TrueCar founder launches Fair, a payment-based used-car leasing app

Serial entrepreneur Scott Painter has devised yet another new way for you to get into a new car. Well, a car that is new to you, anyway.

The founder of Cars Direct and TrueCar has launched a new venture called Fair. An app-based operation, Fair aims to connect people who want to lease a pre-owned vehicle with a pre-owned vehicle that wants to be leased.

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According to the company: “Fair aims to grant access to mobility to everyone by pioneering the car-as-a-service (CaaS) concept. It gives customers the freedom to drive the car they want for as long as they want, and the flexibility to walk away at any time.”

Ultimately, the lack of a set term for the contract is the primary benefit of using Fair.

What Fair does

Conceived to fill the white space between long-term car renting, car sharing and car ownership, Fair provides no commitment, all-in leases, allowing its customers to drive the vehicle for as short or as long as they’d like. Dealerships sign up to offer inventory via the Fair app, and customers use the app to browse available inventory.

Fair says that Painter started the company “to bring fairness to the process of getting a car.” That may have been the original goal of the company, but because the deals lack full transparency with regard to the value of the vehicle and the included services, it is difficult to determine what is fair.

Fair is not about fairness. Fair is about simplicity and flexibility.

Customers are qualified for a payment based on their banking activity, and payments assume 10,000 miles of driving per year, less than the average of 13,476 miles that Americans drive annually, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Once Fair knows what you can afford, it provides inventory that is available at or below that payment. When you find a vehicle that you like, you read the terms of the contract and sign for the vehicle right from your phone. That’s the simplicity part of the equation.

Fair delivers flexibility in that you’re not required to hang on to the car longer than you want to. Drive it for as little or as long a period of time as you’d like. All Fair asks is that you give the company five days notice that you plan to turn the vehicle back in, at which point Fair will assist you with a replacement for the vehicle.

Assuming you’re happy with the experience, of course.

How Fair works

TrueCar founder launches Fair, a payment-based used-car leasing app

Once you’ve qualified for a deal, found a vehicle, and reviewed the contract, you sign on the virtual dotted line through Fair’s smartphone app.

(Fair)

If you have a driver’s license and an active bank account, you can use Fair to qualify for a negotiation-free monthly payment, shop for pre-owned vehicles within that payment range, set your annual mileage limit, understand the terms of the agreement, and then sign for the vehicle right from your phone.

When you take delivery from the dealership, you make a “start payment” that includes tax, title, fees, and registration, and you drive away. Based on my use of the Fair app, the “start payment” amounts to about three times your quoted monthly payment. Furthermore, the “start payment” virtually ensures that you won’t be back to swap the car out any time soon – though you could just drive it for a month if you wanted to.

Payments include a limited warranty and roadside assistance, just like a lease on a new vehicle. Additionally, the payment includes routine maintenance, which is offered on new vehicles only by a few automakers. Fair also plans to offer month-to-month insurance so that all of your car-related expenses are included in a single payment.

Fair owns the vehicle, but your name goes on the title and registration. Just like with a lease, you are responsible for properly maintaining the car and repairing anything that breaks outside of the warranty.

All vehicles offered through Fair are less than six years old and have fewer than 70,000 miles on them. A Fair Price Guarantee states that you won’t find a lower payment for the same vehicle through a traditional 72-month loan or 36-month lease, and you have three days to return the car for a full refund if you decide it’s not the right ride for you. Just don’t put more than 100 miles on it while deciding.

Fair launched its app on Sept. 5, 2017. Initially, the app is available only for iOS devices and only for California residents.

To get started, download the free Fair app to your iPhone from the App Store, take and upload a photo of your driver’s license, and link your primary bank account in order to get a pre-approved payment. Once that is determined, you can shop for a vehicle and then sign the agreement using the tip of your finger on your smartphone. You’ll take delivery at the dealership that has the car in stock.

If you’re not ready to make a deal, you can still use the app to search inventory and find a vehicle you might want to drive.

Reviewing the Fair app

TrueCar founder launches Fair, a payment-based used-car leasing app

Using the Fair app, you can find cars from cheap to ridiculously expensive.

(Fair)

Curious about Fair, I downloaded the app in order to surf the company’s inventory, which as of Sept. 11, 2017 was restricted to 74 dealerships located in California. The total number of vehicles available through the app was 866.

Filters allow a user to search by payment, by brand, by vehicle type, by dealership, and eventually by geographic region. Searching by brand, I discovered a variety of vehicles ranging from a 2015 Nissan Versa with 47,519 miles ($130 per month) to a 2014 Rolls Royce Wraith with 16,788 miles ($3,110 per month).

The app’s design is simple and clean, using orange as a highlight to draw the eye to important information. Stock photography contributes to the uncluttered appearance, and the app responds quickly to inputs. Not surprisingly, it looks and feels much like the TrueCar experience.

Setting my maximum payment at $600 per month, I selected BMW to see what ultimate driving machines can be had for that amount of money. The app told me that 65 vehicles awaited my consideration, the least expensive a 2013 3 Series with 37,063 miles for $340 per month.

Right below that one, another 2013 3 Series was available, and for just 10 bucks more each month. But the more expensive car also had 51,986 miles. Naturally, I deduced that it must provide a higher level of specification.

By swiping right on each vehicle, photos taken by the dealership provided additional detail, but in this case they weren’t helpful. The cheaper car was black, while the more expensive car was white.

By tapping each car, important considerations came to light. The black car was a 320i with an automatic transmission and leatherette seats. The white car was a 328i with an automatic transmission and real leather upholstery.

Additionally, I could use a mileage adjustment bar to change to 15,000 miles of annual driving, which immediately recalculated the monthly payment. I could even view the payment with and without all applicable taxes.

Full terms of the contract were also available for review, spelling out in detail all obligations, especially as it pertains to maintenance, repair, and wear-and-tear while the vehicle is under your care.

Still, I had no idea what vehicle price the payment was based upon. Apparently, you just need to trust that Fair has got your back.

Testing the Fair Price Guarantee

TrueCar founder launches Fair, a payment-based used-car leasing app

Putting the Fair Price Guarantee to a semblance of a test, we found that a new Civic is cheaper to lease through Honda than a used Civic is to lease through Fair.

(Honda)

Painter is smart to offer relatively new, low-mileage used cars through Fair.

First, a used car is only worth as much as someone will pay for it. That means there is plenty of wiggle room in terms of what constitutes a fair price, or in this case, a fair payment.

Second, after making enemies of dealerships during his tenure at TrueCar, the nebulous nature of used vehicle pricing, and the healthy profitability that is built into it, virtually guarantees that dealerships will be eager to list vehicles on Fair.

To see just how fair Fair’s payment prices are, I performed as close to an apples-to-apples comparison as I could.

On the Fair app, I found a dark blue 2016 Honda Civic LX sedan with a continuously variable transmission and 18,571 miles on it. This certified pre-owned (CPO) vehicle, based on 15,000 miles of driving each year, would cost $242 per month plus tax, and the start payment would be $600.

Next, I went to Honda’s website and built a dark blue 2017 Honda Civic LX sedan with a CVT. Using the site’s payment calculator, a 36-month lease allowing 15,000 miles per year would cost $221 per month plus tax with $600 due at signing. That’s $21 less than the Fair car.

To be, umm, fair, though, the Fair car includes basic maintenance, which includes oil changes, tire rotations, fluid top-offs, and inspection checks. You don’t get that on a new Honda Civic (though you do on a new Toyota Corolla). The Fair car also comes with an extended warranty after the factory warranty expires, and 24/7 roadside assistance after Honda’s program runs out.

Is Fair actually fair?

I cannot tell you if Fair is actually fair, because as far as I can tell you never find out what the car’s original value is at the start of the contract. Instead, you know what your payment is, and Fair promises that you won’t find a better deal on the exact same car (as if someone using an app to lease a car is going to make the effort to put the guarantee to the test.)

Fair is about simplicity. People are payment shoppers, and because it bases transactions on payment, it saves busy people time, energy, and effort. You can almost hear someone saying: “Hey, I can get a BMW 3 Series for less than $400 a month? Sign me up!”

Fair is also about flexibility. Unlike with a traditional lease, you can get out of a Fair car with just five days of advance notice. Lost your gig? Get rid of the car without penalty. Got a killer promotion and raise? Dump that Civic for a Lexus RX. Realized that a 320i isn’t nearly as much fun to drive as 340i? Swap it out for the more powerful Bimmer.

Simplicity and flexibility are worth something. As long as you realize that this is what you’re getting by using Fair, and you don’t mind driving a used car instead of a new car, then download the app and join the car-as-a-service movement.

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