Car Culture

How to get your car repaired at home

Mobile auto service may be the best way to get your car serviced.

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YourMechanic is one of a new breed of services that bring the auto repair shop to your driveway.

Brian Cooley/Roadshow

Whether you need an oil change or an engine rebuild, once you decide to fix your car instead of buying a new one, the worst part is the hassle of dropping it off and finding another way to get around, followed closely by the opacity of the cost and duration of the procedure. Much of that can be solved by having your car serviced at home for a price that's fixed up front. 

New mobile repair networks such as YourMechanic and Wrench (formerly known as Otobots) are trying to making automotive house calls the new normal. You book the service you want and the exact time you want it (no loose windows like the cable guy) and are given a firm price quote up front. If the job is harder than estimated, they eat the cost as long as it's not due to complications introduced by your car. An experienced mechanic, not someone who just picked up a toolkit at Harbor Freight, is matched to your job so you know who's coming to do the work, not unlike an Uber booking.

When the job's done, the tech cleans up and leaves; your card is billed automatically, also like an Uber ride.

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We tried it

We booked YourMechanic for an oil change, air filter replacement and tire rotation on our '06 Chevy van. Probably not what you drive, and a basic service, but our tech was an ASE-certified master who handled the job adroitly and left no oil stains or grease spots on the driveway. The price was $134, which is very good in the San Francisco area. YourMechanic says techs make $40 to $60 an hour under its service, well ahead of a $21 statewide average according to their data.

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Our oil change, air filter replacement and tire rotation certainly didn't tax YourMechanic ASE master tech Leo, but the real key to these services is the data and process, even more than the technician skill.

Brian Cooley/Roadshow

Things to consider

Even with mobile service, someone needs to be around to hand over the keys. While Amazon has recruited several carmakers to allow in-trunk deliveries, such technology is not yet in the offing from either YourMechanic or Wrench to allow a technician access to your car and its ignition. In fact, you're encouraged to be there when the job is done to get a report of what the technician did and what they found. 

Your car needs to be on a fairly flat surface. Not a problem for most of us, but in hilly communities or homes with steep driveways there may not be a place for the technician to safely jack up the car or do accurate fluid fills on it.

Having your car serviced in the parking lot at work seems like the most efficient plan, but your company or its landlord may not allow that sort of thing. Even the CEO of YourMechanic was scolded by building management for having his car serviced by one of their techs in his office parking lot. No matter how well it's done, auto repair still brings along oil, grease, tools and a slightly unseemly appearance. And you can probably forget about getting work done at the curb: Many municipalities ban car repair on public streets and YourMechanic won't do jobs there.

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You may want the least possible contact with your car's maintenance, but mobile auto repair services encourage you to be around for the final sign off, if only to see what the technician may have found.

YourMechanic

As with most shop repairs, mobile service parts may be factory, aftermarket or reconditioned. Look for a detailed parts list in your quote when you book; it should describe the nature and source of each part being procured for your job. Many drivers won't know or care about part sourcing or fluid brands, but the car buff may wish for more control.

Uber, UPS and an airline walk into bar

Anyone mechanic can throw their tools in the back of their truck, post to Craigslist, and call themselves mobile auto repair. But what these services are doing is the hard part: data. They match your work and desired time with a tech who has the right skills, and make sure he or she has the parts they need without doing a bunch of research or chasing all over town. That harmonization is what makes this new era of mobile auto service work for you, the technician and the service company.