Have you ever suspected, like most of us do, that you might be overcharged by your car repair shop? A new car maintenance app that detects car problems – and the exact cost to repair them – could save car owners hundreds of dollars. Engie, a smartphone application launched in Israel last year, is hoping to disrupt an industry that has barely changed over the past century: auto repair shops.
According to a customer survey conducted by research firm Harris Interactive, a whopping 66 percent of car owners believe they’ve been ripped off by a repair shop; overall, 72 percent of car owners said they get anxious about the cost of repair.
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The app is connected to the on-board car computer, and sends the owner notifications about issues and problems. The owner can then get price quotes from mechanics in his or her area. After identifying the problem, the application invites nearby auto repair shops to bid for the repair job. CEO Yarden Gross tells NoCamels that Engie’s app can detect 60-70 percent of auto problems. Ultimately, Engie founders want to create an empowered driving community, one that would shop around for the best price through their app.
Launched in December 2014, six weeks later the app had over 17,000 users. Engie’s service, which works with a bluetooth-enabled, on-board diagnostics device (which is separate from the app), interprets the codes from the car computer to inform the driver about everything from engine problems to maintenance updates to their true gas mileage. Engie provides users with the device for free, charging $5 for the shipping.
Waze founder provides seed money, mentorship
Gross, CMO Gal Aharon and CTO Alon Hendelman met at a boot camp-like summer program at the Zell Entrepreneurship Program at the IDC in Israel in 2014. They brainstormed for months with mentor Uri Levine – co-founder of navigation app Waze (which sold to Google for $1.1 billion in 2013), until one morning the check-engine light in Gross’ car turned on. He dutifully headed to a nearby auto shop and by the time he arrived at the meeting with his team, he was frustrated and angry. Then, the idea for Engie was finally born. Soon after, Levine provided seed money for the young company.
It is no coincidence that Engie’s office is located in a scruffy neighborhood in Tel Aviv, full of car dealerships and auto-repair shops; by locating next door to their potential affiliates, the company was able to get 15 mechanic shops on board in just a few weeks. “It actually saves the mechanic a lot of time, arguments and frustration, because even if he does his job correctly, customers often think he’s messing around with them,” Aharon tells NoCamels. “We’re not replacing the mechanic, he’s still going to do his job, but we’re going to help him.”
“Better than mechanics”
The app, currently available only on Google Play for the Israeli market (the iPhone app is set to come out in a couple of months), asks the user to enter the car model and year, from which it matches the model specifications. Upon detecting a problem, the driver is able to scroll through a list of prices for various parts and services. Want original or aftermarket replacement parts? Do you go to a dealership-approved auto shop, or a general one? All options are available.
However, the app is not flawless. The car tested by NoCamels was a few hundred kilometers short of its recommended oil change at 45,000 km. Most maintenance guides prompt you to schedule a check based on either mileage or time – usually whichever comes first – but Engie appears to lack the time interval option, which is one of its shortcomings.
On the other hand, the clean interface of the app is one of its charms. As Aharon says, it’s designed to “simplify the data and the services to make something that me, you and my grandmother will all understand and could use in a simple and intuitive way.”
The company, six employees and growing, is now working on an English language application for global markets. The next version is expected to have a different design and more features than the current one. In 8-10 months, Engie expects it will handle car repairs, but it will also cater to second-hand sales, with an app that will transfer the car’s digital history. “Mechanics are plugging into the same computer we are, and their process is very similar to ours. The advantage is that we have a lot of data from many cars, and we’ll be able to have a much better diagnostic system than the mechanics.”
To keep the app and device free for their users, Engie will charge the auto shop with the winning bid a 10 percent affiliate fee. However, this early in the game, that model is not yet in operation, but the management insists it is fully committed to free services for users. “We are consumer-oriented; the whole focus of the company is on the consumer, the mechanic is just the service-provider”, Yarden tells NoCamels. Regarding the company’s finances, the management confirmed that Engie is currently in the midst of a Series A Round of funding, but declined to give any details about valuation, investors or on how much they have managed to raise so far.