It was just another Tuesday. I wrapped up a few early-morning work tasks in the living room, threw my laptop in my bag and headed into the GeekWire office for a taping of our Geared Up podcast.
But when I turned the key in the ignition of my 17-year-old Jeep, I got nothing. Just a faint, pathetic-sounding click.
I turned it again — click.
One more time, out of desperation — click.
I groaned and did the first thing I normally do if I have a problem: Called my mum.
But in the end, it wasn’t my mum who was able to get the car running again. It was a total stranger that I summoned to work on my car using a brand new service: Wrench, a Seattle-based startup sometimes called the “Uber for car repair.”
It’s like a house call for your ailing car. Wrench is one of several companies pursuing this idea, including Your Mechanic and Fiix. Wrench has raised $5.2 million from Madrona Venture Group and other investors. GeekWire has covered Wrench in the past, but there’s nothing like a transportation emergency to give you a real sense of how a service works.
The car I drive is no ordinary 2001 charcoal grey Jeep Grand Cherokee Loredo. It’s the car my dad bought when I was 8, shortly after we moved to the U.S. permanently. It’s the car that shuttled us on family trips to Whistler every year, and the car that my younger brother and I both learned to drive in. Its license plate is still my dad’s initials.
So, needless to say, my parents know some good old tricks to get it running again. This time, though, they didn’t work. My heart — and my bank account — weren’t quite ready to move on to a new car, so I decided to give Wrench a try.
I want to point out that none of the mechanics or Wrench employees that handled my service knew I was a GeekWire journalist. I never mentioned it, and didn’t go into the experience planning to write a review. At the time, I just chose the service because I wanted to avoid the headache of finding a mechanic and moving my car to an auto shop.
I downloaded the Wrench app, entered details on my car, reviewed their quote and booked an appointment for the next day at 9 a.m. The whole thing took maybe five minutes.
There was even an option to have the mechanic pick my keys up at a reception desk if I was at the office or had a particularly fancy apartment building. I don’t know that I would ever use this, but it was interesting to see the lengths to which Wrench goes to make the process as convenient as possible.
The diagnostic appointment that I booked and a second, later appointment to make some fixes were both great experiences. While the mechanics were late both times, they let me know with plenty of time in advance that they were caught in traffic or would need to make an extra stop, and were extremely courteous throughout the process.
The first mechanic I met with found a pretty common problem: My starter was broken, possibly because a broken heating pipe was leaking coolant into it. The mechanic suggested I make an appointment to replace the starter and pipes, and patiently answered all my first-car questions about how engines work.
Wrench sent me a quote to have the fixes made later that day and I made another appointment, all in the app. In general, the app was super easy to use and made the whole experience incredibly convenient, although there were a few things that caught me off guard.
One was that Wrench texted me to tell me when my mechanic was en route, instead of using a messaging system in the app. That got confusing, firstly because the texts had various links to different parts of the app and secondly because my mechanics also texted and called me independently. It would have been much easier to do all the communication through the app instead of through a different messaging system. The app also showed me where my mechanic was coming from but didn’t update his location like an Uber ride would, so I thought he was staying in one place for a solid 15 minutes. Again, confusing but not the end of the world.
The second issue was receiving my quote for the replacements. I expected to get a notification or email when it was ready, but none arrived. Eventually, I hunted through the app and found the right page, which had apparently been displaying the quote for a few hours. This was fairly important to me because I was trying to decide if I should shell out to fix the car or put that money towards finding a new one, and wanted to know what ballpark the price would be right away.
Other than those two hiccups, the experience was smooth. During my second appointment, the mechanic got to work on replacing the starter and called me about 15 minutes in with good news: My battery terminal was completely butchered. That was good because it probably meant my starter was working fine and the terminal was the real problem.
A mechanic my parents had used a few years prior had done a shoddy job of replacing the battery and terminals. The Wrench mechanic was actually able to pull one terminal apart with his hands. The best news? Instead of a couple-hundred-dollar starter, a new battery terminal cost about $20.
This is where my experience truly stood out: My mechanic went out of his way to drive to a nearby parts store, find the right part (a Marine-grade negative battery terminal) and then stayed an hour later than he was scheduled to install it. He even spent extra time tightening hoses that weren’t properly attached, presumably by the same mechanic that messed up the terminal.
Because I didn’t have any other mechanics look at the car, I can’t make a direct price comparison, but Wrench’s prices seem to be fair based on market predictions. The diagnostic visit was $82 and replacing the heating pipes and battery terminal cost just under $340. Most of the cost came from labor, not parts, and using the service also meant I didn’t need to pay to have my car towed.
All in all, despite the minor issues with the user experience, my Wrench experience was convenient, straightforward and helped me feel confident even as a first-time car owner.
In addition to the Seattle region, Wrench is currently available in parts of Arizona, California, Idaho, Nevada, and Oregon. It’s another service in the vein of Uber or Amazon Prime, bringing a service or product straight to consumers’ doors, or wherever they happen to be having car problems.