Dear Dr. Gridlock:

Several months ago, a guy in a Cadillac pulled alongside me as I was exiting an Alexandria shopping center. He shouted that he could fix my dents for $100. I pulled away, but he caught me at the next light and persuaded me to pull off and let him "take a look at it."

He explained that he was a worker in a body shop and had his tools with him because he was doing work on his mother's car that weekend. He was willing to follow me to wherever and do the work within an hour. Against my better judgment, I agreed.

He did the work and seemed very professional, but he asked to be paid more ($150) and in cash, claiming there was more work than he expected. It seemed like a good job, and I paid.

The next morning, after the body filler dried, the work area was rough to the touch, and I decided to take the vehicle to professionals to have it repainted. They said the filling job wasn't done right and would have to be done over.

It was a $300 job in all, and my experience with Mr. Curbside was a waste.

Bottom line: If you want professional-looking work, go to a professional at a body shop. If you don't mind a job that looks like it was done by a high school auto shop student, then accept the offer. You get what you pay for.

JON BRANDT

Alexandria

Excellent Work for Much Less

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I had an estimate of about $2,000 for body repairs from a good body shop. A guy on the street stopped me and made the repairs in less than a day for $500.

While I was really suspicious, he did excellent work. I'd work with him again.

DOUG WEINFIELD

Washington

All Filler and Heartache

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

The scams that you have been writing about have been going on for years. I used to do body repair for a living. Here's what you should know about these streetside repair artists.

There is a product used by auto body shops called "body filler." The scam artists just slap some of this stuff over the dent and smooth it out with a putty knife. To be done properly, the dent should be hammered out as much as possible and the body filler should not be used to fill dents deeper than a quarter-inch.

If you put the filler over paint, rust, deep dents, etc., it will only cost you more to have the stuff removed so that a professional can do it right.

Thank you for helping to expose this scam. Hopefully, if we get the word out, we can save your readers lots of money and the heartache that comes from being ripped off.

KEVIN KOMMIT

Rockville

Mystified, Satisfied Customer

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

A couple of months ago, after my son had two minor accidents in our 11-year-old car, two guys showed up at my front door, offering to make the fixes for $1,700.

Since the insurance estimate was $3,500, I decided to take a chance. They took my car away and left theirs (an older car than mine). In three days my car was back, looking almost as it had before the accidents. I won't say it was a perfect job, but for an 11-year-old car that my two sons would be driving, I really didn't care.

All things considered, it was a satisfactory experience. One final mystery, though: I am puzzled how these two guys, who live in Alexandria, managed to put more than 300 miles on my car during the three days they had it.

ART GOLDBERG

Washington

I think you were lucky to come out of that as well as you did, Mr. G. Thanks to all who have appeared in the last two columns and who have provided us with an education about strangers on the street who offer to fix our dents.

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

Dr. Gridlock appears Monday in the Metro section and Wednesday in Prince William Extra. 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.