During the heavy rains earlier this month, Issaic Ruth was more than a bit nervous driving his usual commute from East Palo Alto to Palo Alto after he discovered that his windshield wipers weren't working very well.
But replacing those worn-out wipers wasn't going to be as easy as it once was. As a health care worker for those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19, Ruth has had to limit his routine to home and work to curb his possible exposure to the disease. This means he doesn't do anything that can't be done in either of those two places — including picking up new windshield wipers. And so he continued to make the trip between his home and work despite the danger.
That changed on Thursday. Ruth was the first person in Palo Alto to receive a free car tuneup through a new program launched by Mountain View startup YourMechanic.com to make sure local health care workers have access to services that will keep their cars operable during the coronavirus crisis. Ruth was thrilled: He had his oil changed, and just about everything that was worn-out replaced.
"You have no idea. ... I am so appreciative," he said over the phone while on a quick break from tending to his 60 patients at the Palo Alto Sub-Acute and Rehabilitation Center.
Many health care workers can't take time out of their workday to get their cars fixed, said YourMechanic.com communications director Valerie Demicheva, who helped start the program in Palo Alto after discovering local health care workers' predicaments.
"They go to work and home, and that's it. They're heroes," Demicheva said. "They're continuing to work in risky jobs because they know that someone has to do it, and they've kind of risen to that occasion, so everyone at our company is working harder to try to make health workers' lives a little easier."
Demicheva said routine car maintenance, like an oil change, and other minor repairs can be scheduled through YourMechanic.com. A mechanic will come to the health care employees' workplaces and homes to fix their cars.
The company, which contracts with about 50 independent mechanics throughout the Bay Area, has adopted a no-contact service model, which means that customers can leave their keys in the mailbox or another specified place for the mechanic, who will come on-site. All payments are made through the company's website, so there's no in-person interaction.
Demicheva said the company quickly adopted the no-contact model back in mid-February after it discovered that mechanics were getting nervous working in the community.
"Any way to remove one possible person who could infect you is a plus," she said. "I think providing no-contact service is probably something health care workers in particular really care about."
Demicheva said the company has primarily promoted their special health care worker program through word of mouth.
With so many health precautions in place locally, "It's very hard to reach people these days. You can't just walk into a hospital," she said. The company is reaching out facility by facility through the people they know.
The program officially launched this week with three health care employees scheduled for maintenance work in the parking lot at the Palo Alto Sub-Acute and Rehabilitation Center on Bryant Street on Thursday.
YourMechanic.com hopes to expand the service to more of the 3,000 other cities where it operates throughout the United States, she added. The company already has more than 40 workers signed up for the service in Houston. She said those interested in the program need to send proof of their employment and then the company will set up profiles for them and deposit a gift card into their account. The company plans to provide the service through June.
CEO and President Anthony Rodio said the whole premise of YourMechanic.com is to make getting your car serviced as convenient as possible. The company site currently gets about 6 million visitors a month.
Company co-founders Art Agrawal and Dongyi Liao decided to launch the mobile mechanic service in 2011 after one of them had to sit in a waiting room for quite a long time while his car was being worked on, Rodio said.
"They thought, 'There has to be a better way to get your car repaired. It would be great if you could get it done while you were home,'" he said.
Rodio said it's a model that is working particularly well during this coronavirus crisis.
"We're finding that people still need what we're doing," he said. "No one is leaving their house these days, but they still need their car operational to get to the doctor or the grocery store."
A lot of the calls are from people who had put off their car's general maintenance, like the replacement of their brake pads, he said.
"Some of our customers are sitting at home and there's nothing really going on, so they've been more vigilant about taking this time to see what needs to get done around the house and to their car," he said.
Health care workers interested in receiving free services can email [email protected]
Find comprehensive coverage on the Midpeninsula's response to the new coronavirus by Palo Alto Online, the Mountain View Voice and the Almanac here.