No Damsels in Distress at This Unusual Car Repair Shop by and for Women
Editor’s note: This story was originally published in October 2018.
Patrice Banks used to be the type of woman who felt like she needed a man with her when she took her car to a mechanic or bought a new car.
“[It] wasn’t a very empowering position, considering I’m an engineer,” she says. “I’m in a male-dominated field, I’m smart, but yet I was an auto airhead.”
After reaching out to other women, Banks realized she wasn’t alone. All too many found themselves in similar situations. She decided she was going to do something about it — for herself and for other women.
So Banks went back to school to learn how to become an automotive technician. She quit her engineering job at a Fortune 500 company and opened an auto repair shop in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania — just outside of Philadelphia — in January 2017.
The shop — Girls Auto Clinic — is run by women and caters to a female clientele. Banks owns a salon — Clutch Beauty Bar — adjacent to the shop, where customers can get their nails or hair done while waiting for their cars to be serviced.
Banks is dedicated to changing the face of the automotive industry and empowering women with auto education. She hosts free car care workshops at her shop once a month from April through November and is the author of the “Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide,” which teaches women about car maintenance, car buying and finding the right mechanic.
Banks recognizes not every woman will want to get dirty and fix her own car but says women should know the basics of how to take care of their cars. After all, your car is an investment that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. You want it reliably getting you from point A to point B — not inching its way toward the scrap-metal yard.
Forget the Old Oil Change Rules
Banks says the most important thing car owners can do is to make sure to get their oil changed on schedule.
“Do you want to spend $40 for an oil change or $3,000 for a new engine?” she asks.
Following conventional wisdom, many people think they’ll need to spring for an oil change every 3,000 miles or three months. But that may not be the case, Banks points out.
“A lot of cars can go 5,000 [or] 10,000 miles between oil changes,” she says. “It is based on your owner’s manual.”
For those of us who haven’t cracked open the owner’s manual in a while — or ever — Banks says that’s where you’ll find a maintenance schedule that’ll outline when your vehicle needs routine care, like getting tune-ups, your filters replaced, your tires rotated and your oil changed.
An oil change is one of the least expensive auto-related costs you’ll likely encounter, she says.
So How Much Will This Cost?
Prices for auto jobs can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including how your car is made and where you live, Banks says.
However, she says you can generally lump the work done at an auto shop into three categories. The least expensive are tasks like oil changes, getting your tires rotated and replacing your windshield wipers. Banks says these types of maintenance jobs might cost less than $50, but they are tasks that need to be performed most frequently — at least once every year or two.
Light repairs and more involved maintenance work — like fluid flushes or getting new brakes and tires — fall in the middle tier, Banks says. You can expect to spend between $100 and $300 per job, and you’ll probably need these types of jobs completed every two to five years, she says.
Major repairs will be your highest expenses. And the older your car is, the more likely it’ll need some major repair work. A 2018 Ally Financial survey of over 2,000 Americans found that 80% of those who needed a major auto repair in the past five years paid $500 or more for it.
“When a car gets to be what I call in its second life, like 100,000 miles or over — what I call over the hill — that’s when it’s all fair game; anything and everything that could break will break,” Banks says. “I tell women everything on a car will fail. It will fail eventually. You have to expect it.”
If you’ve financed your car, Banks recommends you pay off your car note before your vehicle hits 100,000 miles. Then start saving up for repairs. You should expect to have repair costs on top of the regular maintenance work you’ll still need, she says.
Build Your Savings and Find a Good Mechanic
Planning ahead is the best way to not get caught unprepared when you’re hit with a high auto-related expense. Banks says to expect to pay about $1,000 a year in car repairs if your car has over 100,000 miles on it. She recommends socking away about $100 a month.
Set up a sinking fund to save regularly for future repairs. Deposit savings in that account monthly and only withdraw when you need to pay an auto bill.
Another important aspect of being a smart car owner is to have a mechanic you trust. Open communication between technicians and customers is one thing Banks prioritizes at Girls Auto Clinic.
“Mechanics … diagnose things by hearing, feeling, seeing and smelling,” she says. “So if we can hear, feel, see and smell it, so can you.
“One of the things that I suggest that [customers] do, whether they come to us or any other mechanic, is to say, ‘Show me.’ We take people out into the shop and we show them what we’re seeing,” she says. “We have them listen to what we hear… We have them try to smell what we smell. We have them feel what we feel.”
Communication is key to helping clients not feel like they’re being taken advantage of, Banks says.
She acknowledges that car owners are sometimes hesitant to visit a mechanic because they fear they’ll feel pressured with recommendations for products and services that’ll add to their bills. Chain repair shops and dealerships are notorious for upselling, Banks says.
She says she combats this by being transparent with clients about what work they need right away and what they can wait a few months to have done. If your budget is tight, don’t be afraid to speak up, explain what you can afford now and ask what work can wait for a future visit.
Banks says she used to be a “get-in-the-car, turn-the-ignition-and-go type of girl,” but with knowledge and confidence, she’s no longer clueless about cars.
And when her car needs work done, she doesn’t have to call a man to help.
Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.