Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I have a dent on my driver's side door. Twice in recent weeks, strangers have approached me with an offer to "fix my dent while I wait." My auto body shop estimate was for $600; two different strangers offered to take care of the problem for $300.

They said they "don't always have the tools with them, so they had to do it right then and there." Both men showed me their driver's licenses.

What's going on? Are these people legitimate? They accept checks (I could always stop payment). I can't find the downside to this apparent scam, yet I don't trust them.

Please let me know if you have heard about this from your readers. Both incidents happened near the Lyon Village shopping center off Route 29 in Arlington.

What would you recommend?

M.N. Holmes

Arlington

Dr. Gridlock has been similarly approached at Baileys Crossroads in Fairfax County with an offer to fix a dent but waved the stranger away. You just don't know what you're getting into.

"There's nothing illegal about someone offering to do it," said Cpl. Justin McNaull, spokesman for the Arlington County police. "I liken it to someone coming up to you on the street and offering to cut your hair for $5. The question is, what kind of work are you going to get for such a cut-rate price?"

McNaull said Arlington police aren't aware of any complaints or problems surrounding such solicitations. He said he was solicited for dent repair along Little River Turnpike in Fairfax County and said no.

According to one body shop man who said he's seen the results of curbside repairs, these itinerant dent-fixers fill the area with a plastic material, then tell the owner to get the spot sanded and painted. He said it is impossible to fix a dent properly in the street. Dr. Gridlock would like to hear whether any of you have had any experiences -- good or bad -- with a street offer to make automobile repairs, cheap.

Out of Gas, Out of Luck

Dr. Gridlock was driving around the Capital Beltway the other day and noticed the gas tank was empty. Where to refill? On most interstate highways, you can find interchanges where you can see the gas stations, get off, fill up and return to the highway.

Not around here. I can't think of any gas stations that can be seen from exits on the Beltway or Interstate 95, I-66 or I-270. And once you get off, it's sometimes tricky to find the way back. I was pondering this anomaly when I went from the Beltway onto I-95 north in Prince George's County. The tank wouldn't wait. I got off on Route 212 (Powder Mill Road), Exit 29A, and headed east toward Beltsville hoping for gas.

Not surprisingly, I was led immediately into a development of older, brick, single-family homes. No sign of a gas station. Two miles later, at Route 1, I turned to the northeast, figuring I had to find one on Route 1. In my rearview mirror, I did see a gas station that had been obscured by trees before I made my turn onto Route 1. Great.

Eventually, I found one near Laurel Mall. Then back to I-95 via Route 198. Total time to get gas: 20 minutes. Total miles in search of gas: eight. The Maryland State Highway administration had put up a blue and white sign indicating gas was available at the Route 212 exit, but no indication of how far away. Some states will note the miles on these signs. That helps.

I'm surely not the first one to encounter this problem. Perhaps we can help each other. If you'll send me the location of any gas stations near our interstate highway exits, I'll consider publishing them. We can then clip that out, deposit it in the glove compartment, and save ourselves some time wandering in search of secret gas stations.

I'd like to know whether you can see the gas station from the interstate exit, and if not, exactly how far away it is. Send me the route and exit number, and tell me which way we you are traveling to get to the gas station.

It's ironic that it's easier to find gas in rural areas such Aberdeen, Md., (I-95) or Nottoway, Va., (I-85) than it is from an interstate highway in the metropolitan area of our nation's capital.

In Search of Riddles

The last license plate riddle (Dr. Gridlock, June 7) was WSPY CLD. What kind of car was observed with that plate? The connection to a kind of "wispy cloud" was the Cirrus by Chrysler.

Many of you scolded us for making these too easy. Try this: What kind of car has the license plate ISLEOF?

We're in the market for more nominations. The plate needs to indicate the kind of car.

Dr. Gridlock's assistant, Jessica Medinger, contributed to this column.

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and on Wednesday or Thursday in the Weekly and Extra sections. You can write to Dr. Gridlock, P.O. Box 3467, Fairfax, Va. 22038-3467, or e-mail him at drgridlock@washpost.com. The Doctor's fax number is 703-352-3908. Please include your full name, address and day and evening phone numbers.

UPDATE: SPRINGFIELD INTERCHANGE

I-95 Lane Closures, Traffic Stops

Monday-Wednesday:

1. From 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., the left lane of southbound Interstate-95 will be closed between Interstate-495 and Old Keene Mill Road (Route 644) for the construction of a temporary bridge. Two lanes will remain open.

Wednesday:

2. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. there will be periodic traffic stops (15-minute maximum) on the HOV lanes between I-495 and Old Keene Mill Road (Route 644) to set steel beams for a temporary bridge.

Thursday:

3. From 11 p.m. to 5 a.m. the right lane of I-95 southbound will be closed between I-495 and Old Keene Mill Road (Route 644) to set steel beams for a temporary bridge. Two lanes will remain open.

For updates on lane closures, check www.springfieldinterchange.com or call toll-free 1-877-95-95-222 to reach VDOT information operators.

SOURCE: Virginia Department of Transportation