DriverSide building an all-encompassing portal for cars

Covering every aspect of auto economy is not an easy task.

Rafe Needleman Former Editor at Large
Rafe Needleman reviews mobile apps and products for fun, and picks startups apart when he gets bored. He has evaluated thousands of new companies, most of which have since gone out of business.
Rafe Needleman
3 min read

There's a rich market for Web sites and services on automotive topics. There are general content and community sites (for example, Edmunds, Autoblog, and CNET's Car Tech), marque-specific sites (AudiWorld), sites for car show-offs (Car Domain), and utility services (RepairPal; review).

And now there's DriverSide, whose CEO wants to take them all on with a single site.

DriverSide founder Trevor Traina ran down the things that car owners have to worry about: "repairs, insurance, recalls, resale..." He maintains that there is no good site that actually makes car ownership easy in all of the categories where it matters. DriverSide is his attempt to rectify that--and pick up a piece of the massive automotive advertising economy in the process.

Take this to your mechanic. Good luck.

DriverSide has been out for about two months, and the current beta shows the ambition, but not yet the realization, of Traina's vision. Like RepairPal, it's a good helper when you need service. It will show you the cost of a repair or maintenance item, based on a database of repair jobs and information about repair rates in your town. Unlike RepairPal, it doesn't give you a range, but rather a precise dollar amount, and it lets you print out your own repair order to take to your shop. Whether this will help you get a fair rate from your mechanic I don't know, but I think it's a good way to begin the conversation about a repair task.

On Tuesday, the company is announcing that it's acquiring FairBenjamin, an online service that anonymously shops repair tasks out to local mechanics and connects them with car owners. It should add to DriverSide's service offerings. Of course, if your car requires diagnosis of an odd or intermittent symptom, neither DriverSide nor any other online tool can reliably deliver it (yet), but for common jobs like oil changes or simple part swaps, it's a big help.

If you put cars in your "garage" on DriverSide, the system can alert you when scheduled service is due, and when recalls are issued for your car. Other features are getting layered in to DriverSide over time. There's a resale value estimator that, Traina asserts, is more accurate and fair than the Kelly Blue Book. (DriverSide uses the competing Black Book service.) DriverSide's estimator will show you the price curve of your car over time; if you're leasing and want to wiggle out of your contract, it can help you identify the best time to do so.

Currently, DriverSide displays classified ads from partner sites, but it may launch its own ad network. Other services to round out DriverSide include professional and community content: reviews, advice, message boards, Q&A, and so on. You can also buy Terrapass carbon credits through the site.

I would also expect to see insurance shopping layered into the mix, and perhaps a deeper integration into the auto repair market. Given Traina's ambitions, an OpenTable of car repair may come along at some point.

Traina wanted me (and you) to know that the current version of the site is being reviewed and redesigned. That's a good thing. I found the navigation confusing, and some of the data incomplete. I hope, for DriverSide's sake, that the team can make the service easier to use before it layers in too many of the new features. But even though the service is not yet a serious threat to other auto sites, Traina's vision of what an auto site should be is the most comprehensive I have heard, and I do believe that users and the advertising market will reward him if his company can deliver on it.

The site has a ton of resources for car owners, including the most depressing one: your depreciation curve.

Gratuitous car link:
Trevor Traina covered his participation in the 2008 Gumball rally on his company blog.