Many things that once had to be done in-person—like seeing a doctor or going to therapy—are now able to be done virtually. One Raleigh-based startup, Ratchit, aims to make visiting a mechanic a virtual experience by providing a platform for people to video-chat with a mechanic to save both time and money.
NC State alum Jeff Newcomb said he founded Ratchit because of his own frustrations with finding an affordable mechanic who actually got the job done the first time. In college, a resourceful Newcomb learned how to work on his car himself. After working as an engineer and chemist for over 20 years, Newcomb got the idea for virtual mechanic services in 2020 as tele-health services became popular.
“I’ve had bad experiences where the job would end up costing more, or the mechanic didn’t fix the problem,” Newcomb said. “Especially throughout the last 10 years, I’ve used online chat boards and YouTube videos and things like that, to try to work on stuff myself. And a lot of that information can be very valuable and helpful, but sometimes the videos leave you hanging.”
Newcomb isn’t alone. According to the American Automobile Association (AAA), more than two-thirds of Americans don’t trust repair shops and dread taking their car in to get serviced.
On the Ratchit website, customers can search for mechanics in their area and filter by the service they need. Mechanics who offer the free live video chat service will have a green button next to their name, which takes customers to Ratchit’s online booking system to make an appointment with that mechanic. Ratchit also provides posters for mechanics to put in their waiting rooms to advertise the live video chat.
“We’re bringing video chat technology into a profession that has lagged behind,” Newcomb said, “and by putting this technology in their hands, that can not only better support their customers but increase their sales and reputation.”
Some Ratchit customers have been able to solve their car problem with just the video chat alone, Newcomb said, which means no money out of their pocket at all. Maybe there’s a leak somewhere and the mechanic can see it through the video, or they may be able to diagnose a problem just by listening to a customer’s description, Newcomb said.
Even for customers that have to take their car in to get fixed after the initial video chat, the mechanic they video-chatted with may offer them a discounted price for the service, Newcomb said.
“This gives the customer a chance to build rapport and make a connection with the mechanic, who can then help them fix their problem,” Newcomb said. “And by giving the customer suggestions on how to fix the problem, or by offering a discounted service if they take it inot the shop, the mechanic is increasing their sales as well.”
Mechanics pay on subscription basis
Mechanics pay either $10 a month to be included on the listing directory or $50 a month if they want to include the live video chat service. For those who do the latter, they will also get a green button on their website which connects to Ratchit’s online booking system, so customers who found the mechanic’s website on their own, rather than through Ratchit, are still able to do a live video chat.
“With the delta variant spreading,” Newcomb said, “this is a great opportunity for people to be able to speak to a mechanic and diagnose a problem to decide if they really need to bring their car in. And they aren’t spending money unnecessarily.”
Ratchit initially launched in April and now has over 100 mechanics listed in the Raleigh area. Newcomb said their next steps include branching out to the Greensboro, Wilmington, Fayetteville and Houston markets.
With population growth in North Carolina areas like the Triangle not expected to slow down anytime soon, Newcomb said newcomers especially would benefit from Ratchit.
“When people move here, they’re going to be looking for doctors, dentists, childcare, haircare, and we will be ready to help people find reputable mechanics near them,” Newcomb said.
On the flip side, if someone moves to a new area, Ratchit gives them the ability to still video-chat with their mechanic back home, Newcomb said.
Newcomb is also eyeing other service industries for Ratchit’s future growth. For instance, rather than wasting time running from house to house in a given day, home repair workers could be a lot more time-efficient by giving proposals over video-chat, Newcomb said. But he’s focused for now on car care, an industry that has long been a late adopter of tech.
“I’ve been to auto shops where they only take cash and don’t even take electronic payments,” Newcomb said. “And now, with Zoom and Webex used everywhere, it’s really important for mechanics to use that technology to support their customers.”