This is the story of an outrage that cost a suburban Maryland automobile dealer a sale over the weekend.

Bob Sklar of Vienna, who operates a public relations firm specializing in consumer affairs, went with his wife last Saturday to a European-car dealer in Montgomery County.

After deciding tentatively on a car to buy, they sat down with the salesman--let's call him Charlie--to work out the figures.

While they were talking, Sklar said, a mechanic came in and started to hand Charlie the keys "for Mrs. W's new car," the snazziest model available.

"I'm busy right now. But that's her standing over there," Charlie said, pointing. "Please give her the keys."

The mechanic winced. "I'm sorry I shut the engine off," he said. "I haven't been able to start that car all week without a jump start."

To which Charlie snapped: "Start that car! Don't let her see how you do it! I'm delivering that car today!"

The mechanic rolled in a portable battery, started the car out of Mrs. W's sight, then went and told her that the car, its motor idling, was ready.

And Sklar and his wife, incredulous that this would be said and done in their presence, walked out. They found the car they wanted in an Alexandria showroom, and bought it. It started.