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2007/06/06    Bike Accident

It had to happen one day or another, I was hit by a car coming back from work on
05/17. That particular day has a lot of meaning in the bay area since it was the
annual  Bike To Work Day  ...  not a lucky day for me.  I have  been  biking  to
work for almost 3 years now, and it's the first time I have an encounter with  a
car.  The driver of the car didn't see me, and made a right turn to get  into  a
driveway, too bad I was between him and the driveway...  my bike  is  broken,  I
have setup a page for the insurance claim:  Bike/Bike_Accident .

Biking is fun... cars suck.

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2007/05/12    Junking my car...

This story has to be told ... back in January, by a cold night, and after a hard
day of work ;-), I was getting on my way back home in my old Ford  Escort  1988,
when the poor car died.  AAA's tow truck  arrived  quickly  and  about  an  hour
later, the car was parked at a gas station, in Sunnyvale.

The next day at the gas station, the mechanic did a diagnostic. The gas pump was
broken, it would cost me 500$ to fix the car, which I  had  bought  for  600$  3
years ago ... needless to say, I decided to junk the poor car. It was my first
experience junking a car, and I think I made every mistake I could.

The first problem I had was to find a junkyard that would accept my car. A Ford
Escort 1988 is not very interesting for them.  Fortunately  (or  not?),  I  came
across  junkmycar.com .  This website is a big referral engine.  You enter  your
car make and model, your location, and boum ...  they give you the address of  a
junkyard that can come to pick up your car.

That worked pretty well. They assigned me a towing company called B in East Palo
Alto.  I called that company.  We scheduled an appointment, they would  come  to
pick up the car the next day from East Palo Alto,  not  really  close,  but  why
not.... They even told me I didn't had to be on the spot by the time they would
come.  I just had to leave the pink slip in the glove box and  they  would  take
care of the rest.

Nice, but it seemed rather strange to me, and I wasn't too confident so I looked
on  junkmycar.com  website if this was usual and apparently it is ... the  FAQ 
is pretty clear about this. So that's what I did, I signed the pink slip, filled
everything I could and went on with my business. At least that's what I thought
I had done.  I forgot to remove the release of liability  from  the  pink  slip.
That's the part of the form you have to send to the  DMV   to  inform  them  you
have transfered liability for the car ... by law, you are required to send this
paper in the 5 days following the transfer. Stupid mistake ... I don't know what
I was thinking.

Anyway, B came to the gas station and picked up the car. Approximately one month
later, I received a strange ticket from East Palo Alto police.  My old Ford  had
been parked in the street, only 600 yards from B, for more than 72 hours, so  it
had been towed away at my expense.  I had to get the car back ASAP.  The  police
report also mentionned the car had been stripped, several parts were missing. My
belief (but I will never know for sure) is that B took  whatever  had  the  more
value on the car and then just dumped it in the nearby street.

The interesting thing is that now the car was stored in another junkyard, called
A, right across the street from B (number 1885 for A, 1802 for B).  I called  A,
trying to settle the matter, but it didn't work.  They were expecting me to  pay
150$ plus 45$ per day of storage.  The guy at A also expected me to  believe  he
didn't know his neighbor B... but B told me they knew A and that they would take
care of everything ... sure.

The next day, I would start investigating...  I  called  the   DMV ,  they  told
me that the car was still under my liability.  At first I didn't understand  but
then I realized I had completely forgotten to  send  that  stupid  paper,  so  I
filed another release of liability  on  the   DMV   website.   Then  I  went  to
the  DMV , explained my case, the lady (very helpful) explained me that even one
month after the transfer, my release of liability  was  still  valid,  so  if  I
had to go to small claim, I should be covered.   That  was  a  relief,  but  not
very helpful.  I can find stories on the web with towing companies coming  after
their debitors  years after the towing (see this  article  for example).

I gave a few more phone calls to A and B.  A was becoming very aggressive,  soon
he didn't even answer the phone anymore.  B was nicer at first, he just told  me
to wait and then show my release of liability to whoever asked me money  ...   I
didn't want to wait without doing anything. 

On the web, I found tons of information about  small claim court , and what  you
could do before getting into this. They recommended trying to settle the matter
informally.  I followed the advice and sent out letters to A  and  B  explaining
everything.  Just in case we would go to small claim, at least I  would  have  a
proof I had tried to do something. I even went back to the gas station where my
car had been picked up by B.  The mechanic agreed to testify for  me,  at  least
in writing.  He was technically the only one to have seen B pick up the  car  (a
big red truck he recalled).

After doing all this, I went to the East Palo Alto police, asking for advice.  I
was amazed by what I heard.  The police officer told me to pay if I didn't  want
troubles.  He  also  told  me  tow  truck  companies  had  people  to  go  after
people  like  me  that  refuse  paying  (a  collection  agency,  but  he   never
mentioned that term).  He also told me that B was going  to  relocate  soon  ...
weird. I was not very happy about this, the police was supposed to help me.

I called back B and told them what I had heard from  the  cops.   B  got  really
nervous when they understood I had been to the cops.   They  told  me  to  wait,
after  30 days, the car would be sold and I should be out of trouble ... right.

After almost 45 days, I received a letter from a collection agency ... they were
requesting 800$ or they would put a bad record in my credit report. I contested,
sending all my letters and documents again. 

One month later, I received a new letter from the collection agency, telling  me
that given the circumstances, they were closing my file.  Big relief ...  I  was
determined to go to small claim anyway.  I hope this story is over  now  ...   I
don't know exactly why they closed my file, I think I am lucky.

So, next time you junk a car :
1. Transfer  the title  as  soon  as  you  can,  have  it  stamped  by  a   DMV 
   official before sending it to Sacramento if you use standard  mail.   Keep  a
   copy  for your records.
2. Remove the license plates from the car, give them back to the  DMV .
3. Take pictures if you can when the tow truck comes to pick up your car.
4. Get a receipt from the towing company, showing the place and date.

Hope this helps ... 

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