Sparesbox: The Company That Wants to Revolutionise Car Servicing in Australia

A new car parts and service website launched in Australia recently. It's called Sparesbox and they promise to revolutionise the car service industry by providing a more transparent service experience than traditional dealers and independent mechanics. It seems like a good concept, but it's extremely ambitious.

For anyone unfamiliar with Australia's car servicing industry, this is how it works. Most people go to the dealer to have their late model cars serviced, particularly if they're under warranty. There are also a number of mechanic franchises such as Repco, Ultratune, and ABS, and independent mechanics.  A lot of people also wrongly believe that the have to have their car serviced at a dealer to preserve their new car warranty. This will be an obstacle for Sparesbox, just as it is for other mechanics. Finding someone you can trust is notoriously difficult. Dealers will do reasonable job of maintaining your car using original parts but rightly or wrongly have a reputation for ripping people off. Franchise and independent mechanics can do just as well, usually with aftermarket parts, but you never really know what sort of service to expect. They too, have a reputation for ripping people off that they may or may not deserve. Independent mechanics are known to be cheaper, but are less trusted. Sparesbox hopes that it's plan to be more transparent will shake up the entire industry. 

Sparesbox is the brainchild of former Holden and Toyota equipment buyer Leon Saliba, who realised that many Australians were paying huge markups for car parts at dealers and mechanics. His solution was to create an online marketplace to give consumers direct access to parts suppliers. Saliba received an initial angel investment round from Carthona Capital in late 2014, and went on to secure a $3.5 million round of venture capital funding from Moelis Australia Asset Management and Carthona.

Sparesbox became Australia's biggest online auto parts retailer, with over 100,000 parts available for 80 different car brands. A common question received from customers was could Sparesbox fit parts for them? Most people don't like servicing their own car, and that was always going to be a barrier for them. The solution was to introduce a fleet of mobile mechanics to service cars at customers’ homes and workplaces. This system is certainly more convenient for a lot of people, particularly if you've got room at your workplace. 

Dean Dorrell from Carthona Capital (left) with Leon Saliba MD of Sparesbox

Dean Dorrell from Carthona Capital (left) with Leon Saliba MD of Sparesbox

What's Sparesbox like to use? When you first open the Sparesbox website, you can enter your car details and save them for future searches once you've registered, a nice feature that Supercheap Auto Club Plus doesn't offer. You can then add save the last service date, registration dates kilometres, VIN number, transmission, usage and a photo.

The garage feature makes searching for parts easier

The garage feature makes searching for parts easier

Once you've added a car to your garage, searches will automatically be filtered for your car. Searching for parts is then easy, with all parts placed in categories and sub categories. The diagrams could be labelled more clearly, especially for suspension bushes, to better assist with selecting the correct part. 

The product range is very broad, but there are still a few gaps. I discovered that for my car, the K&N air filter cleaner kit was available, but not the filter itself. I was also unable to find control blade front bushes or a tailshaft coupling for my car, both items I’ve previously had replaced. This is a strange omission, The bushes are a strange omission. Superpro, whose bushes are available from Sparesbox, offers control blade front bushes on its own website, and they’re included in the complete bush kit sold through Sparesbox.  If you had an inspection from a Sparesbox mobile mechanic and they needed to be replaced, Sparesbox could likely sell them to you. There's also often only one brand of each item available. Superpro is the only suspension bush brand on offer, and DBA was the only brake disc brand available for my FG Falcon. Both OEM replacement and performance brake rotors are offered however. Bosch brake discs are available for other cars. This isn't always the case. For brake pads I had a choice of various options from Bendix, Brembo, Bosch, TRW and Project Mu. A range of good quality brands to choose from is certainly an advantage over your traditional service options, where you're stuck with whatever your mechanic uses unless they're happy to work with the parts you give them or you service your own car. Wherever multiple brands are offered, a buying guide is provided to help you make a decision. This should help prevent people from fitting track-orientated parts to their daily driver.

My Falcon's next scheduled service at a Ford dealer will have a maximum cost of $370. Since Sparesbox promises low and transparent pricing, I requested a quote from them. Unfortunately Sparesbox’s mobile mechanic service is only available in Sydney, so I was unable to obtain a quote. In an email they said they planned to  expand to the whole of New South Wales and then into other states. Putting regional New South Wales ahead of Melbourne and Brisbane is an unusual expansion strategy. If you don't live in New South Wales, it might be a while before you can get your car serviced by Sparesbox.

I've had my car serviced at two Ford dealers, and I've had two independent mechanics complete inspections. One of these mechanics also completed a wheel alignment and replaced a couple of rear bushes. There is definitely a lack of transparency in the in the industry. The mechanic that only inspected my car was particularly bad, quoting me for parts that I didn't need, and still don't need a year later. It pays to second opinion. Can Sparesbox be trusted? Or do you still need a second opinion before completing additional work? They are transparent about the parts they're using and their prices, which is a good start. You don't always get separate parts and labour prices. The biggest advantage that Sparesbox has in transparency is the ability to watch them work like any other tradesperson.  Of course, Sparesbox performing work at customers homes could just create a false sense of security, it all depends on the interaction between the mechanic and customer. There is still the pricing issue. They may be transparent, but it's worth getting a detailed quote from another mechanic to make sure you really are getting the best price. Hopefully Sparesbox's pricing transparency encourages other mechanics to be more transparent in their quotes. Specifying the brand of parts used wouldn't take much effort and would assist customers in making better informed decisions.

Inside a Sparesbox mobile mechanic's van

Inside a Sparesbox mobile mechanic's van

Sparesbox has provided some customer testimonials on their website. As you'd expect, they are overwhelmingly positive. The prices they were quoted by Sparesbox were significantly lower than those quoted by the dealer. The cars were a Lexus RX450h, Mercedes Benz E63 AMG and a Mercedes Benz A Class, so their dealers would have inflated service prices, and many mechanics would take advantage of that. Sparesbox hasn't, and if the prices in these testimonials are an accurate indication, then Sparesbox could save you a minimum of 30%. However, they probably picked out three particularly good examples, so you shouldn't expect savings like this all the time, particularly if your car is cheap to service already.

Car detailing products from Meguiars, Autoglym and Mothers. A price comparison between Sparesbox, Autobarn and Supercheap Auto for a selection of products is shown in the table below.

For Sparesbox, two prices are listed, because an original and new lower price is given for every item, and whether these are sale or permanent prices isn’t specified. For every product I looked at, Sparesbox was cheaper, at least at the current price. That means that if you’re buying Autoglym, Mothers or Meguiars products online, it’s worth buying from Sparesbox. Having said that, if you have an Autobarn or Supercheap Auto in your area, you might want to consider buying in-store, because it’s often cheaper when you take postage into account. For example, standard delivery added $7.95 to the price of a bottle of Autoglym Fast Glass.

As well as OEM replacement or upgrade parts, Sparesbox is also a stockist of XFORCE performance exhausts and King Springs. Performance brake rotors and pads are also available. This will only broaden the appeal of both Sparesbox and the parts suppliers. Once Sparesbox mobile mechanics are in other states, XFORCE will have an advantage over rivals like Harrop and Herrod, who have small distribution networks. 

Would I use Sparesbox myself? Well I live  within walking distance of work, so Sparesbox would be easily the most convenient option. I leave my car at home when the weather permits anyway. My local Ford dealer is also adequate rather than exceptional, but I do have a good Repco/Pedders affiliated mechanic in my area. I would definitely be willing to give them a go, and I'll get a quote from them for the next service. 

Sparesbox is a good idea, but they need to work on filling the gaps in their product range and expand into other states before they can make an impact.  If you live in Sydney, then Sparesbox is worth trying. If you're unsure, book an inspection before arranging for them to do any work on your car. If you choose to have someone else your car, do some research and ask about the parts they use. You'll get better service if you appear knowledgeable. We need Sparesbox to work, because if it works as well as they say it will, it will put pressure on the whole car service industry to try harder. Early next year when my car needs a service, I'll give a review of the Sparesbox mobile mechanic service, providing it's available in Victoria.

FeatureMichael MasinComment