And you thought that dentists, cops, and lawyers get a bad rap. Auto mechanics rank right up there with occupations that have a high negativity factor. Horror stories abound, like the leaking water pump gasket that ended up costing thousands of dollars – and still wasn’t fixed. This male-dominated trade is shrouded in insider knowledge of codes and intricate mechanisms, making the unsuspecting customer an easy target. “There’s a low level of trust with mechanics, especially for women, who often feel taken advantage of,” said Openbay CEO and founder Rob Infantino. Infantino aims to use technology to demystify the auto repair process that’s been frustrating and difficult for over a 100 years. The Cambridge-based startup Openbay helps users get the best deals for auto repairs. Globe correspondent Cindy Atoji Keene spoke with Infantino about this repair booking service.
“When you think of your neighborhood auto repair shop, most of them are relics of a bygone era. They rely on good, old-fashioned manual labor and do business by word-of-mouth referrals. Most run the shop using spreadsheets and paper and pencil. It’s a traditional industry that has yet to be disrupted by Internet and mobile, much like hotel and transportation used to be. I think of myself as a technologist who is looking at all the inefficiencies in the process and using software to modernize the marketplace. It’s time to take the guesswork out of car maintenance by giving vehicles a voice. The auto repair market is huge – about $200-billion is spent in the U.S. every year on “do-it-for-me” (DIFM) auto repair. The average age of a car on the roads is 11.4-years old, and about 80 percent of vehicles are in the “maintenance/repair” phase. The idea for Openbay came to me when I brought my car to the garage for a simple wheel alignment that should have cost around $200. Instead, my “service advisor” came back with a 12-page estimate for “necessary” repairs. I saw a big red flag, so I went home and searched online for a site where I could submit a service request, compare local mechanics prices, schedule service, and pay. But nothing like that existed, so I decided to create that product. We have about 24,000 shops nationwide in the data base and more and more vehicle owners are signing up every day. You can submit a service request and receive an average of five mechanic quotes – and you can also find out the shop’s ratings, certifications, and even whether it has loaner cars or wi-fi. For me personally, Openbay is a reflection of my passion for cars. I drive – and often use Openbay for – my 2002 BMW M5, a high-performance, low-production car with a cultish following. I find cars to be works of art.”