Urgent.ly is like Uber for roadside assistance

Roadside assistance goes on-demand with this app-based service for iOS and Android devices.

Screenshots by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Simply put, Urgent.ly is like Uber for tow trucks. A clearer explanation is that it's a pay-on-demand app for roadside assistance services. You install the app on your phone and, when the need arises, request assistance with just a few taps. Prices are estimated up front and users pay through the app using a credit card number.

An up to 10-mile tow, for example, is a $99 flat fee, but drivers can input a destination address to get a more accurate quote. I asked for a quote for a 45-mile tow from San Francisco to a mechanic in Santa Clara and was given an estimate of $211 by the app.

Other services offered include vehicle lockout service, dead battery jump, fuel service and flat tire fix, all estimated starting at a flat $75 charge each.

The responder or tow truck driver who receives the user's request will also be running the Urgent.ly app on his or her phone -- again, much like an Uber or Lyft driver would -- and will receive instructions, the location of the vehicle in distress and payment via the app. So, there's no need to negotiate or exchange money with the driver directly. iOS users running the Urgent.ly app can even pay with Apple Pay.

Users can see how many responders are in the area in the app and, once a responder accepts their request, watch their tow truck make its way on the live-updating map.

A new family view feature for iOS and Android users allows Urgent.ly drivers to add multiple family members to their account. The developers tell us that this feature is good for households with teen drivers. If one of these family members request roadside assistance via the Urgent.ly app, the other members will get a notification.

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Screenshot by Antuan Goodwin/CNET

Users will have to open the app and manually initiate the call for assistance. Urgent.ly doesn't do automatic crash response or tap into emergency services, but the developer did state it's at least considering incorporating such functionality in the future.

Urgent.ly seems like a targeted assault on traditional auto clubs like AAA. Urgent.ly co-founder and CEO Chris Spanos estimates that the average driver needs roadside service about once every two and a half years and that most call less often than that. Doing the math, three years of AAA works out to about $164 to $312 depending on the level of membership that the driver chooses. A driver who only gets one 7-mile tow or one flat tire technically pays up to $312 for that flat. An Urgent.ly user who also only makes one call during that period only pays for that one call and is saving up to $237.

Of course, it's not exactly that simple; auto clubs like AAA often also offer their members discounts on hotels, rental cars and other services outside of just roadside assistance. That's one area where an on-demand service like Urgent.ly currently falls just a bit short.

The Urgent.ly app is free to download from the Apple App Store and Google Play Store with in-app purchases for each roadside assistance dispatch. The app was also recently chosen to be added to the AT&T Drive platform for connected cars.

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