Bad Manners: Walmart Borrows Your Car Without Asking

It took hardly any time at all for another Walmart automotive horror story to come sailing into the inbox: In this episode, your friendly Walmart technician borrows your parent’s car to go pick up a friend. Reader JonnyPage writes:

My parents had a similarly horrible experience at Walmart last year here in South Edmonton Common, Edmonton, AB. They took their car into get an oil change, and left it there to do other errands. When they got there, the clerk at the desk could not ‘find’ their car and got all nervous. After about 15 minutes of ‘checking the lot’ the clerk gave in and said one of the mechanics had taken their car to go pick up a friend who’s car had broken down! My parents immediately got the manager involved, and the manager seemed to be taking the appropriate actions, and when the tech came back ~10 minutes later he wasn’t even apologetic about stealing their car to get his friend, he seemed to think he had the right to! My parents, being the nice pushovers they are, and seeing it as someone helping someone else and no harm was done other than ~20 minutes of time let it go. Walmart even made them pay for the oil change! The manager said he would call them back with a resolution, but none ever came.

Jonny’s parents should have explained to the manager that they charged $5.00 a minute for unauthorized car rental. —MEGHANN MARCO

(Photo: the illustrious untitled 13)

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  1. cornish says:

    Not that I’d take my car to Walmart automotive, but I think I’d have just reported the car stolen and let the cops sort it out with the Walmart manager.

  2. ptkdude says:

    Personally, I would have called the police and reported the car stolen.

  3. mopar_man says:

    @ptkdude:

    This is what I would’ve done too.

  4. mindshadow says:

    I’d probably file charges for grand theft auto.

  5. jonnypage says:

    It’s what I would have done, if I had known about it at the time. I heard the story a day or so later, and realy, it was my parent’s problem. I tried to get them to follow up, but they were willing to let it go, so *shrug* – it was their car.

  6. OnceWasCool says:

    Anyone remember all the problems Sears had with scams in their auto repair department?? They nationwide, reduce auto department to just batteries, tires, and oil changes. Fired tons of people and got it all straighted out.

    Walmart needs to do a sweeping change like that.

  7. etinterrapax says:

    I would have reported it stolen, too. I think a lot of retailers bank on people’s innate sense of propriety when they’re trying to get away with something. People want to be nice and understanding and be thought good, and jerks like these guys walk all over them. They should have called the police, and no way in hell should they have been charged for the oil change. That’s a new low, even for Wal-Mart.

  8. Buran says:

    @ptkdude: And I would have as well. “Very well, sir, I am now calling the police. Thank you for confessing to grand theft auto.” while pulling out my cell phone.

  9. RogueSophist says:

    It’s not “grand theft auto,” as the mechanic clearly didn’t have the intent to “permanently deprive” the owners of the vehicle. Most states have “joyriding” laws, though.

  10. acambras says:

    I would have called the police AND the media.

  11. mfergel says:

    @RogueSophist:

    RogueSophist is correct.

  12. philbert says:

    Sounds like it would be worthwhile to find out if it is happening to others by taking a photo with your cellphone of the mileage meter before you drop it off. Not that it would prove anything other than the car was being driven off the lot – but at least you’d know to take it somewhere else next time.

  13. rbb says:

    I can top that. I left my car at the dealer for some repairs that would take a few days. When I went to pick it up, it had 543 additional miles on it. The dealer, Dick Poe Chrysler in El Paso TX, offered up 9 cents a mile and said they “fired” the lot boy who did it (yeah right).

    The final settlement was for rental fees, my leave time, mileage, lawyers fees, and one contact lens.

    The contact lens was because when I was reaching behind the seat, it snapped back and knocked my contact out. Now, that was no big deal as long as I found it within a minute or so before it fused to something. So, I grabbed the flashlight that I kept in the car. @#%#$%$. The jerks who went out joy riding in my car actually took the batteries out of my flashlight. So I felt it was fair to charge the dealer.

  14. kerry says:

    @RogueSophist: Is there some kind of legal loophole where the car isn’t considered stolen if you willfully place the keys in someone else’s possession? I’d be worried the police would say that the store has the right to drive the car as they see fit once you give them temporary domain over the car, but I’m about as far from a lawyer as a person can get. *shrug*

  15. Buran says:

    @RogueSophist: Taking property without owner consent (and depriving the owner of it) IS theft.

  16. Buran says:

    @rbb: Did you charge them for the batteries too?

  17. phdbd says:

    Well if you shop at Mal-Wart these are the things that one should expect. Many folks that they employ surely are honest, however, many that they employ are most certainly not. The bottom-feeding and by-any-means necessary mentality filters through the entire organization until it reaches the coal face, and the customer reaps the “rewards” At least the cashier didn’t cash $1000 worth of YOUR checks for her friend.

  18. Kos says:

    @kerry:

    Kerry, what you are thinking of is bailment law. See http://www.answers.com/topic/bailment and http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bailment

  19. Twitch says:

    I charge $500.00 per day to rent my car with a 1 day minimum. Invoice to follow shortly. Thanks for doing business with us. A++++ Customer, would gladly go elsewhere again!!!!

  20. lincolnparadox says:


    jonnypage–

    You should really take this up the food chain. Send a letter to your Walmart’s district manager, cc it to corporate and all local news outlets. Don’t ask for anything, other than the piece of mind that this will never happen to anyone ever again.

    A decent manager would have fired the guy on the spot, regardless of your parents’ reaction. Unbelievable.

    Walmart won’t have unions, but they won’t fire an Oil and Lube guy for joyriding.

  21. Dr. Eirik says:

    @kerry:

    I would imagine that it depends on the circumstances. If you leave you keys with the valet and you never see the car again, he definitely stole it. Might be different if you give them to a friend and ask him to make the car disappear.

  22. gorckat says:

    I think I’ll be adding a little tag to my keychain…something to the effect of: Operation of this vehicle subject to terms and conditions located in the glovebox.

    In the glovebox will be a sealed envelope labeled “Terms and Conditions” and the notice “By operating this vehicle you agree to abide by the terms and conditions set forth within this envelope”

    And in the envelope is a slip of paper detailing acceptable behaviors while in the car, mileage fees, rental fees, a clause that forces mechanics to agree to accept what I feel is a fair charge for repairs, waiver of right to sue…all sorts of goodies :P

  23. mantari says:

    U N B E L I E V A B L E !

  24. rbb says:

    @Buran: Ya know, I never did. Don’t know why I didn’t – I charged them for everything else I could think of. I should have though ;)

  25. JRuiz47 says:

    Anybody else picture the two valet guys in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” when they read this story?

  26. John Stracke says:

    @Kos: Thanks. According to the Wikipedia article, bailment law says that Wal-Mart had no right to use the car. They also violated their “duty to re-deliver the bailment”, because the car wasn’t there when the customers came to pick it up.

    On the other hand, I suppose the Wal-Mart employee might have committed theft, since he took property that was entrusted to Wal-Mart the corporation, not to him personally.

  27. minnock says:

    Just in time, I was planning on taking my truck in today. My question is – where do you go to get basic oil changes etc. done? Can’t go to Jiffy Lube because I live in SoCal and they have a documented problem with actually doing work, can’t go to the WalMart near my home. Guess I will have to get my hands dirty and start doing it myself.

  28. Bourque77 says:

    The only people you take your car to that can drive it are mechanics to make sure its working properly. I dont mean for a damn oil change either. If they replace an engine or transmission part they’ll drive it to make sure its ok. Its policies like that which are why I always specifically tell the people (even mechanics) dont drive my car. I dont trust anyone with my car like that.

  29. RogueSophist says:

    @Buran:

    While it certainly feels like theft to most people, larceny (and grand larceny) has a separate element of intent, so the mechanic could not be thusly convicted. Intent (in the case of larceny, “intent to permanently deprive”) is measured at the moment of the “taking,” so assuming the mechanic didn’t plan to keep the car (or hand it over to a chop shop!) when he drove away, he was in the clear larceny-wise. Though I certainly wouldn’t blame the owner of a car so taken for screaming “stop, thief!”

    Like I said, though, most states have myriad laws that this jerk (and his company) did violate.

  30. vdestro says:

    At the very least go to corporate and demand that the tech and the manager be fired immediately. If that doesn’t happen, go to the cops and the local news stations.

  31. JayWillam says:

    Although under Common Law you may be right about what the employee did, such is not true in most states that use a Consolidated Theft Statute. The Statutes make the depriving someone of their property no matter how you accomplish it a crime. This means even if someone lets you use their property, for example if you give money to a Lawyer and he embezzles it, it is considered theft, even though you gave it willingly.

    Also although I can only speak for Indiana here, there does not need to be an intent to “permanently” deprive someone of their property, only the intent to deprive someone of their property’s value or “any” part of its’ value. This would include depriving someone the use of their auto for any time. I.C. 35-43-4-2.

    We do also have a Car Theft Statute but thats just an extraneous law.

  32. InsaneNewman says:

    @gorckat:

    This is brilliant… Now if only someone wanted to steal my beater.

  33. catnapped says:

    So what happens if the “technician” gets into a fatal accident during his “joyride”? Does the owner get the book thrown at him while Smiley Mart just wipes it’s hands of any responsibility?

  34. Charles Duffy says:

    @RogueSophist: I was just in jury selection for a car theft case. The prosecutor put the elements up during their introduction at the beginning of voir dire, and while intent to deprive was an element, there was nothing about permanence in there. Further, exercising control over the property was adequate — and a joyride may qualify.

    Criminal law is not my thing whatsoever (I’m not a lawyer, but I’ve studied contract and IP law a little), and I don’t know whether intent to deprive would be satisfied here — if the intent was to have the car back by the time the customer returned, it may well be a separate, joyriding law involved. Even if that didn’t work out, I’m certain that civil law would apply — this seems like a clearcut conversion tort.

  35. RogueSophist says:

    @ Charles Duffy:

    My (admittedly) limited experience speaks otherwise.

    I agree about conversion, however damages would be minimal in this case.

  36. Miguel Valdespino says:

    In any case, the correct thing to do would be to call the police. The DA will figure out what the correct charges are. That’s their job.

  37. 0x12is18 says:

    Though Walmart itself was not at fault for the theft of the vehicle, it should have fired the employee and provided outrageously good compensation to the customer (Such as free oil changes for life).

    The vehicle should have been reported stolen, and the well-mannered customers are most to blame in this situation. Because they treated it as a mild incident, Walmart and the employee responded likewise.

  38. Snakeophelia says:

    Oh yeah, I would have dialed 911 on the spot. The next call would have been to my friendly local newspaper. Given how much space they use for “cutesy” photos and potluck dinners, I imagine the editors there would have loved a juicy story like this one. Catnapped’s comment about the possibility of an accident is most pertinent (and I think my hubby, who is an insurance agent, would have hyperventilated about the consequences).

    If nothing else, the owners of the car need at minimum a police report. Suppose the Walmart employees were photographed breaking the law or injuring someone in that car, and somebody snapped a photo of the license plate and called the police with that? Yeeks.

  39. royal72 says:

    i could use a new car, so let’s hope walmart will be buying me a new car soon :)

  40. joegibes says:

    I think they should have just reported the car stolen. It would definitely teach the employee not to do things like that and the employer not to let them.

  41. yoink says:

    @catnap: It happened to this guy and his Rio Yellow Honda S2000

    You can read all about it here:
    http://bad-car-dealer.blogspot.com/2006/08/story-of-how-ru

    The mechanic took his car for high speed joy ride and got into an accident. It took a blog and a lot of publicity but they finally replaced his car; which in my opinion is the right thing to do because simply repairing a car doesn’t restore the lost resale value or difficulty in selling an accidented car (if you’re honest.)

  42. potskie says:

    Ya Wal-Mart is not the greatest place for anything automotive.. My mother took her van there once. I told her not to many many many many times but she still did. Getting back to it she went for 2 front tires on a GMC Safari and when she got back with it i gave it a good once over because i dont trust wal mart. Sure enough there was a problem not only did they put the wrong lug nuts on the vehicle on the drivers side they even had a different thread to them. So i took it back the next day and sure enough they completely denied it and refused to do the necessary repairs. No matter who i talked to i got the same crap answer except for 1 fine gentleman who just flat out denied the vehicle had even been there. Long story short I had to buy and install a new rotor/hub because the wheel studs are part of the rotor and i had to replace allt he lug nuts.

  43. icky2000 says:

    1. I like this web site a lot but it’s the last place I would go for legal advice.

    2. Wikipedia is another favorite site and the second to last place I would go for real legal advice.

    3. So many of you mad dogs would have apparently called the police immediately and then the newspapers and then the TV stations and then your lawyer and…really? Does every little dumb thing warrant alerting the media and involving hundreds of people in your little scuffle? I’m all for empowering the customer and perhaps this is just the usual “comment bravado” but man, you guys are hard core. God forbid something bad should ever actually happen.

  44. othium says:

    I listen to a show on public radio called “Car Talk” and it has helped me quite a bit. They have a website with a database of thousands of mechanics that are recommended and have a good track record. I gave it a try when I needed one and wasn’t disappointed one bit. Here is the url if you need it: http://www.cartalk.com/content/mechx/

  45. FLConsumer says:

    While it’s not excuse for what happened…why would someone take their car to Mal-Wart for service?

  46. crankymediaguy says:

    icky 2000 said:

    “Does every little dumb thing warrant alerting the media and involving hundreds of people in your little scuffle?”

    Um, someone taking your car without your permission (AKA “stealing”) isn’t a big deal to you? Gee, you’re a generous, Christian soul, aren’t you?

    Yes, a Wal-Mart employee stealing my car while its in their custody, awaiting service, IS a big deal.

    Notifying the media may go a long way toward Wal-Mart instituting policies that will prevent this sort of thing from happening to other people in the future.

  47. John Stracke says:

    @royal72:

    i could use a new car, so let’s hope walmart will be buying me a new car soon :)

    It’d give you an opportunity for a great line. “Hey, nice car, where’d you get it?” “Wal-Mart.”

  48. bdgbill says:

    A few years ago I bought a new Jeep Wrangler. As I was about to sign the form accepting the car in good condition my girlfriend noticed a razor slice in one of the soft top windows.

    They kept it over the weekend to fix the window. When I went to pick it up the 2nd time it had a softball bat, glove, and a small cooler with water and empty beer cans in the back. The car had about 45 additional miles on it.

    I refused to accept the car at all at that point. After a few days of arguing, I eventually accepted the car. But that incident was a taste of things to come with that dealership and Chrysler products in general.

  49. jaewon223 says:

    @icky2000

    Yeah this is a big deal. How would you feel if your mechanic took your car out without your permission and they acted like it was no big deal? I can see why you say that everyone is making all this hoopla about it but the sad fact is until you start to affect their wallet it you probably won’t get what you deserve.

    So by bringing bad publicity you force the company [Walmart] to do what is right. At least give the oil change for free…

  50. Donathius says:

    I think I’m swearing off paying for oil changes ever again with stuff like this happening.

    I had a friend ask me for automotive help a few months ago as he couldn’t figure out why his car was losing oil. I asked if he had had any work done on it recently and he said he had gotten it changed at a major chain (I’m thinking Jiffy Lube, but I’m not sure). I popped his hood and took a look at the engine, there was a fair amount of fresh oil on the panels below the oil filter (his was easy to get to). I reached down, grabbed the filter, and twisted it about 2 full turns, turned to my friend and said “all fixed.” I couldn’t believe that a place that “specializes” in stuff like oil changes would crap up something that simple.

    I’ve gone once to have someone else change my oil, when I just plain didn’t have time, but between my friend’s experience and reading about mechanics and places doing stuff like what happened to the OP’s parents…I’m changing my own oil from now on no matter what – it’s cheaper anyway.

  51. Kricket says:

    im with cornish on this one – although there probably isnt a case for theft – usually, there has to be an intent to permanently deprive the rightful owner of the car in order for there to be a theft

    however – theres still a trespass action in there

    on a side note – there is no way i would have given them any money for that oil change – thats just bs

  52. kashi says:

    This is definitely theft. The offence occured in Canada and is governed by the Criminal Code.

    s. 335 states: “[E]very one who, without the consent of the owner, takes a motor vehicle or vessel with intent to drive, use, navigate or operate it or cause it to be driven, used, navigated or operated…is guilty of an offence punishable on summary conviction.”

    R v. LaFrance established that the accused’s intent to return the car is not sufficient to excuse him of the theft.

    The issue of consent is really not an issue as the owner’s consent would not have extended to the joyride.

    If you care enough, you can file a report at any EPS station or go downtown, talk to a JP or prosecutor and ask the crown to file charges. Theft is an offence against the state, so it doesn’t really matter if your parents want to press charges or not. The decision is within the discretion of the prosecutor.

  53. a_m_m_b says:

    @Snakeophelia:
    Your husband wouldn’t be the only one hyperventilating as reading this my 1st thought was omg! that fool could get in a wreck & I’d be sued, etc.

    Definitely would have called 911 on this & no way would have I dropped it once my property was returned.

  54. MrWashy says:

    @icky2000

    “Does every little dumb thing warrant alerting the media and involving hundreds of people in your little scuffle? I’m all for empowering the customer”

    Certainly this incident deserves this kind of treatment and attention. We’re not talking about 2 individuals on a level playing field here; it’s the Wal-Monster management army against Joe Average. Who does Joe Average have an their side? The police and media and us. If we don’t throw down against Wally-world and learn ‘em a bit of decency, who will?

  55. BobH says:

    Why do so many people think the only options are quickie oil-change centers (whose chief interest is in upselling all types of things you don’t need) or doing it yourself?

    It isn’t that hard to find a decent mechanic who won’t screw you (at least on something as simple as an oil change). Ask around, use Google, visit the Car Talk site mentioned above.

  56. CoffeeAddict says:

    I go that Wal-Mart quite a bit and I am very upset that they would try to just fly that one past. If it had been me i would have alerted the police and also had Global TV involved as well. I cannot see how anyone can justify picking some coworker up with a customers car that’s in for an oil change. By letting this go you are basically saying it’s ok to steal cars as long as you bring it back sometime. What is the world coming to when this is ok to do.