Women drivers have a place to turn for help
At age 69, motorist Susan Miller decided it was time to become more self-sufficient around cars - partly to avoid bothering her busy son, partly because of concern that mechanics weren't always telling her the truth. She visited AskPatty.com, a Web site that aims to give frustrated female car owners the support and wisdom they need.
"I was asking for classes on automotive repair, like how to change a tire if need be, change your oil, basic things like that," said Miller, of Monterey, Calif. Two AskPatty advisers directed her to community-college programs nearby.
"I didn't realize that there were these classes available anymore," she said. "I think you ought to be prepared with a little bit of extra knowledge."
For some women, walking into a car dealership or a mechanic's shop can be like walking into a time warp.
Decades after America thought it had confronted its chauvinistic past, some salesmen still treat female customers with a condescension that seems more suited to the 1950s. Many women complain that they feel patronized and manipulated.
Wilmington resident Jenny Trostel has spent much of her career trying to help women who are caught in those situations. Now, she hopes to help many more.
Largely because of her long experience as an auto dealer, the owner and president of Saab of Baltimore has been named to the advisory board of AskPatty.com.
"Buying a car should be a pleasure," said Trostel. "It shouldn't be a chore."
From her Baltimore office, Trostel is fielding e-mail questions from women around the world, offering them advice on the pitfalls of showroom encounters.
"I think that women are still uncomfortable going into dealerships, and the way that they are approached is still a little disheartening," she said, noting that many are still "honeyed and babed" by male workers. "It's very difficult to overcome that once you get 'honeyed.' "
Dealers and mechanics who continue to irk female customers risk losing a lot of business. Statistics compiled by Road & Travel magazine show:
•Women purchase more than 52 percent of all new vehicles.
•Women influence more than 85 percent of all automotive sales in U.S. households.
•Women spend $300 billion annually on used-car sales, maintenance, repairs and service.
This rich market has inspired some automakers to make greater efforts to accommodate women, and Internet entrepreneurs with more idealistic motives have arisen to help meet their needs. AskPatty.com was begun by as a blog by Jody DeVere in May, and the free consumer site WomanMotorist.com has been up since 1996.
Jupiter Research has found that 80 percent of female car shoppers get all of their automotive information online. WomanMotorist.com says its site reaches 1.5 million people a year, or about 200,000 a month. AskPatty.com logged 685,000 hits this past month, DeVere said, and counted more than 25,000 unique visitors.
Women are generally more inclined to "shop around" and gather information before making a decision, putting them at odds with a salesman who wants a quick deal, DeVere said.
"We shop; men decide," said Trostel, who graduated from Claymont High and Goldey-Beacom College.
The women who visit AskPatty.com also feel uncertain about the complexities of financing, DeVere said, but the overwhelming majority of questions pertain to service and repair issues.
Statistics from CNW Marketing Research say that 30 percent of women would rather deal with a female in the showroom, compared with 10 percent of men who prefer to buy cars from other men.
"Not to sound rude toward men, but you have to speak to the person who's buying the car," said Trostel, who followed her father into the business, first in Wilmington, then Baltimore. "You have to change your focus when you're dealing with a woman... We buy differently."
Some industry players have been working to address women's needs. General Motors programs actively support increasing the number of female dealers, and other have instituted dealership sensitivity programs and women's marketing initiatives, and are getting more involved in women's issues, according to Road & Travel magazine.
Automakers can even improve their image with women by being sensitive to their priorities, DeVere said - sometimes through such seemingly insignificant features as a visor mirror on the driver's side or room to maneuver high heels around the pedals. Toyota has positioned itself well in the women's market simply by being reliable and safe, she said.
"One of the things that women fear is to break down on the highway," DeVere said. "There's nothing worse for women than to have to visit the service center."
ON THE WEB
Experts field e-mail questions from women on all aspects of car buying
and ownership, and help guide them toward "female-friendly" dealers.
Features The Driving Woman blog, a place to discuss the best cars,
dealing with dealers, family safety and more with the women editors at
www.WomanMotorist.com. Online consumer guide for women car buyers.Contact Eric Ruth at firstname.lastname@example.org or 324-2428.
A 2004 survey by Good Housekeeping and J.D. Power and Associates
asked "What Women Want" in a new car, and here's what they found:
• Safety is still the primary determinant of women's satisfaction across almost all vehicle categories.
• Vehicle performance was slightly more important to women than to men (92.6 percent of women vs. 91.3 percent of men).
Women feel strongly about how their cars affect the environment.
According to the survey, 82 percent of women think environmentally
friendly vehicles are "extremely important" or "somewhat important"
compared with 72.3 percent of men.