Two major U.S. players are leading the charge to convenient, Uber-style at-home auto-maintenance and repair services, and the trend is encouraging automobile dealerships to consider getting into the game.
“I can see dealerships absolutely offering mobile service,” said Paul Shaw, dealer principal of Ken Shaw Toyota in Toronto.
YourMechanic.com, a 2012 startup based in Mountain View, Calif., moved into the Toronto area in early 2019. Like its chief competitor, Wrench.com, YourMechanic offers a range of minor repairs for busy car owners who don’t have time to take their vehicles to a dealership.
Wrench.com, founded in Seattle in 2016, recently bought Toronto-based Fiix, a 2017 startup featured on the “Dragon’s Den” TV program.
AN UPWARDLY MOBILE TREND
But Toronto is not the only Canadian city seeing the appearance of mobile mechanics. More than two dozen mobile auto-service businesses are reportedly operating in cities across Canada.
One is Winnipeg-based GoOil, a driveway-based oil change service started by high school dropout John Sparrow in 2017. It operates in Winnipeg, Calgary, Edmonton, Red Deer, Alta., Saskatoon, Sask., and Kingston and Brampton, Ont., and aspires to expand into the United States.
Operators cite two reasons for the growing popularity of at-home service: convenience and price. Stephen Gubasta, COO, of Mississauga Toyota in Ontario, said mobile services make sense for minor jobs, like installing winter tires.
“It’s a convenience,” he said. “Time is money.”
YourMechanic CEO Anthony Rodio told Automotive News Canada that his service avoids the overhead expenses associated with a garage, giving it two advantages: “We pay mechanics more and charge customers less.”
Wages vary by market.
However, YourMechanic is not focused on deep-discount pricing, he said, aiming instead to deliver quality at a price below what franchised dealers charge.
Sample pricing posted on the company’s website ranged from 20 to 25 per cent below typical dealer prices.
Rodio said discussions are ongoing with both newand used-car dealerships in the Greater Toronto Area and with automakers, under which YourMechanic would provide prepaid maintenance services. He would like dealerships to consider YourMechanic a complementary service provider rather than a competitor.
‘A MARKET DISRUPTOR’
Daryl Sheridan, director of finance at Toronto’s Downtown Auto Group, said mobile repair services are “just the next step in customer convenience.”
“Down the road, I could see dealerships offering at-home service,” Sheridan said. “It’s definitely a market disruptor.”
Luxury automakers such as Lexus, Infiniti and Lincoln have discovered that customers love the convenience of concierge services where the dealership picks up and returns a vehicletoahomeor office. Automakers are open to going the extra step into mobile service.
In a recent interview, Ford of Canada CEO Dean Stoneley told Automotive News Canada that the company is highly attuned to the expectations of millennial buyers, who place high value on convenience.
“With any disruption, you can look at it as a risk or an opportunity,” Stoneley said. Services such as YourMechanic are “just responding to customer needs, and customers are looking for more convenience around that experience.”
Ford is conducting a pilot mobile service project in the United States, he said.
Tim Foster, general sales manager at Downtown Toyota in Toronto, said that warranty work often needs to be done at a dealership.
YourMechanic’s Rodio said many of the vehicles his company services are out of warranty. The average age of the cars it touches is 11.5 years, which is about the same average age of cars on the road in both the United States and Canada.
Freelance mobile mechanics are becoming more common in large Canadian cities.
Zura Surmava, an unlicenced mechanic, started his one-man mobile repair service in early fall in Toronto and finds three or four customer day through his ad on the kijiji.ca classified site.
Sampooran Singh, a licenced mechanic with 12 years of experience, said he’s on his own because “I want to own my own business.”
WILL IT GO IN SNOW?
Canada imposes one major drawback on mobile service providers: the weather.
“All this sounds wonderful on a beautiful day in June,” Shaw said. “But I was in Winnipeg in September, and they got 30 centimetres of snow.”
Rodio agreed that no mechanic wants to work in a snowy driveway but said Canada’s challenge is not so different from some locations in the United States.
“It’s not easy to do repairs in Arizona when it’s 130 degrees outside either,” he said.
Like Uber, YourMechanic customers can book online and later rate their experience with the mechanic who serviced their car. New customers are offer the highest-rated mechanic in their area first, Rodio said Customers who have used the service in the past can choose a mechanic they have used before.
Most dealerships, however are not yet ready to leap into the mobile game. Gubasta of Mississauga Toyota said a dealership would need a large truck with a full stock of parts to ensure dealership-level service.
“We want to see what the uptake is before we consider buying a big truck,” Gubasta said.