If you ask the average person what a fan belt sounds like when it’s starting to wear out (a high-pitched whine), how they know when the calipers in their brake assembly need to be replaced (the car pulls to one side or the other while breaking), or why, exactly, they need a catalytic converter (to filter the hydrocarbons that pollute our environment and cause cars to fail smog tests), there is a high likelihood that your answer will be a blank stare. Most people know even less about their cars than they know about their computers, and that’s saying a lot. Luckily, there are good-hearted mechanics out there willing to treat your vehicular woes for a fair price. But you have to find them first. In the meantime you could wind up paying an arm and a leg to an unscrupulous auto shop when your car breaks down on the side of the road, you get into an accident, or you just happen to notice that something is off with your driving experience. That is, of course, unless you download the RepairPal: Auto Repair Expert application.
This free app for your favorite iDevices seeks to take the guesswork out of auto repairs for the average consumer. Okay, so let’s be clear up front; this app does not tell you what’s wrong with your car. It is not a diagnostic tool that you can hook into your car’s on-board computer to find out your air-fuel ratio or the relative state of your alternator. You can’t input symptoms to discover why the vehicle shimmies when you hit 55 mph or the cause of the black smoke that’s issuing from your tailpipe. In truth, this information wouldn’t be of much value to the layperson anyway. What is helpful is knowing where to go when you have problems with your car, accessing roadside assistance even when it’s not covered by your insurance or you don’t have AAA, and having a price guide for repairs that ensures you don’t get taken by a mechanic looking to bilk unsuspecting customers.
So here’s how it works. Say you’ve been in an accident; your first order of business is to get roadside assistance to pull your defunct car out of the ditch it landed in. All you have to do is fire up RepairPal and hit the Roadside Help button (this feature only works with an iPhone) to find assistance in your area without the cost of paying an annual membership fee. While you’re waiting for a tow, you can start looking for a suitable auto shop in your area. In addition to run-of-the-mill mechanics you’ll also find listings for dealerships and specialists, complete with contact info and reviews to help you select a recommended vendor. And once you get to the shop and receive a listing of the services you’ll need, all you have to do is enter your car’s information (2010 Nissan Maxima) along with the repairs required (replace broken axle) to get a quick estimate for parts and labor (adjusted to reflect average prices for your area).
So if the mechanic tries to tell you that the cost will be significantly more, you can simply give him a gander at the info on your iPhone and see what he says. If he refuses to come down in price you can always call a competitor (listed in the app). So while you may not get the auto repair tips that will let you know if you actually need the work done that your mechanic is suggesting, RepairPal will help you to find a reputable shop in your area and ensure a fair price for any repairs you do get. For the uniformed driver (that would be most of us), it’s a good start.
Thanks to Evan Fischer for this guest post. He is a freelance writer and part-time student at California Lutheran University in Thousand Oaks, California.