The Thing About Car Guards

By Huntress Thompson

Now, here’s my issue with tipping car guards – and it’s not just that I’m terrible and cheap.

For the uninitiated outside of South Africa, car guards are people (usually men) who are stationed in parking lots (of malls, venues, busy suburbs etc), and the principle is that they will keep an eye on your car for you so burglars don’t break into it and steal it.

Once you’re done at the mall, for example, buying things like bedazzled iPod cosies, you come out and give a tip to a person much worse off than you for their trouble. So they literally guard your car for you. I suppose it wasn’t that much of a leap of logic, really.

Our country, while beautiful, is full of these cold, nauseating ironies.

With car guards, it’s a service we’re given that we don’t necessarily ask for, but we still have to engage in.

It’s clearly a physically dangerous thing that you’re doing, because you’re wearing a fluorescent vest so drivers can see you, and don’t run you over.  And you’re doing it even though I haven’t asked you to. The whole setup makes me horribly uneasy.

My problem with tipping car guards is as follows:

I’m not comfortable with giving a human person my leftover shopping coins (I’m a writer – it’s always coins) in exchange for them protecting my shit.

It’s based on the premise that, once I leave my car, you’re going to look after it with your life. You’re going to physically stop anyone who tries to steal it. I really, really don’t like the idea that your life is worth R5 in brown coins. But I’m rounding out the transaction, so I must believe that, mustn’t I?

Also, I don’t really believe you are looking after my car with your life. I don’t believe it because 1. We both know that would be madness, please don’t ever do that, and 2. You can’t quite be arsed to direct me out of my parking spot when I leave, so I don’t know if your commitment to my parking experience was exactly life and death.

Say that was the case, though. Say someone tried to break into my shitehorse of a car, and you threw yourself onto the windscreen to keep them from driving away, with total disregard for your own wellbeing. And things got violent, and they got away with my car. If I came back, and found you bleeding in my parking space, am I then supposed to say “But where’s my fucking car? I got change from the parking machine and everything.”

The whole thing is full of holes. The logic is not airtight.

I once heard of a guy in Durban who spent his gap year doing two things – writing, and being a car guard at the underground parking of the Hilton hotel (which was new at the time). He allegedly made enough money on those foreign currency tips to pay his university fees the following year.

This is obviously not the universal car guard experience. It would be wonderful to believe that all car guards are only at it for a while, making a lot of money very quickly, and are off on a better trajectory very soon.

That definitely can’t be true though. And people like me, doubting whether or not to tip them on principle, can’t be helping the cause.

So what does, exactly? Because I want to do that.



Huntress Thompson

In the vacuum between dark and light, Siouxsie Sioux and Emmylou Harris, Amelie and Travis Bickle, Huntress Thompson is an idiot lost, and reporting from the field. If you’re after irrational, impassioned rants about cupcakes and Johnny Cash (and you probably aren’t), she’s grumpy, but she’s your girl.


2 thoughts on “The Thing About Car Guards

  1. Thing is about car guards, is that wherever they are car theft tends to be 0%. This was a statistic released by Durban Tourism Dept. This would mean that they are enough of a deterrent to car thieves just by being there. I don’t really think any of us actually expect life-on-the-line protection for R5 a pot. Also, given the above stat, and the expectation that (a few) driver have proper licenses, we should not really need help to park a car into a parking bay, so I don’t think we think that we’re paying for that.

    You could also consider the motorplan package you pay for your car. The car is factory guaranteed yet we pay thousands per year to kind of re-insure it. I don’t know many people who really have a problem with being kinda ripped off by them as everyone I know generally opts to happily buy these plans. Yet this is something that the manufacturer is supposed to provide to you anyway.

    So, how I look at car guards is a sort of tiny, tiny insurance package that costs so little that you may as well do it. The chances are greatly reduced that your car will be stolen. If it is stolen, then you’ve probably lost an additional R5, which in the course of these things is so small it doesn’t deserve worrying about. I don’t really expect the car guard to put his life on the line or help me drive – he’s just a body that puts off car thieves. In the bigger picture, I think that it’s pretty good value.

  2. I’ll take that point. So if the primary function of car guards is to act as a deterrent, which I do agree is enough of a service to pay for, why is the operation so rarely organised? Of the car guards working in South Africa, it seems like roughly a third of them are associated with registered security companies, who would ostensibly offer a regulated, basic take-home for the service.

    It has to be clear that the whole thing hasn’t been thought through properly overall, and there’s a lot of room for people to be taken advantage of, and for the service to be misunderstood/misused.

    As it stands, it’s an actual occupation that relies on spare change and the individual ethics of strangers. If the service is that valuable, that’s a balls up of a system.

    I’m not saying we shouldn’t pay car guards. I’m saying I don’t like perpetuating a system that’s so obviously flawed.

    And my car is far too appalling to qualify for a motor plan, but I do appreciate your insurance analogy.

    – HT

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