In August 2011 Paolo Fenili at Daytona Motors replaced the fan belt on our 1967 Alfa Romeo Sprint Veloce. On the ride home, the water pump failed. Returning the vehicle to Daytona the next day, the engine died and the car rolled back at an intersection, bumping into our other car following us. The other car, a Honda CRX, didn't have a scratch on it.
But it had punched in the driver's side rear light into the fender of the Alfa.
Fenili replaced the water pump, returning the car to running condition and in September gave possession of the car to Sal Garcia of Waterfront Automobile LLC to repair the fender and replace the tail light.
Garcia required a check for $6,824.13 before beginning any work. That figure represented his full estimate minus our $250 deductible. State Farm paid that sum without issue.
To this day the work has never been finished.
In December 2013 the body work and paint were completed and the car returned to Waterfront, which shared shop space with Daytona at the time.
For the next five years Garcia claimed he was looking for a tail light. I sent him links for the part I had found online and a contact in Los Angeles who had recently done a complete Alfa restoration of similar vintage, none of which he had followed up on.
In 2018, Daytona lost its lease on the shop and the owner Fenili decided to retire. He called to tell me Garcia still hadn't finished work on my car but would have to move. Garcia himself never contacted me.
Garcia eventually moved Waterfront to a new location but he never sent me his new address. I was able to find my car by looking for Italian cars parked in the street around the old location. I discovered he had moved across the street from the old shop to an unmarked building.
When I finally found him, he said the car was done and I owed him $7,000. I pointed out to him that I'd paid him in 2011. He claimed he'd never been paid. The bank was happy to provide a copy of his canceled check from 2011.
After moving to the new building, he said he assembled a rear light from the parts of three scrapped tail lights.
The body work and tail light were indeed completed but I discovered that when he moved the shop, Garcia lost the vintage Carello license plate lights (making it illegal to drive on the street) that are mounted in the bumper, the stainless steel bumper bolt covers and the license plate mount itself. He had also bent the chrome Veloce script, which he said was "too expensive to replace." And I noticed he had dinged the passenger door and painted the spot with rust prevention paint.
He claimed that there had never been license plate lights, but having had to replace the bulbs, I knew perfectly well there had been and I showed him, not just the electrical connection, providing a schematic from the manual, but the mounting holes on the bottom of the bumper.
There was another problem, he said. The car was no longer in running condition. He had tried to start it but it wouldn't turn over, even with a different battery. When he took possession of the car it was running and both the battery and tires were just a year old.
When I discussed the situation with him, he demanded an additional $2,000 for "extra work" he could not describe. He threatened to pursue a mechanics lien if I didn't pay.
But he has never provided a written estimate or any kind of bill and I have never authorized any work beyond the original repair.
I told him I had already paid him what he had asked but he had never finished the job. I told him I was not going to pay any more for a car that no longer runs and can't be driven legally on the street.
I advised him to finish the job he had agreed to do in 2011.
Instead, he subsequently stashed the car in a corner of his shop where it lays under a year of dirt and dust. And he refused to look for the parts he had lost "because you won't pay the $2,000," he told me.
In short, Garcia has refused to replace the parts he lost or damaged and complete the work originally agreed upon, claiming he is owed $2,000 for "extra work" that has, in fact, never been described, estimated, authorized or billed.
So in January 2020, I filed a complaint with the California Bureau of Auto Repair.
The investigator Mike Rivas confirmed Garcia was in violation of state law for performing unauthorized repair work. He was able to get Garcia to produce a page of the original 2011 estimate finally listing what my original payment had covered and Garcia had his body shop produce a new estimate written in 2020 intended to show all the "extra work" that was done.
The 2020 estimate has a number of problems including a 2020 labor rate for work completed in 2013, suspicious extra charges (frame straightening) and charges for parts that were not replaced (like a second tail light).
He told Rivas the car never had license plate lights. And when Rivas said he had seen my photo of them, Garcia claimed it was a photo of another car. But that photo also clearly shows my license plate on the car. In addition, Fenili confirmed in an email to me that the part had always been on the car and was on the car when Garcia took possession of it in 2011.
Rivas was unable to resolve the situation, suggesting I pay Garcia $2,000, get the car back, have the work done elsewhere and subsequently sue him for the cost of returning the car to street-legal, running condition.
I submitted his 2020 estimate to State Farm as the closest thing I could get to a supplemental final billing from him. State Farm refused to pay any more for the repair. It considers (as I did) the 2011 payment as payment in full and that his failure to perform in a timely matter inflated the cost of the repair. And that was his responsibility, not theirs or mine.
Its analysis of the problematic 2020 estimate was incorrect in several particulars I have tried to correct (type of paint job, labor units) but it's something of a shell game dealing with the State Farm "team." I never speak to the same person twice and none of them is familiar with the case. So I have gotten nowhere on that front.
I'm also concerned that were I to do as Rivas suggested and pay Garcia, I would have no guarantee of getting the car back without more "extra" charges on a "final" bill. It seems more like a Hail Mary on my part with no obligation on his part to do anything.
And even then I'd have to pay someone to get the car both into running condition and street legal. The cost of that would likely exceed the small claims court limits. The Carello license plate light is very hard to find.
So to sum up Garcia was paid in full in advance, lost and damaged parts, failed to complete the job, did not maintain the car in either running or legal condition, demands thousands of dollars for unauthorized and unbilled "extra work" and refuses to release the car until he's paid.