Think you feel helpless at the mechanic? Welcome to the club.
Spending money on my car repair is all about finding a mechanic I can trust. The problem in 2021 is that this process is still not frictionless. It’s not like I’m one-clicking a buy on Amazon. It could be so much easier!
I recently chatted with Vehicle Mind, a local tech startup that’s actively trying to change that. They’re putting the car’s data and knowledge into the driver’s hands. They do this by plugging a small hardware device into your car, which acts as a brain for the car owner.
“Vehicle Mind was born out of our frustrations with the lack of control and transparency we experienced when maintaining our cars; not to mention the resulting stress,” said Vehicle Mind’s director of marketing, Roberto Cialdella. “One thing became clear: the car care market was ripe for change. We knew there had to be a better way to manage car health and safety.”
The ‘Vehicle Mind Hub’ is an OBD2 sensor, which plugs into the OBD port of a 2008 or newer car. The sensor monitors your car’s health, engine issues, DTCs and battery life on an ongoing basis.
The data and insights are sent to the Vehicle Mind app, which acts as a dashboard for everything the driver needs to know about the car and even their driving. It reads your car’s diagnostic trouble codes and explains them to you in plain English, including the severity level of the problem, the effect on the car and common repair solutions.
The hub comes packed with a plethora of sensors, GPS tracking and other technology that communicates through 4G connectivity.
For example, the check engine light will tell drivers what’s going on with their car and how serious it is. “If you do need to visit the mechanic, there’s no suspense over whats wrong with the car,” said Cialdella.
Meanwhile, location and safety alerts help drivers know the status of their engine, battery, the car’s location and also gives access to roadside assistance. Parents can set up a geofence feature for teen drivers where they’ll get an alert if the car moves past a designated perimeter. If your car gets towed, Vehicle Mind will send you an alert for that, too.
The app’s digital maintenance tools let drivers know what maintenance has been done to the car in the past and what maintenance is upcoming. It will also give drivers a set of scores that can help them better understand their own driving habits or environmental factors like too many potholes on their usual route.
“It’s anything that will have an impact on your car’s health, that in the long run will lead to problems that normally we perceive as coming out of the blue. This changes the game,” said Cialdella.
Meanwhile, workers can use the trip logging function to log business trips and set reimbursement values.
‘Democratizing’ car ownership
Cialdella says Vehicle Mind is “democratizing car ownership,” like Uber did for the cab industry or Airbnb did for the rental market. It’s a clever comparison.
For whatever reason, tech hasn’t succeeded yet in empowering the car owner, yet. We still are at the mercy of our mechanics and dealerships in order to acquire essential knowledge of our cars.
“It’s your car and it should be your data,” said Cialdella.
“If you want to be informed you should have the information at your fingertips,” added the company’s CTO, Abhay Ghatpande. “For me, just to go to a mechanic induces a lot of apprehension because every time I go I don’t know what I’m going to find or how much I’m going to have to pay.”
Ghatpande, one of the company’s six cofounders, did his post-doctoral work in computer science at McGill University. The other five cofounders did their PhDs, post docs or double-masters in fields like computer science, math and statistics and nanophysics. None of them are car mechanics. Vehicle Mind is a technology company, they emphasize.
What’s next for Vehicle Hub?
The team will soon role out its customer support phone support, which it is calling the mechanic hotline. Vehicle Mind has a pair of certified mechanics with over 20 years experience on the team, and it will add more people the its Canada-based support team.
“The kind of service we want to offer needs to be regional, for example French support in Quebec,” said Ghatpande. “The customers will expect locals who are aware of how things work locally at garages.”
Vehicle Mind’s team consists of 16 employees, all in Montreal.
Cialdella added that Vehicle Mind will add more services to its package. For obvious reasons, the company doesn’t want to anger the repair and maintenance industry, or appear as a competing technology. For that reason, they’re developing digital tools for mechanics. Eventually, users will be able to book appointments and make prepayments ahead of time for the mechanic they choose.
“We also want to do digital inspections. Understanding whats wrong with your car and getting the repairs for it doesn’t require your presence at the mechanic. You can get this information texted or emailed to you,” said Cialdella. “When we say zero stress car ownership, it means access to your own car’s data but also having control when you need to book a service with a garage.”
How much does it cost?
Vehicle Mind’s pricing seems very reasonable. The hardware is a one-time purchase, on sale right now for $99. The recurring monthly membership is $10 per month.
This after I just paid $150 to CAA for a year’s membership which I didn’t touch once. When I said that, Ghatpande felt comfortable to tell me what he thought. He didn’t sound like a salesman, but rather just a regular driver.
“Frankly the ten dollar subscription, the amount of stuff you get is really quite incredible,” he said. “From the real-time monitoring, the impact alerts, towing alerts, factory alerts, check engine light, geofencing, trip logging, apart from all of these things, you’re getting access to roadside assistance and mechanics. It’s incredible value that we’re offering.”