What Is the Dent Repair Scam, and How Can You Avoid It?

There’s no shame denting your car in a minor fender bender, I’ve done it many times before. In fact, I hang onto those dents like Mater from the Cars movies does. They’re somewhat sentimental, and remind me of certain lessons learned. They’re also expensive to fix, so watch out, because people will offer you “cheap dent repair” to make a quick buck.

Woman Inspecting Car for Damages or Dents
Woman Inspecting Car for Damages or Dents | Jeffrey Greenberg/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

What is the dent repair scam?

Imagine, if you will, that you’re in a parking lot about to get groceries. You get out of your car and begin walking the store when, suddenly, a guy walks up to you. “Hey, I saw your car needs repairs, I happen to work at a body shop and I’ll fix it for cheap while you’re shopping.” It’s a lucrative offer, no doubt, and extremely convenient. But be wary because nine times out of 10, this is the perfect setup for a scam.

The first red flag you’ll likely face, other than being approached by a stranger in a parking lot, is that they’re insistent you pay upfront. “$200 cash,” they’ll say while supplementing you with price points at their local mechanic. Sure, dent jobs are expensive, but paying upfront isn’t the way to go. Chances are, they’re just going to take the money and run.

So, no matter how tempting the price is, don’t pay upfront. I wouldn’t even suggest toying with the idea if they allow you to pay after the work is done, as that just gives them permission to mess with the car. But if you want to trip up the scammer, or are genuinely curious to see if they’re legit, here are some questions to ask.

Heres how you can catch and avoid a dent scammer

Cars Parked in Parking Lot
Cars Parked in Parking Lot | Patrick Whittemore/MediaNews Group/Boston Herald via Getty Images

We’ll start with what may be an obvious one, “where are the tools?” They’ll likely answer that they’re in the car, and if you ask to see them to prove he’s legit, he might stumble to find excuses, or just move on. Scammers like easy targets, so don’t make yourself an easy target. And it’ll make them look pretty foolish, as most people don’t carry dent repair tools in their trunk.

That said, while I can advise you to ignore these potential scammers altogether, I’m not your mom. You’re able to make your own decisions, and maybe you actually want to go through with this person who may fix your car. If that’s the case, allow me to offer some advice, starting with the aforementioned do not pay upfront.

If they pass the tool test, get their offer in writing. While it might be weirder to have an invoice ready to go rather than dent repair tools in your car, keeping receipts of any transaction is the main way to prove you either have or haven’t been scammed. And if they don’t want to put it in writing, then you’ll know their true intentions right away.

But for about the same money as this stranger is offering you, you could go about this the safest way possible: by trying to fix the dent yourself.

RELATED: What Car Colors Are the Worst at Hiding Scratches, Dents, and Dirt?

Is it easy to fix a dent yourself?

Now, this is a bit of a loaded question, as fixing a dent isn’t exactly easy. But there are plenty of tools available and resources online that’ll help determine whether or not your dent is easily fixable. The general rule of thumb, however, is that smaller dents on flat sheets can be fairly easily fixed. Any damage to the metal itself, and you’ll have no choice but to take your car to the shop.

If you are lucky to have a simple, flat dent, then you can repair it using a number of simple strategies. While you’ll look silly doing it, sticking a toilet plunger on the surface and giving it a pull might just be enough to straighten things out. From there, touch it up with some of the manufacturer’s paint and go from there.

There are other temperature tricks you can use to bend the metal, such as blowing it with a hairdryer or pouring boiling water, that might pop the metal back into place. After all, heat expands things, and that metal wants to be bent to its proper shape. But dent repair is a topic for another article. For now, we’d suggest avoiding anyone who walks up to you on the street and offers their services.

Oh, and that should go without saying for more than just dent repair.

RELATED: Consumer Reports Suggests This DIY Fix For a Dented Bumper