Cape Breton woman leaves car at airport hotel, returns to find extra 3,000 km on odometer

Peggy MacDonald left her car at the Quality Inn near the Halifax airport last spring. When she came home five weeks later, it became clear that a hotel employee had been driving it.

'Charming young man' offered to find parking for new Tiguan while hotel guest was travelling

MacDonald left her car at the Quality Inn near the Halifax airport last spring. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

When Peggy MacDonald sat down in her car at the Quality Inn Halifax Airport hotel last spring after five weeks away, she knew something wasn't quite right.

The seat of her grey Volkswagen Tiguan was in the wrong spot, the radio was blasting a station she didn't recognize, there were items that didn't belong to her in the back seat and the gas tank was empty.

To top it off, there were an additional 3,000 kilometres on her odometer.

"That was when we knew exactly the extent of how much our car had been used while we were gone," said the East Bay, N.S., resident.

"Violated I think is probably a good word. It was quite startling."

MacDonald is speaking out now in the hopes others will learn from her experience.

'Charming young man'

Peggy MacDonald said her car had been driven 3,000 kilometres while she was in Calgary and it was left at an airport hotel in Halifax. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

MacDonald and her husband were travelling to Calgary from Halifax in May 2017.

When they arrived at the hotel, a "very charming young man" in his early 20s who worked at the Quality Inn offered them a great deal to keep their car at the hotel while they were out of town, MacDonald said.

The man asked that they pay cash, but provided them with what MacDonald said looked like an official receipt from the hotel.

"He said, 'It's snowing, it's cold, I'll park your car for you. We may have to move it anyway because of snow removal. So I'll just move this for you.' Which I thought was exceedingly nice of him," MacDonald said.

He told them to call him when they were heading back to Halifax so he could get the car ready for them.

"So trustingly we handed over the keys — and he did park it for us. I don't know where and I don't know how long, but when we left in the morning it all seemed to be well."

MacDonald says it was lucky her husband thought to take a picture of the odometer before they left their car at the hotel. (Gary Mansfield/CBC)

MacDonald said her husband thought to take a picture of the odometer before they left. Their car was about three months old at the time, with roughly 10,000 kilometres on it.

She said after they came home and noticed the extra 3,000 kilometres, they went back into the hotel and spoke to a manager. It was dark, so they brought out a light — and that's when they noticed the scrapes on the front bumper.

"They were very startled about it," MacDonald said. "The night manager had called the owner of the hotel and they took full responsibility, and they were exceptionally professional and very helpful to us."

Employee fired

MacDonald said the hotel owner called them within a few days to tell them the young man had been fired.

Besim Halef, who owns the Quality Inn Halifax Airport hotel, confirmed that the man was let go the next day. Halef said this was the only car the man had driven and that he owned up to what he had done.

"In 15 years … nothing like that has ever happened to us. This is the first and the last [instance]," he said.

"Everybody was shocked that this happened and we took steps. We fired the individual and we notified everybody else that we don't take people's keys, we don't drive their cars, we don't do any of this stuff."

The Quality Inn Halifax Airport's owner says in 15 years he's never experienced anything like this. (Dave Laughlin/CBC)

Normally, Halef said, people who park at the hotel would sign a document and park their car themselves. Drivers also keep their keys, he said. They have a shuttle that takes travellers to the airport after they've parked.

"For what reason that these people left their keys with this particular individual, I really don't know," he said. "This is not our hotel policy."

Halef said if the car owners wanted to press charges, they "would have certainly pushed it, but they didn't want to press charges."

No charges laid

MacDonald said she and her husband did contact the police — both to report what had happened, but also to make sure the person driving their car hadn't gotten into any trouble with it.

She said police told them there was a report of speeding near Wolfville, N.S.

"Quite honestly, he could have had dozens of speeding tickets and we would have been responsible for them had we not reported it to police," she said.

RCMP Cpl. Dal Hutchinson told the CBC that police received a complaint on June 8, 2017, that the vehicle owner had discovered an additional 3,000 kilometres on their vehicle. 

Hutchinson confirmed the complainant did not want to press charges.

He said there were no reports of the vehicle having been used in any criminal activity, but could not confirm the report of speeding.

'Use those talents for something good'

MacDonald said the incident has left her less trusting, and she wants others to learn from their mistake.

"If you don't want a surprise when you come home, please, please be aware of the proper procedure to leave your car," she said.

Learning the hotel's policy on leaving a car is important, she said, but it never hurts to take a picture of the odometer.

"Most people are honest and most people are helpful and kind without a different agenda, but not this time."

As for the man who duped them, MacDonald said she hopes he puts his charm to better use.

"Use those talents for something good, rather than something that will get him into trouble, big trouble, if he doesn't change his ways."