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Otobots wants to be Uber, for on-demand car repair

The app economy evolves to incorporate mechanics—but will you trust them?


AJ Dellinger


Posted on Jul 14, 2015   Updated on May 28, 2021, 8:53 am CDT

Uber can bring a car right to your doorstep, but Illinois-based startup Otobots will bring someone to fix your own vehicle so you won’t have to count on someone else for a ride.

The latest in the long line of “Uber for X” on-demand businesses to crop up, Otobots will send an automotive repair expert right to your driveway (or garage or private parking lot) to help fix your ailing vehicle. 

Designed to take some of the pain out of process of picking a mechanic, Otobots offers all of the convenience you’d expect out of a app-based service. Set up the app and provide it with some basic information about your vehicle and it’ll provide quoted prices on potential repairs. From there, pick a time and place—the mechanic comes to you. 

Company co-founder and CEO Arun Simon told the Daily Dot the idea came to him after contacting mechanics on Craigslist for small repairs and maintenance. “I enjoyed the convenience and savings that came with it,” he said.

Headquartered in Oakbrook, Illinois, about 20 miles west of Chicago, it’s expanding its roots through the heart of the Midwest instead of opting for the coastal tech colonies of San Fransisco and New York City. The service extends to a 40-mile radius around the Windy City, covering the majority of the Chicagoland metro region.

The company is equipped to fix a wide range of cars, from BMWs and Mercedes Benzes to Toyotas and Hondas. Otobots even lists Tesla as a serviceable make. A wide variety of cars dating back to 1984 are eligible for the various work its mechanics can perform.

While it’s not a full-blown replacement for the big fixes—Simon said they aren’t equipped for engine and transmission work—Otobots is an option when it comes to upkeep and smaller repairs. Brake work, oil changes, starters, and alternators are all on the table, and Simon said his company is “adding new services each week as we figure it out.”

Prices are always a cause of concern when going to a repair shop—what’s the bill going to be for necessary work and what auxiliary work are they going to try to sell you on? That isn’t necessarily quelled by Otobots; a diagnostic test costs $70 in the Chicago market and will only be waived if you agree to service prescribed by the car doctor making the house call.

Otobots believes it can keep the price on repairs down, though, by removing overhead: there is no garage, no heavier and more costly equipment, and no real organizational structure to speak of. They also offer fixed pricing, so if you’re quoted for two hours of labor and the work takes four hours, you pay for the original quote.

That savings for the consumer would appear to turn into a cost for Otobots’ mechanics. Like most on-demand services, they function as contractors rather than employees. Simon said they earn between $40 and $50 an hour “depending on their skill, certifications and availability.” The FAQ section on Otobots’ website suggests the company’s hourly rate is about $70 an hour, so a significant portion of the transaction appears to be sliced off the top before making it into the hands of the mechanic. There is also no tipping. Instead, the Otobots site suggests, “the biggest tip they can receive is your rating and feedback you provide on their profile.”

For those who do decide to work in this setting, Simon and Otobots do appear to take significant steps in finding qualified candidates.

“To ensure safety, each mechanic goes through an extensive background and reference check. For quality control, we have set forth minimum professional experience, professional reference checks and personal interviews,” Simon explained. “We also have a rating system where customers can rate their mechanics on a scale of five. Mechanics have to maintain an average of 90 percent to continue in our network.”

Each Otobots mechanic is insured with with $1 million liability insurance, while the work they do comes with a 12-month or 12,000-mile warranty. Parts bought through the service offer the same guarantee. 

He said most of the mechanics in the Otobots system work at dealerships, franchise shops, and local garages. Some were even already mobile mechanics who are using the service to expand their clientele base.

The mobile mechanic isn’t new, necessarily, but it certainly fits tidily under the umbrella of the on-demand economy. If the market for it makes sense is yet to be determined. Uber and the litany of apps like it are often purely convenience. People often build an ongoing relationship with their mechanic over the course of their car’s life. Otobots may trust in the ability of its mechanics, but it won’t mean much if the potential clients don’t feel the same.

H/T | Photo via Bob Villalobos/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

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*First Published: Jul 14, 2015, 11:17 pm CDT