Carvoyant Tells You What The #@!!% Check Engine Light Means (And Where To Get It Fixed)

Carvoyant is a new service that aims to maintain your car’s “health records” in the cloud, while also keeping track of when you need repairs, where you should go, and what that blasted “check engine” light means, already! To build the database containing your car’s health and service history, the company uses data gathered from a transmitter you plug into the car itself, as well as from the records and receipts which you send in for digitization.

While the idea of a gadget you plug into the car to keep track of its current status may lead to comparisons with similar companies like CarMD, for example, Carvoyant’s focus is not on building a better transmitter and app, it’s about building a service that connects consumers and repair shops together at the very moment when car maintenance or repairs need to take place.

Basically, it’s the cloud for your car.

For companies like CarMD, or AutoMD, or even apps like RepairPal, Carvoyant wouldn’t necessarily serve as competition, but rather as a partner whose data could be integrated through the use of APIs.

When you first sign up for the service (still in private beta – see invites below), the company ships you the transmitter and a few postage paid envelopes, which you stuff with all those receipts and tickets from your past service visits to auto repair shops, your dealership, the place where you last had your oil changed, etc. Basically, you just clear out your glove comparent. You can also choose to scan and email in those documents, if you prefer.

You then connect the transmitter to your car. The device plugs into the car’s onboard diagnostic port (OBD), and immediately begins capturing your car’s data stream. For the driver, the big selling point here is that the device will tell you when something goes wrong – like when that stupid “check engine” light comes on, for example.

However, clarifies Carvoyant CEO Bret Tobey, “it’s not about replacing your mechanic, it’s about keeping you informed,” he says. “It gives you a little bit of extra assurance.”

But the service won’t only be reactive in nature, it will also be proactive. For example, it can track your battery voltage, and will warn you when your battery is starting to go. Your car may still be starting fine when the warning appears, but Carvoyant will know that the battery needs to be replaced soon. Over time, the service will be able to do more of these types of proactive alerts based on the data it collects.

The third piece to Carvoyant is recommendations. This part of the service is still under development during Carvoyant’s private beta, but eventually the goal is to allow users to reach out however they see fit: email, SMS or via Facebook, for example.

For drivers, the service itself is free to use, and is accessible both online and as a mobile application. Right now, the mobile app is Android-only due to hardware issues related to the way the transmitters leverage Bluetooth to connect with the app on mobile handsets. However, Carvoyant has some prototype devices being built now for iPhone users.

The service is sort of a “set it and forget it” utility – once configured, there’s nothing much to see or do within the app or online dashboard. You’re only alerted when there’s something that needs to be addressed.

At launch, users will have to purchase the actual hardware in question from Carvoyant itself ($29.99), but the service is being built in a way so that won’t be a requirement in the future. The idea is that it will support a variety of transmitters, as Carvoyant’s real goal is not to function as a hardware reseller, but rather as the cloud-based service provider where your car’s data is stored.

Further down the road, the business model will involve allowing service providers to narrowly target users in need of maintenance and repairs with ads, offers and deals. For example, Carvoyant could partner with a company like Jiffy Lube, which could even give away the hardware devices for free, if they chose, in exchange for preferred placement in the communications sent to drivers.

For merchants, the system would mean better targeting than they get with those junk mail fliers that clutter mailboxes today, while for end users, they would get offers and coupons right when they really need them –  and without having to hand over their personal information directly to the auto repair shops themselves. (The data would be anonymized beforehand with Carvoyant serving as the middleman).

The Tampa-based company was originally called AutoIQ when it took in seed funding from local accelerator Gazelle Lab, a member of the Global Accelerator Network (previously known as the TechStars Network, prior to rebranding). The startup has also raised a modest sum of seed funding from angel investors and is in active talks with VC’s now.

Although still in private beta testing, TechCrunch readers can get a first look by signing up here. The link will provide Android users with early access to register for the service, as well as a free transmitter for the first 500 sign-ups.