Dear Dr. Gridlock:

I wish I had read your columns on roadside scams sooner [July 27, Sept. 19]. This summer I bumped my door into a post. At the Kmart in Fairfax City, a young man knocked on my window, introduced himself and said he saw I had a dent.

He said he worked for a body shop in Maryland. He had tools in his car, and it would cost $150 to $200. It would take him only a few minutes, he said. He was driving a fairly new car and had his young wife and small children with him.

It was about 95 degrees, so I said we can't sit out here, and to follow me home. Stupid, I know, but at age 75 I guess I'm a senior citizen who is an easy mark.

At my home, I took the wife and babies inside to use the bathroom and get a drink while he banged on my car for a half hour.

I found out their car was rented, they had no phone and no address, as they were moving. I felt sorry for them. However, when he came inside to say he was finished and I asked what I owed him, he said $900!

I told him that was ridiculous, and he became antagonistic, although not threatening. I was alone. I considered calling the police but decided to get them out of my home and gave them the check, which they took to the bank and cashed immediately.

I felt uneasy, knowing they knew where I lived. The wife did call me twice, seeing if I had more work. I told her I felt cheated, and refused.

Should I have called the police? The dent looks better but is not fixed.

Mary Lynne Turner

Fairfax County

Yes, you should have called the police. You probably ran into a group of people who prey on the vulnerable.

Nine hundred dollars for a half hour's work is certainly outrageous.

The bad news for you is that you were swindled. The good news is that no one was hurt.

Folks, all these roadside stories seem to end badly. Please think twice about getting involved in business arrangements with strangers off the street.

You'll recall the woman who was persuaded to pull over because a motorist shouted that her wheel was about to fall off (then wanted hundreds of dollars to "fix" it). Here's a twist to that story:

Dear Dr. Gridlock:

After reading your reader's comments on wobbly wheel scams, I remembered that about a year ago, I was following a Jeep station wagon, and its left wheel looked to me to be about to come off.

I drove up next to the driver, rolled down my window and said, "You should pull over and check your left tire -- it's about to come off."

He gave me the one-fingered salute and sped off.

About 100 yards later, the wheel did come off and went down the road. He ended up in the ditch. I drove by and waved.

Guess in today's world, one shouldn't even try to communicate a potential problem to a stranger. What a shame.

Ken Malley

Annapolis

In this case, the other motorist should have pulled over. The key is for the "victim" to pull over, not an accompanying stranger.

Have you folks experienced any other roadside scams?

Brain Teaser: The Solution

In the Sept. 19 column, Dr. Gridlock posed this brain teaser: What state can one enter and exit three times while driving from one metropolitan area to another?

The route I traveled was from Northern Virginia to Columbus, Ohio, entering and leaving West Virginia three times:

From Winchester, Va., northward on Route 522, we passed Berkeley Springs in West Virginia and exited the state at Hancock, Md.

Then we headed west on Interstate 68 through the Maryland panhandle, entering and leaving West Virginia a second time, around Morgantown, where we switched from I-68 to Interstate 79 north to Washington, Pa.

Then we entered and left West Virginia a third time via Interstate 70 west through Wheeling. Best to keep a map handy.

Transportation researcher Diane Mattingly contributed to this column.

You can write to Dr. Gridlock at 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071. He prefers e-mails at drgridlock@washpost.com or faxes at 703-352-3908. Include your full name, town, county and day and evening telephone numbers. Dr. Gridlock cannot take phone calls.