumble suggested something still worked. The two-car garage door wobbled back and forth a bit but managed to shut.

I dashed upstairs to call my friend Shepard, who I was meeting at the party, to inform him of my catastrophe. “Oh honey, don’t feel bad,” he tried to comfort me, “I dropped my cell phone in a urinal last week…yes, after I’d used it …I’d have left it but all my decorating clients were logged in it so I had to fetch it out.” I felt a bit better.

A few days later a visit to a bike shop netted a bike repair at $30, the roof rack $20. Not bad.   The damage was looking pretty minimal.

Then a few weeks later, as I was getting out of my car, my landlord approached me. “Lori, do you know why your garage door is crooked?”

A long pause followed during which time I considered saying I had no idea shifting blame on the neighboring tenant with whom I share the garage. But instead I blurted out, “That’s because I hit it.”

“You hit it?” he echoed, aghast.

“Yes, I had my bike on top of my car.”

“The hinge is going to give any day and come crashing down on the cars. It must be fixed.”   He said sternly.

An even longer pause followed.

“Would you like me to pay for it?” I cowered.

“Well, was it an accident?”

“Well yes.” I answered, wondering if he thought I might actually do such a thing deliberately.

“Why don’t we split it,” he offered.

I was stunned at his generosity. “That’s very nice of you.”

He walked away only to return minutes later as I was unloading groceries from the trunk. “Lori,” he paused (I shuddered at what might come next) “I just wanted to tell you how much I appreciate your honesty.”

“Thank-you,” I melted.

That feeling could well be worth whatever this was going to cost I thought for a minute. Maybe two.

But what would a garage door cost? A few days later, the landlord informed me the estimate was a whopping $759. Was that the price of being honest? Or the price of being dumb enough to drive my car into the garage?

I wondered if my renter’s or car insurance would cover any of it. I had both policies through USAA.

I phoned them and got a recording. I was stumped, should I press two for renter’s insurance or three for auto claims? I pressed two. I told my tale of idiocy to the agent who asked, “Was the vehicle moving?”

“Well, yeah until it came to an abrupt stop right about when the bike made contact with the garage.”

She’d have to transfer me to auto claims as this was a “moving violation.”

“Were you wearing a seatbelt?” the next agent wanted to know.

At less than a mile an hour I didn’t see the point, but answered yes. She transferred me again to someone else so they could record my testimony.

“Was there any bodily injury?” the fourth agent asked.

“Just my pride” I answered. Not the least bit amused, she informed me my case would be reviewed and I’d get a letter in the mail.

The letter came.

California law requires we determine who was responsible for an accident and notify you if the driver of your vehicle was principally at fault (at least 51%). 

Was it possible if I drive my vehicle into a building, that someone else could be to blame? Like who or what? Could it be my bike’s fault for not ducking? The garage’s for not yelling, “Stop!”

The letter went on.

This accident occurred when the driver of your vehicle [okay that would be me, just say it] struck a stationary object [the garage, we can handle it]. Unfortunately, based on these facts, the driver of your vehicle was determined to be principally [okay, so not totally] at fault because under California law, a driver is responsible for steering clear of any obstacles.

Under another state’s law, like say Kentucky, could a stationary object be held accountable?

At any rate, there it was on the books. Here in California the garage was 49% guilty.

I phoned USAA to see about filing a claim. For property damage, there’s no deductible. But if the claim is over $500, my insurance rates go up $804 a year for three years. Ouch. I asked the agent if my landlord only holds me accountable for $499 would my insurance rates still go up?

“But didn’t you say the bill was for $759?” the agent asked.

“It is,” I explained. “That’s what the garage repair company will charge my landlord. If my landlord only holds me accountable for $499, and gives me a bill in that amount, would that suffice as a receipt for USAA? “

“Yes,” she answered. And “no,” my rates would not then go up.

The landlord was fine with this plan. I faxed off his $499 invoice and received a check the following week. Then I told my landlord, while I thought it was generous of him to offer to share the remaining cost, there was really no reason he should have to pay for any of this as in my mind I was 100% at fault.

He insisted he was getting a new garage door that would hold up longer than the previous one and convinced me we should split the cost of what USAA didn’t cover. $130 a piece. Fair enough. I wrote him a check.

All in all, the damage wasn’t too bad to my checkbook or, thanks to California law, to my pride. It still pays to be honest and a little ingenuity can temper a bout of absentmindedness.

Now when I drive home from mountain biking, I still lean into the twists and turns of the road but repeating my new post-cycling mantra “My bike is on top of my car, my bike is on top of my car.”

This story originally was published on divinecaroline.com