Sunday, July 4, 2010

Mobile mechanics bring repairs to clients' homes

ORLANDO, Fla. — Dave Rollinitis was 6 years old when he took apart his first engine.
"Mind you, I said I took it apart," he said, laughing. "I didn't say I put it back together. My uncle helped me that time."

Sixty years later, Rollinitis, dripping with sweat, was taking apart another engine, a 3.5-liter Isuzu V-6. The Sanford, Fla., man works as a mobile mechanic, part of an unregulated, burgeoning group of specialists who have wrenches and will travel right to your door.

But even Rollinitis, 66, recognizes that there may be a problem with that.

"When you call a mobile mechanic," he said, "you seldom know who you are getting. How much experience he has, how honest he is. You're rolling the dice."

There is nothing to prevent anyone from buying a set of tools, hanging a sign on a pickup or van and instantly becoming a mobile mechanic. There's no minimum training or level of experience required.

Some mobile mechanics bill themselves as certified, which can mean anything from full certification by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence, a national organization that tests mechanics, to having passed a weekend course.

In Florida and most other states, the only license required is a business one, obtained through the local tax office. Because many mobile mechanics operate on a cash-only basis, there is no guarantee a mobile mechanic even has that.

Like Rollinitis, many mobile mechanics advertise on, the free website that does not edit content or monitor advertisers. Dozens of ads have recently been placed on the Orlando and South Florida portions of Craigslist for some sort of mobile auto service.

Rollinitis said the absence of oversight has led to some mobile-mechanic horror stories in recent years.

"Customers have told me about mechanics who were working on their car and broke something and just left," he said. "One told me that a mechanic took parts off his car, went and fixed another car with those parts, and then came back and tried to charge the first customer to replace the parts that were missing."

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