Minnesota start-up using AI to walk customers through car repairs

Most of us have been there: something breaks on your vehicle and the mechanic bill is more than you can afford. But now, there's a way to diagnose and fix the problem without ever entering a shop.

Using artificial intelligence, a new Minnesota-based startup called Raise a Hood is empowering car owners to do their own repairs while also offering community learnings and virtual consultations with real-life mechanics.

"We have a lot of people already coming in trying to self-diagnose their car with Google," said Matt Holmen, a Twin Cities mechanic who says the information currently available online is incomplete and often created by amateurs. "This is an avenue to kind of correct that."

Through the website, users can plug in the make and model of their car, along with symptoms. With enough information, the AI will be able to diagnose the problem and walk you through how to fix it yourself.

Holmen says he isn’t threatened by the technology, as the industry struggles to fill open mechanic jobs. The National Automobile Dealer Association reports around 76,000 mechanic positions open up every year, and only 39,000 are coming out of technical colleges or training programs.

Prior to starting Raise a Hood, founder and CEO Michael Petersen spent a decade as an engineer at Ford Motor Company and another fifteen years in the technology sector. Now, he's merging his experience into an AI engine they've named "Gus" – a system that is taught by real-life mechanics like Holmen.

"We sit down and plug in scenarios with results and questions and that just gets the ball rolling. The AI takes over from there," said Holmen.

Petersen says as the AI gets used, the accuracy will improve.

"So the question is, can we take the expertise of the mechanics to do the core training of the AI and then allow the AI to do what it does best…and get really and really accurate," Petersen explained.

But if do-it-yourself isn't for you, Raise a Hood also offers video calls with mechanics starting at $20 - something Petersen compares to a telehealth visit with your doctor. He says early customers have mostly been using the feature to get second opinions.

"For the early calls that we’ve had, over half the customers that have reached out to us have saved $1,000 on a repair bill," Petersen said.

Petersen said the consultation calls are also a great retirement job for skilled mechanics who need a break from being on their feet.