All this talk of self-driving cars and the industry recognition of Tesla means a case can be made that we may be seeing meaningful disruption of the auto industry. But, in that same neighborhood, the auto repair service industry is about as tech savvy as my old Volvo station wagon with roll-down windows.
Today, RepairPal, an online auto repair recommendation service, announced $13 million in venture capital funding from Castrol innoVentures and Cars.com. The money comes in an extension of the company’s Series A round.
Essentially, the service, founded in 2007, diagnoses a repair project and estimates how much it should cost, based on information the user inputs about the car and the specific work that needs to be done. For example, say, your 2002 Volkwagon Jetta needs its front break pads replaced. That will cost between from $241 to $305, including parts and labor, near downtown San Francisco. But if you live near, say, Potwin, Kansas, it’ll be $188 to $238.
RepairPal also matches the user up with a local repair shop that fits the standards of the website – including a technical certification and a focus on customer reviews. This is particularly helpful because the narrative around finding a new repair shop has traditionally involved the fear a shady local mechanic taking advantage of someone that knows nothing about cars, says Art Shaw, the company’s chief executive. “It’s been good to find honest shops in an industry that, as a whole, has a bad reputation,” says Shaw.
The company’s new investors are big names in their own right. The trouble with partnering with Castrol, however, could be taking on some of the baggage of its corporate parents. Castrol innoVentures is a separate group owned by Castrol, which is in turn owned by British Petroleum. BP has obviously had an image problem on its hands since the 2010 oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico, and the company is still dealing with the political and financial fallout of the catastrophe. Castrol hasn’t shouldered any of the backlash from BP’s mess, so it doesn’t look like a huge concern for RepairPal, but it’s a connection worth pointing out. Either way, Shaw says he is not worried about customers objecting to the funding.
Shaw says the funding will go into expanding the reach for RepairPal’s Top Shop program – the rank of local mechanics that get the company’s seal of approval. Shaw says the service has about 40 percent of the population covered, and part of the funding will go to mapping out more localities. Some of the money will also go to developing new product features, the company says.
The service is useful, especially for someone new to a city, or perhaps just a clueless motorist. One thing the company might have to watch out for is customer retention. If the service works as promised, the best-case scenario for the customer is to find the perfect auto repair match. And if that works out, that means sticking with the mechanic for a long time – and not going back to the site, even for diagnostic work, since presumably you’ll have a good enough relationship with your mechanic to trust him.
That might be a long way off, since pairing each car owner with his or her kindred mechanic is no small task. Still, that’s where building out new product features might come in handy.
[Image courtesy: Tomas]