Monday, April 21, 2008

Hit and Run!! (or Why you should never buy a new car in Korea)

Recently, on three separate occasions and in two different locations, I have been the victim of hit and run drivers. Thankfully, I was not in the car at the time of my victimization but the scars remain. My few loyal readers will recognize that I have not had the best of luck with driving in Korea and I want to make it clear that I am not out there looking for trouble by parking strange or in such a way that invites disaster. I park just like everyone else and I try to drive as much within the law as reason will allow. I just seem to have had unusually bad luck with vehicle accidents (none of which have been my fault) and parking lot incidents.

The first incident happened a few weeks after I had my front bumper painted because a bus hit me on the way to work. I didn't notice it when it happened and it was therefore difficult to determine where it occurred. Though I suspected that it had happened in the parking lot of the local ward office. I really didn't think that I would be able to do anything about it so I just (albeit reluctantly) let it go. It's hard to see a nicely redone bumper reduced to this:

My suspicions were reinforced a couple weeks later when the second incident happened.
I was teaching my volunteer class at the local ward office and I received a phone call during my break time. I thought it was just to come and move my car since the parking lot is often overcrowded and people often have to move their cars. But when I got to my car, the person who called me told me that a woman hit my car and drove away. They managed to get the color of the car and the main four numbers off the license plate and gave me a description of the woman driving. I was pleasantly surprised that the gentleman (a 20-something fellow) who gave me the information also gave me his phone number and told me that if I go to the police with that number they can find the culprit. If I needed a witness, he said I should call him. So, with my wife and 2-year-old in tow, I went to the local police station nearest to the ward office. I explained to the fellow my problem and gave him the information that I had. He took the information and my personal info and phone number and sent me away. He told my wife someone would contact us that afternoon.
A little later, we did receive a phone call and were told to go to the local police precinct station and speak to a certain fellow in charge of traffic investigations. He took pictures of my car and told me that they were still searching for the offender. We went home and received a phone call from him telling us that he had located the woman who hit me and she told him that she had called her insurance company and was going to 'try and find me' (I'm curious if she even got my license number and if not how would she do that) and that she had to leave the scene because of some problem with her child. She felt like she couldn't stop and take care of the problem because of the child. So the policeman asked me if I want to press charges. I said under the circumstances (I'm a dad too and though I was angry, I tried to be sensitive to the situation upon advice of my wife) I just want the car to be repaired. It was and in the meantime I got to drive a Hyundai Grandeur Q270 which my kids didn't want to give back.

In the most recent incident, I had taken a subway across town and my wife called and asked me if I had backed into a pole or something. I replied that I had not and when I got home at 11pm to check my car I saw that the back door was dented badly in three places and my newly painted back bumper was scratched. I immediately began to take pictures and went to the apartment management office to search the CCTV recordings. Unfortunately, the fellow in charge of that sort of thing was gone for the day and I was asked to return in the morning. The next morning, I spent about 2 hours searching footage from the previous 3 days to find out when it happened. Even though you KNOW someone hit you and you suspect that it happened in your own parking lot, nothing quite prepares you to see the following:

As you can see, the truck backed into me not once but twice and then just took off. We managed to get the license number of the vehicle and I went to the police station. The police accompanied me to the apartment management office and viewed the incident on the CCTV. They looked up the number of the truck using their cell phone and got a name and address right away. Turned out to be an elderly fellow in the next apartment line who profusely denied TO THE POLICE that he had hit anything. Even after they told him they had seen the CCTV of the incident, he still tried to question his involvement. He was told to come to the police station and meet with me. I really wanted to press charges on this guy because I had wasted an entire morning trying to track him down. I even kept telling myself that I was just going to throw the book at him but the poor guy just seemed so clueless to what he had done and he was appropriately apologetic and fortunately insured so I let him go and went to the car repair center.
The guy at the car center should have seemed surprised to hear me say I had been hit again but since this was the FIFTH time I had taken my car to him to be painted, he seemed less than surprised and more amused. I told him that I would need a rental car and since it was Friday and I had plans to go down to Busan for a weekend with the in-laws, I would need more than the average rental. I needed a van to carry at least 9 people and I would need it till Monday morning. After some discussion with the rental car company, I drove off in a car almost identical to my own for the weekend. The insurance company, by the way, was not enthusiastic about paying for a 3 day rental for a 1.5 day repair but I basically said that it was this or I go back to the police station and file charges on the guy for hit and run and take it to court. That seemed to do the trick and I got my car back on Monday and didn't hear anything from anyone.

So, for the reader who is interested in knowing: HOW DO I REPORT A HIT AND RUN?
You should go to your local police office (경찰지구대) with a Korean friend (unless you speak Korean). You must report to the investigating unit in the area where the incident occurred and NOT to the precinct office. If you are hit in your own parking lot and there is CCTV. Just call the police and they will come and investigate right there in the management office.

I have decided that a few things are necessary to protect your investment.
1. Whenever possible, park your car in a lighted area with CCTV. Even if it is less convenient it will save you aggravation later.
2. Probably the most important thing you can do: Always do a walk around of your car and make sure there is no new damage. If there is then contact the management immediately. Take pictures whenever possible.
3. Get the protective coating on your car. There are several places that can do this and it is not too expensive. Many of the fender 'rubs' and 'dings' that happen in parking lots can be rubbed out if you have proper protection.
And finally my rant on the subject of hit and run:
These are not the first incidents I have had. I have been rubbed and scraped and dinged numerous times. It just seems like they are getting worse. It has gone from a little knick in my door or some rubbed off paint on my fender to severe dents and paint dragged off to the fiberglass. And I just don't get how people just walk away from that. I have slightly rubbed a car from time to time and I aways track down the driver right away and take care of it. More often than not with minor rubs and knicks people just say 'don't worry about it' and go about their business. But really, the way it works around here there is actually disincentive to report your infraction. It's like this: If you don't report it, you have about a 95% chance that the person you hit will not even notice that damage has been done until later, at which time it will be hard to figure out where the damage was done. The other 5% of the time you can usually bluff your way out of it like these two people did. In the name of magnanimity (that is so prized in Korean culture) the offended person will usually let it go. At the very least, your insurance company will take care of the whole thing for you and you actually never have to hear about it again which is what happens if you report it in the first place. The problem with doing that is that your premiums go up if you do it too much. So, unless the damage is so severe that the car cannot be driven, driving off is actually to your advantage. Play the odds and hope you don't get caught...when you do, lie and beg your way out of it. But before anyone not from Korea goes off on me about responsibility and before anyone from Korea goes off on me about how this is "part of Korean culture and I just don't understand" Well, culturally speaking, that is just the way it is done and I'm not endorsing it either way. Listen to your heart, your conscience or your wallet...either way, just don't expect anyone to let you know if they hit your car.
So, I guess my solution is just to keep doing the above suggested things and hope that I can catch someone hitting the sides of my car and maybe someone throwing something heavy on my car from an apartment window, then I can get the rest of the car painted the same color as the bumpers and the back tailgate (another annoyance being that you can't get the whole car painted like you might wind up back home and they can never actually match the color 100% on older cars)...maybe next time I'll ask to rent an Equus for a weekend.
Happy motoring.

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