What's up with the people who keep offering to do body work on my car?
October 29, 2010 2:20 PM   Subscribe

Why do these skeezy guys solicit me in public to do body work on my car?

The basics are self-evident, sure, but this happens so regularly and with enough commonalities that it feels like there's a story to it.

I'm in Los Angeles. I have a lot of cosmetic damage to my hood and front bumper which I've elected not to have repaired. Every now and again when I'm in a parking lot or nearing one, a guy (sometimes two) will approach me--usually in some creepy way like following me for a few blocks, honking repeatedly, or just looming in front of the car until I get out--and offer to perform body work on the car.

Only they'll inevitably refer to the car as "your Honda." "Need the front end of your Honda repaired?" When I say no enough times, sometimes they'll close with "Like to sell your Honda?" Who talks that way? It's obviously some kind of patter. Between their approach, their refusal to take a No, and their not-quite-human mode of talking, I get skeezed out and take off before I think to ask them what their deal is.

I assume they're offering off-the-books repairs and that their pushiness at least in part adds to the somewhat illicit thrill of the person who really is looking for a cut-rate, hush-hush Bondo job. But how many of them are there? Are they organized? Is their entire day spent prowling for dents? Are they professional solicitors working for repairmen, or are they themselves doing the repairs? And should I worry when one of them gives a long, loving look to my beat-up, old-ass family sedan before tooling off to look for fresh dents to pull?
posted by Kylio to Travel & Transportation (30 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
What year and model is your Honda?

Not trying to be creepy. My dad is a Honda mechanic.
posted by Ouisch at 2:22 PM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: It's a '97 Accord.
posted by Kylio at 2:23 PM on October 29, 2010

I have no idea what is specifically going on in LA -- maybe there is some illicit ring of underground autobody repairers around. I wouldn't know.

But I do know that some people have a weird lust for Japanese cars, or Hondas in particular, and like working on them or pimping them out. Getting cash to do it is, of course, not a bad deal. The long, loving look you describe brought that to mind for me.

My dad used to give longing looks at my friend's 1978 Toyota Cressida when I was in high school. And he fully restored his '78 Honda Civic like three times in the nearly 30 years he owned it. My brother had a big thing for his '76 Honda Accord and I think he cried when it finally died.

No, I don't get it either.
posted by Ouisch at 2:39 PM on October 29, 2010

Yeah, this seems to be a standard thing in Los Angeles. I've gotten it many times over the years. They're not professional solicitors. They do the repairs themselves with tools they have in their truck. I suppose it's a way to get quick, off-the-books money for someone who's un/ underemployed and maybe not even qualified to do the job.

They seem to target people who have slightly older cars and who might want to save a buck but appear to not have the technical expertise to do it themselves or might want to save the hassle of going to a repair shop. As you already know, this is a horrible idea, the repair equivalent of the "white van with audio speakers for cheap".
posted by sharkfu at 2:40 PM on October 29, 2010

Angeleno here, seconding sharkfu's hypothesis. It happens to me all the time (dented bumper). It would be interesting to see if anyone's done a good journalistic profile of this.
posted by mykescipark at 2:46 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you look at LAPD online, Hondas and Toyotas are most vulnerable to theft of parts, and chop shops. I just got an email from the police last week that there have been a rash of older model Hondas stripped for parts. A lot of the ganstas like to race them hify culture style.

My bet is that they are sort of casing your car for potential.
posted by effluvia at 2:50 PM on October 29, 2010

For a while there in Los Angeles, there was a rash of times I was approached by two guys in a white van, along the lines you describe, offering to sell me stereo speakers at rock-bottom prices. Seemed to happen every few days. I guess I was the target audience -- young guy, alone, not rich, but not obviously broke, either. Bizarre.

Then, an unemployed friend answered a newspaper ad for a job. This was the job -- drive around, look for people in parking lots and ask them to semi-aggressively buy stuff. Usually knock-off electronics, with a sales pitch that essentially boiled down to "C'mon, man. It's cheap. C'mon, dude."

Presumably, the stuff was stolen, counterfeit or otherwise monstrously shitty quality. Perhaps all three.

This, somehow, was a business model. Sufficient, at least, to pay for newspaper ads offering this as a "job" with a "rock and roll lifestyle." (actual words)

The friend described it also as akin to multi-level marketing. If you sold enough stuff, you would be rapidly "promoted" to ... something. Something where you would make even more money. Lots of hand-waving about that part.

I'm guessing your dent repair deal is the same philosophy. Somewhere out there, there's a guy offering dumb guys the chance to make money this way.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:10 PM on October 29, 2010 [4 favorites]

Yep, my front bumper met a concrete pylon recently and since then it's been a target for repair. "Want a new bumper?" "Here's a card, let us take a look at it." "Wanna sell it?" etc. and that's just the people in parking lots and on my street. I also get sheafs and reams of colorful ads for bodywork shops under my windshield wipers.

I agree with sharkfu mostly, but it also occurred to me that since Hondas are so frequently stolen they may be trying to convert stolen parts into cash by offering to replace your hood/bumper/whatever.
posted by carsonb at 3:11 PM on October 29, 2010

Honda Odyssey here; I live in NYC and get this, especially in NJ. I just assume it's body repair folks trying to drum up business, and say "No thanks."
posted by torticat at 3:15 PM on October 29, 2010

Oh, and even if it's not hot parts they're trying to unload, late model Hondas are so ubiquitous that there's a slew of legit parts available too. It's an easy sell/repair/quick buck.
posted by carsonb at 3:15 PM on October 29, 2010

This happens to me several times a year. I too have a beat up old Honda. I'm in LA too, but this happened all the time in DC and NYC too. It creeps me out a bit too. I've had people yell at me at stoplights and do all sorts of things. All I can figure is people must take them up on their offers because they are so cheap, but I would imagine it's the kind of thing where you agree to a price and then oh wait, this is actually gonna cost a little more...

I think these are just mechanics trying to make some cash under the table and on the side. I had a friend nearly take a guy up on his offer. He said he'd do it right there and then on the side of the road (it wasn't going to be a pretty fix, just getting a huge dent out of the hood so that it would actually close), but he didn't have his tools and she didn't want to go back to his house with him.

I find it funny that they always say, "You know I could fix that." Like, no really, it never occurred to me that dents in cars could be fixed.
posted by whoaali at 3:15 PM on October 29, 2010

Who talks that way?

I've been getting a lot of guys knocking on my door asking if I need yardwork done. I haven't paid much attention to the exact phrasing, but today one of them said something like "I have an F-150 out here" (or whatever model number), rather than simply saying he had a pickup truck.

The Honda thing sounds like the same business generation model applied to public areas rather than door to door.

I've found that saying "Sorry, don't have any money" works well as an alternative to "No" as far as cutting way down on the persistence in asking.
posted by yohko at 3:25 PM on October 29, 2010

Just as another data point: I drove a Saturn with body damage for many years in Texas, and have been approached by strangers offering to fix it for me. So it doesn't seem to be limited to Hondas or LA.
posted by donajo at 3:27 PM on October 29, 2010

Same experience- Toyota, damaged bumper, L.A.

It never occurred to me that this would be any kind of scam. To me they just seem like people trying to drum up business, and when I said "no" they never hassled or bothered me any further. I wouldn't out them in the same class as the famous "White van" salesmen at all.
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:35 PM on October 29, 2010

This happened to me once, in Seattle. Some dude knocked on my door asking if I wanted him to fix the dents in my Ford Festiva. I asked, "You want to fix dents in my Festiva?" He replied, "Yeah, dude. I can make it look like new." I said back, "Dude, it's a Festiva," and sent him on his way.

He was a young guy, and I figured he was just trying to make a buck on the side, but I wasn't about to pay anybody to take a few dents out of my Boonie Bomb. Pft.

I can't imagine that had anything to do with casing my car. YMMV
posted by Pecinpah at 3:40 PM on October 29, 2010

It's not a scam -- at least in my L.A. experience. I had a Civic with a dented bumper. The guy came up to me in a parking lot and said, "Want me to fix it for $40 bucks?" Before really thinking about it, i said yes. He whipped a couple of tools out of his trunk, spent five minutes banging on it, and voila, dent gone. I think it's just people hustling to make a buck.

A couple of days ago we had a knock at the door -- soliciting a dent repair for our CR-V, which was parked in the driveway. We said no and off he went, no further pleas.
posted by BlahLaLa at 3:41 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

I have a friend who decided to say yes, here is LA, and his car looks TERRIBLE - much worse than it had before. So I would never say yes.

I have a dented Saturn here in LA and get solicited all the time.
posted by visual mechanic at 3:47 PM on October 29, 2010 [1 favorite]

We got this when we had a Nissan Sentra with some dents, and the Nissan Sentra isn't exactly theft-desirable. To hear it told 'round these parts, guys who work in body shops often work after hours on their own projects -- so fixing cars like this lets them use the body shop bay and tools to fix the car much cheaper than would be otherwise possible (and of course, with no warranty expressed or implied.) So it's a good way to make some side cash.

Also, if you have a car that's lower in value because of bodywork, and they can fix it cheaper than a body shop (see above) and turn it around for a profit, that's another good way to make money -- so if you are willing to sell your car at that lower value, that's a deal for them.
posted by davejay at 4:53 PM on October 29, 2010

They do it everywhere. Body work is expensive and people steal or borrow the tools. It isn't illegal for you as far as I know. I got a nice dent fixed cheap once.
posted by Ironmouth at 5:42 PM on October 29, 2010

My old '97 Accord had small dents on all four sides from the previous owner. Depending on the neighborhood I go to in Long Beach or north Orange County, CA, I run into these guys every once and a while. They are pushy, they drive next to me and honk to get my attention, then scream the sales pitch out the window. They follow me into parking lots. However, I wasn't driving a 1997 Accord for its sex appeal, so I had no interest in spending a dime on doing anything about dents.

One time there were two guys; while the first guy tried to pitch me their services, the other guy, the guy with the suction cup, actually sucked the dent out before I agreed to anything (which I wasn't going to do anyway). The dent was less bad than it was before, but still there. Suction cup guy gets up and says $20 bucks, and holds out his hand, and I say I didn't ask you to do that. So they left. Not a big deal, these people weren't shysters. They're just dudes with trucks and miscellaneous minor-body-work supplies who have to be aggressive to make a buck.

Annoying? Yes. Sketchy or illegal? Not really.

Why do they do this? I think for a sizable segment of society, their services are actually a better deal than a body shop or dealer. There's a niche there that people will come out of the woodwork to fill.
posted by malapropist at 6:08 PM on October 29, 2010

I can't tell from your post or profile, but are you a lady? I happen to be a lady who lives in LA, and owns a '97 Honda Accord with tons of body damage. I have found that all of these overtures are also accompanied by really disgusting comments about my body, sexual acts, or related things. Usually it's "hey, I can fix that _____ for you" yelled at me through the car window while I'm at a stoplight, and then I say "no, thanks", and then the guy will say the most sexually assaultive thing he can think of. I have a very strong sense that, if I consented to pull over and talk further about the car repairs, it would not end at just comments.
posted by so_gracefully at 6:26 PM on October 29, 2010

I got this offer from the guy who just moved in upstairs from me. I gather for him, he's just opening up a shop, so it's a combination of having the equipment, the itch to get his hands on a car, and a chance at a few *really* easy bucks. In fact, it's SOOO easy for him to do, I think it bugs him just to see it everyday, like he doesn't even understand why I wouldn't jump on the chance. I dunno. I'm not a city dweller. But shade-tree mechanics abound everywhere & some of them are going to be pushy assholes.
posted by Ys at 7:52 PM on October 29, 2010

You're in luck: I actually said "OK" to one of these guys once. I had a Passat Wagon (PW) for many years, and the body was pretty perfect all the way 'round, except for one perfect dent right at the top of the front right fender, at the ridge where it curves over to meet the hood, about halfway between the windshield & the headlight. It was a round dent, about 4 inches in diameter, and the bottom of the dent was a single line (I had no idea I'd have such a hard time describing a dent). I loved my PW, and that dent had always bothered me.

I love this story, because, looking back, I had the quintessential Clark Griswold thing goin' on, and the dudes, while a little sketchy, did their deal like a midwestern college dance squad with 3 minutes to show the world that they were worth at least runner-up to the runner-up.

So, one lovely sunny San Diego day, I'm at a gas station just picking up a soda. I'm parked around the side where the air & water station is. This guy walks up to me and says "Hey, you need that dent taken out?" I say "I dunno... how much?" He looks at it,. strokes his beard, and says "forty bucks". I pull a wad of cash out of my pocket and starting counting, slowly, then I shrug, and say "I've got twenty-two". He spins around, does a taxicab whistle w/ his fingers in his mouth, and, seriously, instantly, two dudes jump out of a car and run back to their trunk. One pulls out a really long bar and the other pulls out a tin of what I would later realize was just car wax, but I couldn't tell what it was at the time. They run over to the car (really, running), and the dude w/ the wax smears a huge handful of it all over the dent. I'm guessing they did this to cover up if any paint chips come flying off when they pop the dent. As the waxer covered the dent, the ringleader responded to my quizzical expression by saying "That's paint cooler, because paint heats up when you work the metal under it." It was the most awesomely succinct bullshit I'd heard in a long time, so I just nodded w/ my Clark Griswold smile and said "Aaaaaaahhh". The barman had me pop the hood while the waxer got under my car. Once they drew a bead on where the bar would have to go to get behind the dent, they got the bar in there, and I seem to remember the waxer having to make a fulcrum for the bar w/ his arm, and , the dent popped. The guys slammed my hood down, ran back to their car (really, running), and I handed the ringleader $22, and they peeled out of the gas station. I doubt the whole process took more than 240 seconds. One of the cashiers from inside the gas station came out just moments later and said "I told those guys to stop doing that at my station." I apologized, and the guy said it wasn't my fault, and that it was "OK".

I washed off the "paint cooler" (I hope I never forget that phrase and its context) later on, and the dent was pretty much gone. The paint held up just fine, and you could see a couple of little pricks from the bar, but now that old dent would never call to me from across a parking lot, as it had so many times before. I'd had the car for almost 7-8 years at that point, and I knew I'd be having it put down soon, so I wasn't concerned with keeping it "mint" or anything like that.

As for the safety factor, I can just say I don't get fucked with. As for the skeeziness factor, yeah, maybe, but I was also willing to gamble $22 and the Passat's front right fender's appearance just for the opportunity to say "yes" to someone who never hears it, so I could see what transpires. I like doing that once in a while, and it usually makes for a good story. One time, I said "yes" to an L.A. Times subscription telemarketer and it BLEW her mind. It was her first sale and she'd been making calls for a couple of weeks. She was so happy to get to that second screen in her little sales program I'm pretty sure she pissed herself a little. Another favorite story of mine.

posted by Lukenlogs at 7:56 PM on October 29, 2010 [6 favorites]

FWIW I can recall this from a childhood (early-mid seventies) of visiting gramma's in LA (maybe not the 'honda' part, but casual car bodywork offered on the streets); it was always attributed to 'the gypsies' ... as to whether this is actually the profession of choice amoung the l.a. romany i can't say.
posted by Rube R. Nekker at 8:14 PM on October 29, 2010

Man, this is really disappointing. I drive a Nissan with a massive side dent (I mean gigantic) and I've only once had someone offer to work on it, and that was when I drove slowly by a garage, then parked near it. I've had that dent for at least 3 or 4 years, and only had that one offer. Though it's not exactly a dent you could pop out or anything; it's major body damage.
posted by Slinga at 8:17 PM on October 29, 2010

This happens to me ALL THE TIME. Although they never refer to my car by its make. They usually just drive by sloooooowly, point to the dent I've had in my passenger door since God made girly origami out of a rib and say, "I can knock that out for you." Often, these "offers" are followed by comments about my looks once I've refused. One guy said, "You are reeeeeeally pretty" in this Jame Gumb voice that prompted me to hop into my car and slam down the locks like nobody's business. I don't know what it's about, but it happens often enough that I can't help but think these really are mechanics who are looking for customers, and they're throwing out any desperate comment they can to get a customer. But, to be on the safe side, I refuse all of them. Personal safety trumps frugality every time for me, sorry mechanic dudes.
posted by katillathehun at 8:24 PM on October 29, 2010

This happened to be all the time after I rear-ended a Mercedes SUV and before I painted my car black with planets all over it.

My theory was, these are small, unlicensed business guys who want to make a little money from people who have dents. I had a dent, so they asked me if they could have my business. No conspiracy! Except possibly the shitty economy increases this sort of sideline or unlicensed business.

The funniest encounter I had along these lines: Guy pulls up to me at stop light and yells out window: "I can fix your hood for 300 bucks!"
Me: "No thanks!"
Guy: "How about 150, cash?"
Me: "I'm fine, thanks!"
Guy: "50 bucks, right now, I have tools!"
Me: smiling, "Bye!"
Guy: Yelling after me, "25!!"
posted by serazin at 8:28 PM on October 29, 2010

(Note: I am not pretty or girly and men never pick up on me unless they are mentally ill)
posted by serazin at 8:29 PM on October 29, 2010

Response by poster: A great spectrum of stories. I did so hope, as mykescipark hypothesized, that some intrepid independent journalist had already investigated this phenomenon and even come up with a spider at the center of the web. I didn't enjoy reading about so_gracefully and katillathehun's experiences with verbal assault, but they're definitely in accord (heh) with the vibe I've felt from these guys. That said, if I ran into the dude who offered serazin a $25 hood treatment, I'd probably take him up on it just to see what happened.
posted by Kylio at 2:33 PM on October 30, 2010

They seem to target people who have slightly older cars and who might want to save a buck but appear to not have the technical expertise

...or the experience to know what repairing a dent actually entails. Sure, they have tools -- but are they carrying any paint? Are you in a position to allow that paint to dry properly? How about body filler, and the various grades of sandpaper necessary for a good finish? Pounding out the dent's just the beginning of the repair.

I utilized their services many years ago and am now sadder but wiser. When approached by them these days, I just laugh and curse them mentally for thinking me a chump.
posted by Rash at 5:21 PM on October 30, 2010

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