Car me­chan­ics make house calls

Quotes, work ar­ranged on­line; re­pairs done in drive­way

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - BUSINESS & FARM - RICK POPELY

CHICAGO — When Peter Cham­plin, an auto me­chanic for nearly 15 years, popped the hood on a 2003 Jeep Lib­erty, he fixed a leak with a new clamp on the lower ra­di­a­tor hose and in­stalled a new ig­ni­tion coil. The bill was $189.33.

Rou­tine stuff for an ex­pe­ri­enced me­chanic like Cham­plin, who is cer­ti­fied by the Na­tional In­sti­tute for Au­to­mo­tive Ser­vice Ex­cel­lence as a mas­ter tech­ni­cian, with one ex­cep­tion: The re­pairs were done in the owner’s drive­way in sub­ur­ban Chicago, not in a re­pair shop or deal­er­ship ser­vice de­part­ment.

At a time when few med­i­cal doc­tors still make house calls, a grow­ing num­ber of car doc­tors are driv­ing to cus­tomers’ houses or places of busi­ness to per­form re­pairs and main­te­nance.

For the cus­tomer, there’s no wait­ing around at a re­pair shop or shut­tling back and forth to drop off and pick up the car.

In­de­pen­dent me­chan­ics be­gan ad­ver­tis­ing mo­bile ser­vices sev­eral years ago on Craigslist and sim­i­lar sites. Now, though, startup com­pa­nies have set up shop on­line of­fer­ing mo­bile re­pair ser­vices, ros­ters of ex­pe­ri­enced me­chan­ics avail­able seven days a week, in­stant on­line price quotes for a va­ri­ety of re­pairs, and 12-month/12,000-mile guar­an­tees on parts and la­bor.

Cham­plin, for in­stance, works for Oto­bots, a com­pany based out­side Chicago that has mo­bile me­chan­ics in Illi­nois, Cal­i­for­nia and Texas and plans to ex­pand into sev­eral more

states in the next few years.

A more es­tab­lished and much larger com­peti­tor, YourMe­chanic, based in Moun­tain View, Calif., op­er­ates in most ma­jor metro ar­eas and 33 states, with plans to add more ar­eas in the near fu­ture.

Both claim to per­form main­te­nance and re­pairs at lower cost than deal­er­ships and re­pair shops.

Arun Si­mon, the chief ex­ec­u­tive of­fi­cer of Oto­bots and a co-founder of the com­pany, said he came up with the idea three years ago af­ter spend­ing con­sid­er­able time try­ing to find a me­chanic on Craigslist.

The so­lu­tion, he thought, was to use tech­nol­ogy to make it more con­ve­nient for con­sumers to find a me­chanic and sched­ule ser­vice on­line and have the me­chanic come to them.

“The big­gest prob­lem we’re solv­ing here is the ac­tual in­con­ve­nience that is as­so­ci­ated with the hours of wait­ing at a re­pair shop,” Si­mon said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

The on­line sched­ul­ing process works like this: The cus­tomer enters the year, make, model and en­gine of the ve­hi­cle, chooses what’s needed from lists of avail­able ser­vices and re­pairs and re­ceives a price quote. If the cus­tomer de­cides to go ahead with the re­pair, he or she can choose among avail­able time slots for when the me­chanic should come. Cus­tomers have to en­ter a credit card num­ber to sched­ule an ap­point­ment.

If a cus­tomer’s car won’t start or the cause of a prob­lem is un­known, Oto­bots charges a $64.99 di­ag­nos­tic fee, and YourMe­chanic charges $70 to $80, de­pend­ing on lo­ca­tion.

For John Scalet, the owner of the Jeep Lib­erty that Cham­plin re­paired, Oto­bot’s mo­bile ser­vice al­lowed him to keep work­ing at home with­out tak­ing time away from run­ning his graphics and sign busi­ness.

“I wanted to try some­thing a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I feel it’s safer than Craigslist. When you go on­line you can read the cre­den­tials of the peo­ple who are go­ing to be work­ing on the car, so it’s not like you’re blind to the peo­ple that are work­ing on it,” Scalet said.

An­thony Ro­dio, CEO of YourMe­chanic, said that in ad­di­tion to the con­ve­nience fac­tor, con­sumers like the in­stant on­line price quote with com­par­isons to what lo­cal deal­ers and re­pair shops would charge.

“That price trans­parency is a big part of our value propo­si­tion, be­cause his­tor­i­cally con­sumers have felt that [auto re­pair] is a very opaque ex­pe­ri­ence. They didn’t know what they were go­ing to pay un­til af­ter they dropped the car off and got a call a few hours later with an es­ti­mate that might not be the fi­nal bill,” Ro­dio said in a tele­phone in­ter­view.

YourMe­chanic says it can per­form most ser­vices a shop can com­plete. A re­fer­ral process is in the works for cus­tomers whose cars can’t be re­paired af­ter ini­tial in­ves­ti­ga­tion.

Both com­pa­nies screen me­chan­ics by ver­i­fy­ing their cre­den­tials and con­duct­ing back­ground checks, and they say they match the skills and ex­pe­ri­ence of the me­chanic to spe­cific jobs or types of ve­hi­cles, such as diesel en­gines.

The me­chan­ics sup­ply their own tools and work ve­hi­cles, and they work as con­trac­tors who are paid by the job, not as salaried em­ploy­ees.

Ro­dio said YourMe­chanic re­lies heav­ily on tech­nol­ogy to sched­ule me­chan­ics and or­der parts so that most jobs are com­pleted within 48 hours of a cus­tomer plac­ing an on­line or­der.

When a cus­tomer books an ap­point­ment on­line, parts are or­dered for the job at the com­pany’s head­quar­ters in Cal­i­for­nia through parts stores such as Ad­vance Auto Parts, Auto Zone and O’Reilly Auto Parts.

The as­signed me­chanic picks up the parts from a lo­cal store on the way to do the re­pairs.

“Our tech­nol­ogy kicks out what the parts need to be, and then we have a parts de­part­ment that ac­tu­ally re­views them and makes sure we have the right parts for the job,” he said.

“A large part of our value propo­si­tion is that we want to use tech­nol­ogy to be able to do this at scale in a more ef­fi­cient way than the tra­di­tional model.”

Or­der­ing parts in vol­ume en­ables YourMe­chanic and Oto­bots to ne­go­ti­ate lower prices from sup­pli­ers.

Ro­dio said YourMe­chanic also is work­ing di­rectly with parts man­u­fac­tur­ers to make them ex­clu­sive sup­pli­ers.

Cas­trol, for ex­am­ple, is the com­pany’s ex­clu­sive sup­plier of mo­tor oil and lubri­cants.

More­over, nei­ther com­pany bears the cost of main­tain­ing a re­pair shop or deal­er­ship ser­vice de­part­ment, which they say en­ables them to charge less.

In­stead, they per­form re­pairs on pri­vate prop­erty such as drive­ways and of­fice park­ing lots — not on public streets.

Both mo­bile me­chanic ser­vices do dozens of main­te­nance and re­pair jobs, such as oil changes, bat­ter­ies, tim­ing belt re­place­ment, brakes and air con­di­tion­ing re­pairs, but nei­ther do in­ter­nal en­gine or trans­mis­sion re­pair or other jobs that re­quire spe­cial­ized equip­ment or a shop set­ting.

Chicago Tri­bune/RICK POPELY

Oto­bots me­chanic Peter Cham­plin works on a 2003 Jeep Lib­erty in a home’s drive­way in Stream­wood, Ill., last month.

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