Quick: How many female mechanics do you know?
We’re all well aware of how male-dominated the car industry is at every single touch point.
Still, the numbers that follow indicate just how important we are to this industry, despite how glaringly absent we are in the decision making and even marketing. In fact, women pour upwards of $200 billion on vehicles and maintenance for those vehicles. In the US alone, roughly about 500,000 women are in the market to purchase a vehicle at any given time within a 1 to 3 month window, ultimately impacting 85% of vehicle purchases. Additionally, women outnumber men drivers.
Even with these facts, the auto repair industry actively discourages our participation and makes the process of getting car repairs a daunting one.
Who doesn’t dread that “check engine” light?
What’s worse, the auto repair sector of the automotive industry still treats women as non-entities, even though women take their cars in for repairs more than men do. So much so, that 44% of women dislike having to deal with the auto repair shop and only 12% walk away feeling positive about their experiences while there.
As a self-professed, former auto-airhead, Patrice Banks knew the feeling all too well.
Armed with the frustration of being taken advantage of and tired of being a victim of sexist discrimination with auto repairs, Banks made up her mind to take matters into her own hands, literally.
She decided to become a mechanic, but not just for her own satisfaction. Banks saw the glaring neglect of women in the automotive industry and made it her personal mission to empower and educate other women car owners with her knowledge.
It was during this time she formulated the idea for Girls Auto Clinic (GAC). She fondly recalls the idea coming to her and the internal knowing she felt, saying, “Something was like, this is it, Patrice. This is it!”
Banks didn’t waste any time moving on her idea. In fact, that same summer, in 2012, she decided to enroll herself in classes to become a certified mechanic. Still juggling her full-time job as an engineer, for a year and a half, Banks became more educated about her passion, attending classes in the evenings.
She makes sure to note that she entered that classroom knowing next to nothing about automotive repairs. She remembers, “I literally walked in there barely just knowing how to open the hood of my car.”
Even with the certification under her belt, Banks also knew she needed some hands-on experience to become the best mechanic she could be.
She also knew she needed to find other female mechanics and identify one who could possibly mentor her.
Problem was, despite her exhaustive search, she was hard pressed to find women mechanics. In fact, she made me aware that less than 2% of mechanics and auto technicians are women.
No wonder it was nearly impossible to find a female mentor in the industry.
Pressing forward, she decided that the gender of her mechanic mentor didn’t matter— she just needed more immediate experience. She found a mentor at a local repair shop and offered her time in exchange for the opportunity to learn. She said, “I need to learn. And I’m here to help you in any way I can. These are my skills, this is what I can help you with, but I will work here for free.” And that’s just what she did – even while still juggling her day job, Banks decided to start apprenticing at a local auto shop with a mechanic who supported her burning desire to empower and educate women with Girls Auto Clinic.
Still desiring even more experience, Banks decided to approach another auto repair shop and offered the same things: her time and her skills – for free. She started off doing admin work, filing papers, and suddenly, after seeing her drive and her desire to learn, the manager of the auto shop asked to hire her.
Understanding how important it was to fully immerse herself in the automotive industry if she was going to ever get her dream off the ground, Banks knew she needed to work every day, full time in this industry.
Two days later, after coming to that realization, she decided to take a chance and quit her lucrative job as an engineer. She says, “It felt good. It felt really good and exciting.” Even more so, because she started getting less excited about her job as an engineer and more excited about this newfound passion and vision for Girls Auto Clinic. It was then when she knew “it was time to go.”
Still, she often encountered people who didn’t want a new mechanic —and a woman, at that—working on their cars. So, Banks decided to take another big leap: she sold her late model car and bought a “hoopty” on Craigslist as a fixer-upper to put her skills to the test.
She says the decision was an easy one for her, saying, “it just made sense.”
Banks was determined not to just let her vision for Girls Auto Clinic lie dormant. She started conducting free, monthly auto workshops for local women in the area. When asked why she offers them for free, she told me the education component of GAC is one of her highest priorities and is something she is fiercely passionate about.
During those workshops, Banks creates a small, welcoming experience for attendees, with the expressed intention of helping women feel comfortable working on their own cars – becoming what she likes to call, SheCanics.
That’s right, ladies – you learn how to do some of the more basic maintenance yourself. All workshops are interactive and each woman learns on her own car.
The workshops have been so successful, that they’ve earned GAC local media attention and sponsorships from empowering organizations like the Girl Scouts.
Banks uses visual presentations to demonstrate how car parts should look and explains how important it is for everyone to know their VIN number, proper amount of tire pressure and oil grade. She also provides valuable insight on how to handle the dreaded “upsell” at auto repair shops.
And while all vehicle maintenance shouldn’t be DIY, Banks’ main goal is to empower women to feel confident about caring for their cars as they do their own bodies and understanding their cars just as much (or more) as her male counterparts.
But, if you’re not in the area where she conducts her free monthly workshops, Banks has written a book called the Girls Auto Clinic Glovebox Guide. The book provides valuable information, full of pictures and instructions, helping you answer the questions: How can I tell if I need brakes? How often am I supposed to change my air filter? What does that light on my dashboard mean? What should I do if my car overheats?
Ever the innovative, enterprising entrepreneur, Banks has a larger goal of opening her own brick and mortar shop and plans to make history by opening up a full service auto repair shop catering women in service and in style, a first of its kind. She’s recently launched a crowdfunding campaign, that’s steadily gaining traction, to educate and inspire others to invest in the dream. For special cars, there’s still a need to go to their service centers such as BMW Raleigh, NC as these kinds of cars need specialized maintenance.