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Fox 29 Investigates: North Philadelphia Street Mechanics

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It's a Friday afternoon and we've got a front row seat to a gritty, underground business being boldly run on a busy North Philly Street.

Fox 29’s Jeff Cole investigates.

It's an open-air auto repair operation: Fixing cars, not in a garage or a fenced in lot, but right, smack along 2nd and Lehigh.

And not everybody is happy to see us.

"Don't put that camera in my face, man," one worker said.

Fox 29 Investigates was directed here by a viewer's e-mail alerting us. He wrote the following:

"hacks repairing vehicles on both sides of Second and Lehigh"

Forcing pedestrians to:

"walk in the middle of this dangerous road just to get by"

In fact, we did see pedestrians working-their-way around jacked-up cars parked right in the middle of the sidewalk.

And there were days, when we saw several cars parked on both sides of bustling Second Street, and in a nearby lot, being worked on by street mechanics with their carjacks and tools lined up along the fence.

We wanted to know how the whole set-up works.

So we put a small camera in our station vehicle and had a Fox 29 Producer pull over on 2nd.

We watched the action from across the street.

“Somebody immediately came up to the car they asked if they could help me, I told them the car was running rough,” our producer said.

He told our producer his name was "Indio" and he wanted to take the van for a test drive.

Our producer refused, so Indio opened the hood and when asked said he could do a tune-up and an oil change for 80 bucks.

And that's not all.

“I asked him about breaks, I asked him about steering. He said he can do that. I asked if he could do just about anything he said he can do anything. He said his jack was right there and he had a bag with his tools across the street in the parking lot of the Auto Zone.”

We approached Indio later to talk about it, but he's the guy who wasn't pleased to see us.

While he didn't want to talk, others did.

They seemed totally unaware of the zoning and tax permits required in Philly to operate a business.

They claim they try to keep the area clean and showed us barrels at the end of an alley with discarded oil and oil filters inside.

They said they're just trying to get by.

“They try to think like that they are here to make money to use drugs, but they don't do that they come here to make their money so they can live,” one mechanic said. “No, the work is good. It's 100 percent sure your car will get fixed.”

It's the Auto Zone nearby, which appears to have drawn the street mechanics.

We watched the mechanics direct their customers to the Auto Zone and saw them returning with items likely to be installed.

The store has a sign posted warning that repair work in its lot is not allowed.

And when we went inside, a worker said this:

"As long as they stay off our property there's not much we can do."

We showed our video to Jay King, the longtime owner of King's Automotive in Delaware County.

He said not only would he question the quality of the work, but what do you do something goes wrong?

“I don't know that you could pick out the same guy on the street corner maybe he's there 2 months from now, maybe he's there, maybe he's not, when you have an on-going business like I have we're here for the long haul,” King said.

But for one woman whose car was filled with kids as it was being worked on, it's all about price.

She said it’s a lot cheaper.

Philadelphia’s Commissioner of Licenses and Inspections says his agency responded to a complaint in early March at 2nd and Lehigh, but the mechanics were gone. He urges motorists not to use them because they're supporting an illegal business and a potentially dangerous one.

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