I know this is a scam, but...I don't get it!

I’m usually pretty smart about this stuff, but this one I don’t get.

I live in downtown Washington, DC. I drive a red Mercury Cougar with badly dinged-up bumpers (don’t ask).

Twice in the past week, I have been accosted by guys driving by offering do cheap body work. They claim that they have all the tools and paint with them, and can do it while I shop or whatever, for about 1/2 the price I would have to pay a body shop. Obviously, this is some kind of scam, but what do they get out of it? Even if I hired them, there’s no way I’m giving them a key to the car, and there’s no written agreement, so they would have a hard time coming after me for money, so WHAT IS GOING ON??

Or is it in fact true that here are a bunch of guys who drive around with glossy red Cougar paint, bondo, and a power sander who are altruistic and love to help?

Not being funny at all but it is possible to start a car without the key y’know

Dunno… would they expect cash up front? Or maybe do the job, then make up some reason why it costs more than they originally said, and lean on you to pay it?

It might not be a scam. At the dealership I work at, we have two or three seperate companies that come in and have ALL of their supplies in the back of a minivan. They are able to do basic body work right here on the premises and are actually pretty cheap. I have seen them make it look like there was no dent or scratch at all.

I am not sure exactly how body work is done, but I would assume they need some basic tools, some bondo (spelling?), and the main colors to mix to the correct color.

It might not be a scam. If they can come to your work and do it while you are there, go for it. As chowder basically stated, if they wanted to steal your car, no key is really necesarry for a Mercury Cougar. If you decided to do it:

  1. Don’t give them the keys anyway. Have them do it at your work and unlock all of the doors for them.

  2. Do not pay upfront.

If you do not mind me asking, did they ever tell you how much it would cost to fix it? At our dealership, these guys can redo two complete bumpers for $150.

Yes, but it’s quite difficult with newer cars and the computerized keys, which mine has. But it can be done–maybe they’re angling for a few hours alone with the car, but that begs the question:

Why in Heaven’s name would anyone want an old, dinged-up Cougar?? I don’t think it’s high on the list of desirable cars for thieves.

No, I don’t mind. In both cases, they asked $350 for two bumpers. Hmm…if I were to go for one of these, I wouldn’t let them out of my sight for a minute; and, I try to find a very beefy friend to wait with me while they did the work.

BTW, why would they need access to the interior of the car to fix the bumpers? There’s no way I’d even unlock the doors for these guys.

Maybe they don’t want the car, but figure you do.
[li]Get the money (or some fraction of it) up front[/li][li]Pull both bumpers off as well as whatever else they can pry loose[/li][li]Tell you that it will be an extra $100 more than they quoted[/li][li]Refuse to put the bumpers back on until you pay[/li][li]Profit![/ul][/li]

It’s not a scam. These “gypsy” auto body workers are in every major city. They are unlicensed, so you have no recourse to compensation if there is any damage done to your car.


I’ve been approached similarly about a dent on the side of my car, although I was standing on the lawn in front of my house at the time. Guy drove up in a truck, said he works at his father’s body shop, and offered to fix the dent right there in front of me for about $200. (I had estimated it’s about a $600-700 job.) I declined, but only because I like to keep complete records of work I’ve had on the car, and I doubted this guy would be able to give me a receipt.

If it was a scam it was a pretty bad one- I was in control, on my property, he had no leverage over me, I doubt he’d be stupid enough to take the car apart in my driveway and pressure me for more money- in about 5 minutes I could have had some rather persuasive-looking neighbors surround the guy.

I think in my situation the guy just wanted some cash under the table; your situation might be the same.

350 is probably a little high to fix bumpers, IMO.

I don’t think you would have to worry about them being in your sight the whole time. It could take a while to get it done.

If it is just the bumpers, they do not need to get into your car. If there were other dents they might need access to work in->out.

You are better off just letting it go. Either keep the bumps or try a licensed place. But I would venture to say this is not a scam, just some people looking to make a quick buck, cash, under the table. But since they are not insured nor licensed (probably), it is not a safe bet.

You’d get crappy work that you wouldn’t like and many many people under the pressure of the situation would pay and end it. They’d go home and feel like chumps.

That is the whole process, right there. Whether it is two knuckle heads in a van selling speakers, or two guys with Italian accents selling Armani suits.

You think you have a deal and you have junk work, or junk product. But enough fall for it, and enough would never argue about it.

We had someone stop us with the same deal. He had a suction dent popper thing. He popped it out even though we said we wouldn’t pay him. He wanted $50. After he popped it out he lowered the price to $20 we still didn’t bite. Then he barely touched the place where the dent had been, and it reappeared.
Indeed a scam.

He pops the dent out, you pay him, both drive away, then the first bump you hit, the dent’s back and your money is gone.

The world of computer repair has a similar thread, guys advertising on bulliten boards, craigslist, small local newspapers/circulars. Cash only, phone number is a cell phone, etc. I have seen several such people advertising $35 plus parts for any PC repair. Good luck finding them for warranty work or a second call.

I personally think this is sad because about 1/3 of my business the last few months has been returning customers and referrals. Kinda shooting themselves in the foot over $400-$500 in tax deductible licences.

Yes, what folks are saying makes a lot of sense.

So, anyone know a decent, reputable body shop in the DC area that won’t charge an “arm and a leg” (hey, that’s another question for Cecil–where that expression comes from!).

I usually have repair work done at the dealer, but they’ll charge at least $600 for something like this.

Thanks for everyone’s thoughtful responses.

As other have said, its not a scam per se. There is no shortage of backyard bodymen. People who have the basic tools and the (very) basic skills to do, um, shitty repairs.

The thing with autobody repair is its not like mechanical work, where pretty much everyone can agree on what constitutes fixed or not fixed. Some people will look at a half-ass body repair job and think it looks great, others will think it looks terrible.

Body work is just as much art as it is science. And some bodymen are Bob Ross, some are Rembrandt…

Your spelling is great but Bondo, being a product name, should be capitalized. If the makers of Bondo see this you might get a letter from their attorneys chastizing you. Or rather the Chicago Reader will get one. :wink:

Yeah, but if Bob Ross fixed my bumper I wouldn’t care what it looked like.

Cause . . . you know . . . he’d make it a happy bumper. . . .

A co-worker fell for this once. I forget how much money he was asking to fix the dent. $40-50 perhaps.

The co-worker paid him the small fee.

He drilled a small hole, used a dent puller, and slapped on some bondo. Told the owner of the car he would come by the next day and sand it down and paint it.

Guess who never showed up again?

I suspect the bondo didn’t stick well as he applied it right over the paint.

Thanks for the first-hand account.

If it didn’t involve my actual real car and real money, I’d do it just to see what happens :slight_smile:

I have to say this: some of the fastest/best major body repairs I’ve ever had were done in one session on Mass Ave in Cambridge, when I was in college. They left the finish sanding and painting to me per prior agreement (I did a bit of backyard bodywork myself, so I was fine with that, but someone else might have felt ripped off) It was like watching a NASCAR pit team in action – no, it was ART. No doubt about it.

Yes, I was lucky to be accosted by some of the “good ones”, but after some disappointing (and much more expensive) work by “legitimate” shops, there were times when I prayed for the return of the gypsy body men.

Sadly, you never know what you are getting in advance. I can’t believe a bunch of guys this good were roaming the streets – or let themselves be seen in public in that grimy and disreputable a state. [You can’t judge by looks I guess - if the price hadn’t been so good, and I so poor, I’d never have considered them] Part of me hopes that they used my money to get some interview clothes, showered at the Y, and landed a job at some high end luxury car shop, where their art is appreciated and remunerated appropriately to this day. Another part of me hopes they are still wandering the globe, the autobody A-Team.