Friday, June 13, 2008 1:10 AM
Going to the mechanic is like going to the doctor. When something needs to be fixed, for most people there is no easy way to tell if they are being charged the going rate or are being ripped off. Enter RepairPal, a new site launching publicly today where you can get price estimates for different parts and repair jobs for your car. You enter your car year, model, and mileage, and it spits out price ranges for your zip code. For instance, replacing the front brake pads on a BMW in New York City should cost between $158 and $310.
Not sure where to take your car? There is also a directory of 287,000 local mechanics, with each shop placed onto a Google Map. Members can rate each mechanic. Once a repair is completed, you can keep an online service record at RepairPal. It is kind of like keeping your electronic medical record at Google Health, but it's for your car.
A lot of detailed information is included with each estimate, such as helpful tips, recommendations, and common problems related to that repair. Members can add their own comments and suggestions. But if you need to ask an expert a question, you can pay $9 to have a real mechanic answer your question online. All of these features are designed to help you keep your car healthy.
The startup raised an angel round in the "low millions" last November from James Currier, the founder of Tickle, Stan Chudnovsky, the former CEO of Tickle, Chris Michel from Affinity Labs, and a hedge fund.
The key to the site's success will be the accuracy of its price estimates. Other sites, like Driverside, which we recently reviewed, also offer repair estimates. But int his case, whoever has the best data will win. DriverSide doesn't even list the model of my car, much less the particular repairs I need estimates for. When I recently ran RepairPal through the paces with a real list of repairs (Front pads, front rotors, bracket sensor, air filter, spark plugs, fuel filter, marker filter, and oil service) it came up with estimates for all but two items for my model vehicle.
Now multiply 400 different car models X 80 different types of repairs X 17 different model years X 42,000 different zip codes and you get more than 10 billion permutations. It is really a number-crunching problem. The better the underlying data, the better the estimates. RepiarPal gets its pricing data from a variety of sources, including pricing surveys, expert input, car brand data, parts distribution data, labor time data, demographic data, econometric models, and proprietary algorithms. CEO and co-founder David Sturtz, who previously started his own hedge fund, Clear View Capital Management, says:
We want to provide critical information previously only available to mechanics. We can tell you whether to replace or fix your car. For advertisers, they can target by geography, brand of car, or problem. For dealers and local shops, we will send leads. In return, they will be reviewed and rated by members.
Sturtz still has some things he needs to fix himself. Right now, you cannot enter a list of repairs. Each on needs to be entered individually to get an estimate. (Sturtz says that is on his to-do list). And you also can't get a quote from a mechanic through the site (that too will come later). But overall it is a solid site. The auto repair industry is a $150 billion industry in the U.S. and there are about one billion service visits a year, says Sturtz. All he's doing is bringing some much-needed transparency to it.