Lesson learned the hard way

Lesson learned the hard way

There’s value in making good decisions when it comes to auto repairs

By Jennifer Hadley 09/02/2009

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I’m a little bit impetuous. OK, that’s a bald-faced lie — I’m completely impetuous. But
for the most part, I can live with the haphazard decisions I make. Some of them I’m forced to live with, like the tattoo I decided to
get on my neck after about 15 minutes of consideration. However, as I’ve learned the hard way this week, when it comes to repairing my car, maybe I should exercise a little more diligence before making rash decisions. 

I was leaving the Ralphs parking lot in my banged-up Xterra that I crashed last month, when a guy pulled up next to me and said “Hey, I can fix that dent. $250.” He had a big magnetic advertisement on his truck advertising his mobile body shop. The price was right. I called him when I got home, and arranged for him to come to my house and fix my car immediately. He even agreed to fix it for $175.

Together we assessed the damage and he let me know he could fix it easily and cheaply. In fact, according to him, if I took it to a body shop, they’d charge me $1,200 to $1,500 for the repair. I was skeptical, but the dent was really annoying me. For 175 bucks, I figured why not? He went to work on my truck in the alley behind my apartment.

Within 20 minutes he called and said he needed to show me something. He’d popped the dents out, revealing cracked paint, and my fender was out of alignment. “See this,” he said, pointing to my fender. “Frame’s messed up. It’s going to take longer, so it’s going to be the original price.” I asked politely what the original price was and he said $350.  Hmmm. We ended up settling on $300, cash only. And he needed petty cash on the spot to go buy the paint. I gave him the $13 I had in my wallet and headed for the bank.

Walking to my bank, I was regretting my decision and cursing my impetuousness for getting me into this mess. The whole deal was clearly shady. But now this guy knew where I lived. I’d also helpfully let him know that I write the Wheels column, and had even given him a recent copy of the Pasadena Weekly. There was no going back. Rats.

I came back home and he was filling in the remaining dents and scrapes with some kind of powdery putty substance. I sighed, looked at my truck and went back inside, waiting for him to call me when it was finished. 

About an hour later, the repair job was done. He was incredibly proud of the work, assuring me that my truck looked as good as new. It did not. It was spray-painted black and a tiny fly was stuck in the paint. The fender remained a bit out of alignment. 

Did it look better than before? Absolutely. But did it look good? No. Still, he promised me a free wax a week later that would “really bring out the shine.” I just needed to call him, and he’d come back over. I forked over the $300 and pulled the freshly spray-painted Xterra into the garage. He still hasn’t come by to wax the car, and it’s been over a week.

All the same, there’s a lesson to be learned here: Never again will I agree to pay someone for a service that I know nothing about. I could (read: should) have researched this type of repair before doling out my address to a complete stranger. I could have stopped him before he filled in the dents with magic powder and spray paint, and taken my car instead to a repair shop. But I didn’t. There’s no one to blame but myself. 

Still, my Xterra does look better, so at the risk of offering unsolicited advice, I’d say if you bang up your car and you just need it to look better — not perfect — this type of repair may be right up your alley. I got what I paid for: a $313 repair. But I learned an invaluable lesson that is sure to benefit me for years to come.

There are some things in life worth splurging on, such as reinforced garbage bags or the occasional pair of Versace sunglasses. And now I’ll add auto body work to that list.

Contact Jennifer Hadley at jmhadley624@yahoo.com.

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