As more and more mobile auto repair services start popping up, the question many ask is: Are they are good option? We think there are always tradeoffs, but they can be great in a pinch.
None of us ever want to experience a breakdown while we’re out on the road. The typical procedure we expect is to wait around for a tow truck to arrive and haul our vehicle off to an auto shop somewhere to get repaired. It’s not necessarily the cost that worries us. We have insurance and warranties for that. The main thing is the sheer inconvenience and disruption of it all.
We’ve all seen mobile auto maintenance to some degree, though usually limited to very simple tasks for which specialist equipment is minimal. We have mobile detailers, mobile car inspections, mobile glass repair specialists and others, but can we really have a mobile mechanic? The answer is yes, we can.
It’s true that a mobile mechanic can’t do all of the things that a bricks-and-mortar shop mechanic can do. There are times when you do need heavy equipment, and that’s not easy (or possible) to just load up into a van and drag off to a breakdown site. You might still be surprised to learn, however, that mobile mechanics can do any of the following and more:
So, what advantages and disadvantages are there to this service? Does it really work?
Let’s start positively and look at all the good things about mobile auto repair services.
For years we have thought to ourselves how convenient it is to have roadside assistance to tow us away to the safety of an auto shop whenever we break down. Mobile auto repair takes that to new levels by offering true roadside service. The main difference is that when a tow truck arrives, it has a singular purpose to remove the car from the roadside and cart it off to the repair shop. A mobile mechanic, on the other hand, can determine there and then if the car can be fixed roadside. If it can, you can be repaired up and back on your way. If not, then your trip to the repair shop feels less of a waste.
The other side to mobile mechanics, of course is that their visits needn’t be roadside, but also at your home. The idea that you don’t have to drop the car in at the shop on the way to or from work and face half a commute using public transport or car sharing should be enough to convince most people of the merits of mobile auto repairs.
Dedicated mobile repair services don’t rely on bricks and mortar, and thus have fewer overheads. The natural consequence of that is great savings that the mechanic can pass onto you. Mobile mechanics cost, on average, about 20 percent less than a regular mechanic would. This is especially perfect for simple services that don't require a lot of time or effort - like changing your oil.
You can also save money in additional towing fees if your car has a simple issue that can be fixed roadside or in your driveway.
When you take your car to the auto shop, it joins a line of other cars waiting to be fixed or inspected as part of the mechanic’s routine. This is why your car can end up sitting in the shop for days at a time. It’s not that it takes that long to fix, but rather that it takes that long for the mechanic to get around to it.
With a mobile mechanic, you eliminate this problem. The onus for completing the repairs quickly and effectively falls squarely on the mechanic, and they are actively working to minimize your waiting time. A regular mechanic who takes 3 days to solve an issue is accepted as normal, but a mobile mechanic who can’t finish a task within a morning or other fixed period in a single day won’t make it.
When you use a mobile mechanic, you can meet and even supervise the mechanic working on your car. This is the opposite of the experience you get in an auto shop. It’s hard to be sure which of the team of mechanics in the shop will be working on your car, nor can you see any of what they are doing while you are waiting. The mobile mechanic comes to your home or to the roadside, so you can see everything. This kind of control is a nice luxury, and you’re getting it at a reduced rate than that of a regular shop.
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There’s clearly a lot to love about mobile auto repair, but it’s not all good news. Here are some of the drawbacks of mobile auto repair.
At least when you take the car to an auto shop, it doesn’t matter what the weather is like, right? How much a mobile mechanic can do depends largely on the state of the weather. If it’s pouring with rain, it’s going to be hard, impossible or at least ill-advised for them to be carrying out any repair work, especially any that requires any of the cars’ doors, windows or hatches to be open, which it inevitably does.
A mobile mechanic service, saving for some special circumstances, is invariably one in which a lone mechanic comes to either your home or wherever you are at the side of the road to do checks, maintenance and/or repairs. One of the benefits of an auto shop is that you have a full team of people around you to help out when things get tricky. There could be a struggle over a particular screw or nut that won’t come loose, or a heavy object that needs holding up while the mechanic checks underneath. A lack of support creates limitations in how much a single mechanic can do.
This can also extended to some of the cars they are effective at working on. Foreign cars, for instance, often require speciatly shops and mechanics to do work on them because of how complicated they can be. It helps to have someone who knows the brand so they can spot typical issues with the vehicles.
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Further to the problem of the one-man band, a mobile mechanic will struggle to take enough equipment in their van. One of the most important things is a car lift. To get a good and proper look at the underside of your car, a lift that takes your car safely up to a height where the mechanic can even walk underneath.
A mobile mechanic will typically make use of a jack and some stands to keep the car above ground enough to roll underneath on a board. This setup not only limits the mechanic’s comfortable view, but is actually dangerous, especially at the roadside or any uneven ground, which your driveway might be.
Another key piece of missing equipment, especially if you’re having tire or wheel troubles, is top-grade balancing equipment. To get the wheel alignment and balance up to roadworthy standards, the mechanic has to use this type of equipment. That means a mobile mechanic just can’t get this kind of job done.
This was our key concern with mobile auto inspections as well. Thankfully in this case though, there are many services that don't require a full rundown of the car and can be easily done with a mobile auto repair option. The pre-purchase inspection is a much higher pressure job because it often will sway you on whether or not to buy a used vehicle.
The fact is that mobile auto repair must be a great service in which people find great value. If this were not the case, then companies like Seattle-based Wrench. CEO of the young startup, Ed Peterson, revealed to GeekWire.com that the company had seen a year-on-year revenue increase of some 300 percent. Clearly there’s a market for this type of service.
There’s no doubt that there are problems and limitations, but people like Ed Peterson have realized that there is a greater amount of benefit that the public want, and has seized upon that. Next time you need an oil change or spark plug replacement, maybe consider a service like that before booking your car into the auto shop.