A roofer had his truck towed to a Grand Prairie auto repair shop for a $900 engine diagnosis. But when the truck owner was told that the repairs would cost nearly $9,000, he balked. He wanted his truck back.
Larry Duncan, owner of Einstein Transmission Repair, refused to give it back to him for the $900 diagnosis charge. He said he wanted several thousand dollars for dismantling the engine, towing and storage for a couple of weeks in the shop.
So the roofer hired a lawyer to call the repair shop on his behalf. The lawyer, H. Charles Hamm III of Fort Worth, called Duncan and tried to negotiate a settlement. Things did not go well.
Hamm describes the phone call with Duncan as "20 high-strung minutes." He recalls that Duncan told him, "Maybe we should have a face-to-face meeting or we could even handle it around the corner in the alley."
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I called Duncan a few weeks ago. He cursed at me and said, "I don't care what you write." Then he hung up. For this report, I sent him an e-mail describing the facts as told to me by the lawyer and his client, roofing company owner Scott McCall. Duncan has not responded.
In September, The Watchdog reported how Duncan told another vehicle owner that he had to pay $2,500 in cash or by cashier's check to get his truck back. Duncan originally promised a $1,500 repair job, the vehicle owner said.
In a brief interview in September, Duncan said he sometimes has to face angry customers, but that's part of doing business.
Promises and untruths
In this latest case, McCall has been without his work truck for more than a month. Before going to Duncan, McCall got a repair bid from another shop for $7,000. But McCall's father found Duncan on the Internet, where Duncan attracts many of his customers, and Duncan promised a $5,000 price for the repair, Scott McCall said. Duncan's business also goes by the names Transmission 33 and Transmission/Engine Shop.
When Duncan told McCall later that the repairs would cost $9,000, McCall asked Duncan where his shop is so he could deliver the $900 and pick up the truck. But he said Duncan refused to tell him the address, which does not appear on the invoice for the diagnosis. McCall says Duncan told him, "I don't meet with my customers."
McCall found the address -- the shop is in the 1800 block of South Great Southwest Parkway -- on a website that lists numerous complaints against Duncan. He visited the shop, and Duncan told him he could get his unrepaired truck back for $2,700.
Later, Duncan placed a mechanic's lien against McCall, increasing the cost of returning the vehicle to $3,700.
A week ago, the lawyer and his client sent by courier a letter demanding the return of the truck. The letter included a $900 cashier's check. But a shop employee told the courier, "We know your tricks," and refused to sign for it, Hamm said.
When McCall called the shop again, Duncan told him, "Now I'm going to play hardball because your lawyer is involved and you're wasting my time," McCall said.
On Duncan's transmissionshop.biz website, he says his business is accredited by the Better Business Bureau. That's not true. The BBB website says the business is not accredited and shows that his shop has an "F" rating. The state comptroller's office also lists the business as "not in good standing" because it is not up to date on a business tax.
McCall has been borrowing a truck from an employee for his roofing business and driving a rented Toyota Corolla. He went to the Grand Prairie police but says he was told that this is a civil matter and police cannot help him unless there is an argument or a fight on the premises.
McCall says he will never shop again based on price alone. "I'm going to research the heck out of people," he said. "Anything involving substantial money, I'm researching now."
If he had, he would have seen The Watchdog's September report on the Internet describing Duncan's business. These days, it's not hard to steer clear of business owners who may want to settle expensive matters in a back alley.
Coming Sunday: A phantom car raffle.
The Watchdog column appears
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Dave Lieber, 817-390-7043