As faithful readers of the Chron columnist will surely remember, Ken Hoffman was involved in a minor car accident earlier this year. Conventional body shops gave him estimates in the range of $500 to fix the damage. That this seemed exorbitant to a man who writes a nationally-syndicated column on fast food was to be expected, and so Hoffman declined to have his car repaired.
Not long afterward—according to the February column—Hoffman was in his car when he was suddenly approached by a stranger offering to follow him home and repair the car then and there. The man was licensed and bonded, he told Hoffman, and better still promised to fix his car for a mere $250.
“It was like I sent my car to Lourdes,” Hoffman wrote. “Ten minutes tops, he was done. He did an excellent job. I examined the fender, gave it a good wiggle, it looked fine, and he left.” Sadly, the fender-fixin’ Lone Ranger rode off into the sunset before Hoffman could get his name. E-mails entreating the columnist to provide it poured in from readers with damaged vehicles. Eventually, other readers identified the mystery mechanic as Luke Adams, aka the Fender Mender, and Hoffman wrote a second column that included the man’s contact info. The columnist told us that thanks to the free advertising provided, “hundreds” of readers availed themselves of the Fender Mender’s prowess.
Not all of them felt like their cars had been taken to Lourdes, however, among them Kathleen Archer, whose Prius, clearly cursed, had been crunched not once but twice by hit-and-run drivers in the six months she’d owned it. According to Archer, Adams promised to make her car as good as new—this time for $220—or her money back. The Fender Mender allegedly came out, banged on the car a bit, and slapped on some Turtle Wax and tape, telling Archer that her Prius would be pristine again in five hours, after the fix had set. It was not, Archer told the Better Business Bureau in a subsequent complaint. It looked about the same as it had before.
As of now, the BBB has received three complaints about the Fender Mender from consumers who learned of him via Hoffman’s column. Also, it seems that Adams is not licensed, despite his claim. He can’t be. There is no such thing as a body-work repairman’s license.
Eight months after her run-in with him, Archer has still not received a full refund and is pondering rounding up a few other dissatisfied customers and suing the Fender Mender in county court. That shouldn’t be hard, as a perusal of the online comments beneath the second of Hoffman’s columns attests. (Samples: “Luke is a scammer”; “HE RUINED THE FINISH ON MY LEXUS…”; “[I] am going to the police”; and “KEN, YOU NEED TO TAKE HIM OFF YOUR SITE.”)
For his part, Hoffman tells us that he has no plans to run a follow-up column updating readers on the Fender Mender’s recent exploits. “That’s a difficult line to cross,” he claimed. “Luke told me he has a wife and kids, and I don’t want to destroy the guy. And if, say, a plumber has hundreds of customers, a few of them are going to be unhappy.”
What about the newspaperman who writes hundreds of columns, you ask? Well, doesn’t he have a wife and kids too?