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Empowering Women and Queer People Through Car Education - Mechanic Shop Femme

Published Feb 11th 2019, 8:00am by Kaeli Gardner in Featured Articles

by Chaya Milchtein

People ask me all the time, “What’s your deal with cars? How did you come to love them? Why do you think car education is so important?”

When I started Mechanic Shop Femme, I had to think deeply about what I was trying to accomplish, and also who I wanted to serve. Cars have become my lifeblood - but it always hasn't been that way.

When I was 18, I knew nothing about cars. I was interviewing at a Sears department store and was asked which department I wanted to work in. I got a service advisor position in their automotive department - and I didn't even have a driver’s license! My priority was to make enough money and survive as I was aging out of the foster care system. But, something about cars peaked my interest, and I sped along getting my permit and driver's license in the span of two weeks.

I decided it was time to also buy a car since now I had one part time and one full time job, and had to get around. Jumping on Google, I started trying to learn as much as I could about the process. You won’t be surprised to hear that there’s a ton of information available online about buying a car. The only problem is that it all seems to contradict itself! How did I figure out what was useful and what was garbage? Luckily enough, I had a remarkable, queer, female friend that guided me through the process, and answered my hundreds of questions. Plus a credit union that was patient and understanding!

I got lucky.

You hear that? I was lucky. Most people don’t have that great start.

But then, my car didn't start that night. And again the next day. And again two days later. Turns out the fuel pump went bad. Even the mechanic couldn't have predicted that. If you know me, you’ll know that I'm tenacious and don't take no for an answer. You bet that the dealership changed that fuel pump even though the car was not under any kind of warranty!

Things happen even with the best laid groundwork. Imagine the crap I would’ve gotten if I hadn't gone through the first steps to get the best possible car that I could?

That was the very beginning. What a roller coaster it's been since then!

Today I went to work wearing a pair of leopard print pants, black stacked heel booties, and a black, crisscross-neck sweater. I can be bold, larger than life, and feminine in a male-dominated industry. Is it pushing the line of “normal” automotive clothes? Does it stand out from the traditional service attire? Um, yeah. But do I get the job done? Absolutely. I've earned the right to wear what I want in this field.

A bit over a year ago, a coach mentioned to me that I should consider starting a blog. This idea hit me like a ton of bricks - I didn't have anything to talk about! I was a horrible writer, who would even want to hear from me?

But I committed. I wanted to write about cars, fashion, and life. With absolutely no writing experience and no understanding of how these things fit together other than they were important to my life, I began writing.

Y'all, people actually started reading and sharing what I wrote. It was a dream I never knew I had - coming true!

Fast forward about 4 months later, and I taught my first automotive class online. Deciding on "How the Heck Do I Buy a Used Car," I wanted to help people get the best car from the beginning. The car someone buys lays a foundation for years of car experiences, and so many queer folks don't have anyone to turn to for car buying help. I knew that with a three day course, I could save people loads of money and aggravation. I casually mentioned my idea in a few Facebook posts, and people jumped for it!

Today it's my job to educate people before they go and buy a car. I want to support them throughout the whole process, from setting a budget and finding the right type of vehicle for them, to the negotiating and haggling techniques that work. Making this education accessible is one of my priorities.

In my online workshops, small groups ensure that people get individual attention, and the cost is sliding scale. Want something even more intimate and focused on you and your needs? One-on-one consulting would be your best bet. I'll hold your hand, and we’ll work together as a team to get your car meeting your needs.

Already own a car but want to empower yourself? At the end of the day, the best way to not get taken for a ride at the shop is to learn the fundamentals: what maintenance is actually needed, why it's done, and what you can leave for another day. You can find my blog here or take one of my various other car classes here.

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