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Gypsy Dent Repair, Part 2 of 3

(see Part 1 here)

On July 7, I was looking for parking in the Lowe’s parking lot in Brooklyn. Two young guys approached me in their van, having apparently spotted my dentmobile. The fast talker of the two immediately approached me and through his driver’s window made his pitch. They would repair all the dents now for $250. I would not pay until the entire job was completed to my satisfaction. To sweeten the deal further, they would repair one dent for free.

And I was permitted, even encouraged, to watch their entire procedure. I would neither have to leave the vehicle with them nor give them my keys. When they discussed refinishing paint, I became more concerned. I asked how they could possibly match paint color. They replied – they could formulate the color from the VIN number on my registration sticker in my window. Slick. If the work was of engine or electrical, etc., I would have declined, but this was only dent removal, not a complex auto repair. I would see the work being done. Where was the risk? So I agreed. They told me there was an ATM machine in the Pathmark next door.

Their van was astonishing – an auto repair shop on wheels. They had every manner of tool, paints, grinders, and sanders. Work began. These two boys could work. Fast. In the hot sun of a blistering July day. Brazen and undaunted, doing auto body repair in the parking lot of a Lowe’s. We chatted as they worked. They critiqued the previous work done by the garage by using Bondo. Later there was talk of using Bondo. One of the two told me they were brothers. I was told that an older man who was circulating in another vehicle asking how his boys were doing for me, was their father. However, the other boy later told me that they were cousins and that the older man was their uncle.
I asked where they were from. Rumania, they answered. Was that good or bad, I wondered? My girlfriend had an instinct that something was awry from the beginning. But I had shooed her away into Lowe’s, so as not go get bored watching an auto repair while baking in the hot sun.

They ran a portable grinder from my car battery. Slick. They removed the dent in the hood with a small crowbar through an opening underneath. Slick. These guys looked quite experienced and very resourceful. They were fast, taking charge, and working with confidence. I became concerned, however, at how much grinding was being done and how much paint finish was being removed. Too late now. Soon the job was done.
Substantial wax buildup was left around edge repair. The color seemed noticeably off. I was instructed to follow their instructions carefully – in 48 hours, I must have the car washed and hot waxed. This, and only this, would remove all traces of wax and compound and restore my car to its former finish and color. They followed me to the ATM, and I withdrew $250 and paid them. They repeated the washing instructions.

I told them of my blog and asked if I could take their photos. They heartily agreed, even posing. I was surprised and felt somewhat reassured – what crooks would pose for a photo? As they left, without thinking why, I photographed their license plate.

As we drove away, I had that sinking feeling. The mere idea of allowing strangers to do a repair and all cash transaction in a parking lot was not sitting right with me. Conflicting things had been said by them. The car wash thing sounded dubious. And one was not supposed to think, admit, or speak this, but they were from Rumania.

Before going home, we made one of our favorite rituals – a visit to Trader Joe’s before closing, when the crowds are less. As I stepped out of my car, a man pulling a small suitcase on wheels approached me. He took one look at the work on my car and told me it was HORRIBLE. He asked where the work was done. I told him. He asked if they told me to wash the car within 48 hours and have it waxed – it was asked like it was a standard ploy. Now my heart really sank. I had been duped for sure. Who knows what those boys had really done and how good this repair would be. This was astonishing – in 44 years living in New York City, I had never been approached by auto repair hucksters, but now, twice in one day? He offered to repair the work for $150 and began removing a can of spray paint from his suitcase. I declined and stopped him. Was he serious? Did he actually think I would agree to another cash repair job on the streets of New York City and add insult to injury?

My journey home included a number of “I told you so’s” from my girlfriend. I tried to defend my decision, but ultimately, the whole thing was humiliating. What had I been thinking? Wasn’t I the seasoned, street smart New Yorker? What would happen to my credibility and any reputation for being savvy?

The next morning my girlfriend reported on some late night reading. Apparently what I experienced was a nationwide phenomenon – Gypsy dent repair. It was formulaic. Textbook. Everything they had done and said was routine for this type of scam, including the 48-hour period before the mandatory car wash. Now I was really down. I had been scammed. It was embarrassing. I had learned the hard way. The infamous school of hard knocks – perhaps the dark side of New York City’s Sidewalk University. But this class, Gyspy Dent Repair, was not yet completed, as we will see in Part 3

8 Responses to Gypsy Dent Repair, Part 2 of 3

  1. Amazing story, i can’t wait to read part 3 to see how this unfolds.

    Over here in Europe, Gypsies are often stereotyped as being crooks/thieves/scammers, so i hope that these two gentlemen from Romania turn out to be real craftsmen who didn’t ruin your car to earn a quick buck. (and again prove all the negative people right)

    And in your defense, it also takes guts to ‘just do’ something and not always worry about the consequences all the time :-)

  2. Brian Dubé says:

    As you see in today’s final chapter, it is unclear whether these guys were scammers or not. The evidence is that they were just hustling a buck – doing a reasonable job for a fair price in the hot sun. They even posed for a photo. Time will tell.

  3. I got my car fix says:

    I got work done bye these two guys save me money and time I’m so happy I ran in to these guys of you see this and you got. A dent trust them you will be happy the paint is ok not great but if you Have a old car and don’t want to spend a lot it wroth it thank

  4. Hi it’s john one of the guys who did the “repairs” to your car. A friend of mine told me this was up the other day. I’m sorry about everything that happened to you. Here is the thing I didn’t mean to mess you up it really was the best we could’ve done! But I’m willing to make things right with you, if you’d be willing. So I’ll check this message board again and if you choose to accept my offer we can take it from there. Ty and I hope we talk soon. Again very sorry for everything.

  5. Wow

  6. I was recently approached and accepted a repair and paint job on my car. The guy already did the first phase and will return on Wed. so he says to complete the work. I already gave him the money, checked out a reference and got a good review. Every thing he told me so far matches your experience. I contacted the police but they said it is not a police matter and wont interveine. Have you any avice, I am out $200 and feel very naïve and taken advantage of. Please respond……….don

  7. Brian Dubé says:

    Don – I think you are sunk. As far as the police are concerned: you contracted with someone for work, they did the work, you paid them for work done. Contract completed. You and I are upset about the QUALITY of work done. But this is like getting any service or product where you feel “cheated.” It’s not a criminal matter but a civil matter – you would have to sue them, take them to court. If they did no work and took your money, then that’s essentially theft and the police would become involved. That is what I have been told and unfortunately, it makes sense. Otherwise the police would be working full time with customer complaints for shoddy service.

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