Travel: The Tight Car Park

2022, May 01    

Sometimes our memories of travel are amusing while others they fill us with regret, and for this story it's firmly a mix of both (though at the time, definitely regret).

It was around 2015 where I was fully immersed into the consulting world, travelling almost every week (both in and out of the UK) and covering a lot of miles. As the amount of UK driving had reached a certain threshold I was gifted a company car, to which I had chosen a BMW 3-Series (a basic model). On a 3-year lease I had covered many thousands of miles successfully (and without incident) though that was about to change...

A hotel I had frequented many times was that of the Hilton in Leeds, known for its city-centre location, indoor facilities, and painfully tight car park. As I had stopped there for many weeks I was familiar with just how tight the car park was and was accustomed to manoeuvring around each corner to avoid damaging the vehicle. Over time this had become muscle memory more than a conscious effort, though as most will point out this can become a danger in itself.

It was a Friday morning where I was leaving the hotel with a colleague to head to the customer site, with only 1 week left on the lease of the vehicle (and my new vehicle ready to be delivered). My muscle memory decided to fail spectacularly that morning in what can only be described as a horrific clash of concrete and metal. Taking the second-to-last corner I had misjudged the gap and from the drivers side mirror to the rear quarter had dragged the vehicle against the concrete pillar.

To say the vehicle was damaged would be an understatement, with the drivers door barely able to open, the rear door both crumpled and scratched to oblivion, and the rear wing badly damaged as well. The call to the leasing company did not go well, especially after sending through the pictures of the damage. Seeing the claims assessor use the yellow pen on the areas of damage, then realising that he may run out of ink given just how much was being used, is never a thrilling moment.

At this point you may be wondering where the amusement factors into this tale, and in truth it was what subsequently occurred. The leasing company was subject to some 'miscommunication' internally, or perhaps some very wishful thinking. Despite sending pictures of the damage to them they had decided that a mobile repair unit could fix the vehicle back to its original glory.

After speaking to them and stating multiple times that this would not be possible, ever, they still sent not one but two roadside repair companies to try and repair the damage. To no surprise to anyone both companies arrived to state that their time had been wasted and there was no way this vehicle could be repaired without serious work at a body-shop. The vehicle was finally collected and taken away, coincidentally as the lease expired. Next followed the insurance claim, and the headache around the lease now being expired.

Six weeks later my new vehicle had arrived and I was back to driving across the UK, with thoughts of the previous vehicle nothing but a faded (albeit embarrassing) memory. That was until my phone rang and a drop-off driver told me they were outside my house with my vehicle. Puzzled as mine was outside the building I was working in (and I could see it through the window I was sat next to), I enquired which vehicle only to find that my BMW hadn't been properly returned at the end of the lease but had in fact been repaired and then returned back to me by mistake.

Attempting to explain to the drop-off driver that the vehicle was not only no longer mine but should in fact be dropped off in Portsmouth (some 150 miles away) was not met well, nor was the subsequent 3-way call to explain to the leasing company that I didn't need two vehicles and that they had made a mistake.

The lesson from this: avoid tight car parks, probably, don't rely solely on muscle memory, definitely!