Engie cuts car repair costs, and car repair arguments

A new Israeli ‘do-it-yourself’ vehicle diagnostic system promises to get drivers the best deal on repairs

Gal Aharon (L) and the Engie team at the Israel Mobile Summit (Courtesy)
Gal Aharon (L) and the Engie team at the Israel Mobile Summit (Courtesy)

Up there with paying taxes on the list of “Things we hate to do but have to do” for most people is “taking the car in.” When a vehicle announces that it has a problem – usually in the form of loud, grinding noises or the like – drivers gird themselves to do battle with their mechanics, bargaining to get the best repair deal they can and wondering all the while whether will get ripped off.

This is because the vast majority of people know little about how their cars work beyond inserting their key into the ignition and starting the engine, and as a result, feel helpless when faced with a need for repairs.

But now there’s an app and a device that promises to give drivers all the data they need about what is wrong (and right) with their vehicles.

“Our system, called Engie, provides vehicle diagnosis similar to what customers can get at their mechanics,” said Gal Aharon, Engie CMO and co-founder. “We believe that most mechanics are honest, but with Engie, customers no longer have to wonder if they are or aren’t, because they come into a repair situation with information about what a repair will entail and how much it will cost.”

Engie won “Best Start-up App” at this week’s Israel Mobile Summit in Tel Aviv, beating out over 100 other mobile start-ups.

The Engie system consists of a small sensor device that connects to a car’s on-board diagnostics (OBD) connection, standard in nearly all 21st century vehicles. Once plugged in, the device connects to an app (currently available only for Android; an iOS version is on the way) via Bluetooth and transmits data about the car’s condition – battery strength, how clean the carburetor is, fuel consumption, etc.

Engie then uploads and analyzes that information and determines what, if any, repairs or service are needed, and provides users with a recommended list of garages as well as a price for the work. The device itself costs NIS 35 ($9).

The Engie dongle, which transmits diagnosis information to a smartphone app  when attached to a vehicle's OBD port (Courtesy)
The Engie dongle, which transmits diagnosis information to a smartphone app when attached to a vehicle’s OBD port (Courtesy)

It’s roughly a “do it yourself” version of what goes on in car repair garages today. With nearly all diagnostics done today using computers (using OBD), a mechanic’s first approach to a repair will usually be to hook up the car to a diagnostic device and read data that is then analyzed and compared to information about the specific vehicle (make, model, year of production) to narrow down the problem, which will then be checked out under the hood.

The customer can be told how much the repair will cost and work can proceed. Engie does the same thing, using its own database, which covers most cars made over the last 15 years.

More than just a way to ease the minds of worried car owners, Engie seeks to become a marketplace for car repairs, said Aharon.

“Once a diagnosis is made and the need for a repair is established, we present the job as a bid to members of our garage network. The garages bid on the job, and we present the customer with the best alternatives in terms of price, availability, how fast the repair can be made, etc. Once the customer accepts a bid, that’s the price they pay.”

If the garage discovers additional problems, they have to explain what they are to Engie, which works with the customer on getting the best price for the additional work, said Aharon. The company, takes a small finder’s fee for each transaction.

Both customers and garages like the idea, said Aharon.

“We started this about four months ago in Israel as our pilot project, and already over 30,000 people have downloaded our app. Customers like it because it arms them with information about the work that needs to be done, and they don’t have to argue when presented with the bill because they know in advance how much the repair is going to cost them. Garages are also happy to be a part of the network because it gives them an opportunity to get new business from customers who would probably bring their vehicles elsewhere.”

The firm is working to expand its network abroad, and expects to land in the United States in 2016.

So far, Engie has the “home car diagnosis” market to itself despite the fact that the technology it uses is ubiquitous.

“Authorized dealers may use a system like this in their garages, but they will only do it for models that are under warranty. Once the warranty is up, customers have to figure out which garage will do the best job, and they are back to square one – unsure of where to go, with no guidance on what to do or who will do the best job. With our system, drivers will get some help on making one of the most difficult decisions facing consumers.”

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