Women And Mechanics

By Ginny Frizzi

February 2, 2012 5 min read

Knowledge is power.

This is true when it comes to many things, including women and mechanics. Though many women have become knowledgeable about many traditionally male-oriented fields, the field of automobile repairs isn't usually one of them.

So how can a woman prepare to deal with a mechanic?

The first step, according to John Wetmore, producer of "Perils for Pedestrians," is to read the owners manual.

"Read your owners manual. For routine maintenance, the owners manual spells out what is recommended at what time and mileage intervals. So if the manual says change the oil every eight months or 6,000 miles, you don't have to do it after four months and 3,000 miles," Wetmore says.

Wetmore adds that another benefit of reading the owners manual is that you can learn how to check the fluids by yourself.

"If a coolant drops below critical levels, you can do major damage to your car before your next scheduled visit for maintenance," he says. "If it seems too complicated, get someone to show you how. Every car owner should know how to check fluid levels, air pressure in tires, (see) if their lights work and other simple basic functions."

Kiai Kim, who writes for TheRugged.com, an online men's magazine, and Motorcyclebaby.com, agrees. "Every person who owns a car should understand how it works to some degree. This is the best way to make sure a mechanic doesn't take advantage of lack of knowledge," says Kim.

She also recommends a basic tutorial in how a car operates. "There are steps to troubleshooting the ... (most) basic problems a car can have: 1) Do you hear a click when you turn the key? 2) Do the lights work? 3) Does the engine start to turn? 4) Is there enough gasoline in the tank? And so on," says Kim.

"At the least, get some basic understanding of how cars work. Learn how to check spark plugs, for example. Then, when you present the problem, using certain key terms and explaining what you've already checked will alert the shop mechanic that you won't take any (nonsense)."

The Internet is also a valuable source of information for women looking to learn more about their cars.

When it comes to finding a mechanic, the worst thing a woman -- or anyone -- can do is to pick a mechanic out of the phone book or off the Internet, according to LeeAnn Shattuck, co-owner and "chief car chick" of Women's Automotive Solutions, a consulting firm that helps women buy cars.

"It is the worst way to get quotes. They probably can't guarantee a price over the phone because until they take the car apart, they really don't know what's wrong with it," she says.

Women should not be afraid to get a second opinion when it comes to any car repairs, especially major -- and expensive -- ones.

"Unfortunately, some places will overcharge just because you are a woman, or just because. My car broke down far away from home, and the owner of the shop wanted to charge me $600 to change the distributor. I found one for $250 a few miles down the road and changed it myself. Granted, most car owners -- let alone women -- won't know how to do this; so sometimes you'll still be stuck," says Kim.

She suggests having contacts in your glove compartment of mechanics you trust or people who know cars well enough to make a price comparison.

"Tell the mechanic after he gives a quote, 'Hang on. I'll be right with you.' and make your call," says Kim, who also fixes motorcycles.

Shattuck, who hosts "America's Garage Radio Show," educates a lot of women on car care maintenance, including clinics.

Wetmore also advises keeping a record of what has been done. The information can be recorded in a small notebook and kept in the glove compartment, which makes for easy updating and checking.

"If you know the timing belt is supposed to be changed at 60,000 miles and it's only been 40,000 miles since you last changed it, ask your mechanic why he is recommending changing it now," he says.

If a woman is still timid about dealing with a mechanic, she should bring a knowledgeable friend or family member with her. While that will most likely be a male, a woman should view it as an opportunity to learn more about her car.

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