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As Dee shone her flashlight and pointed out the exhaust pipe, the coils tucked in front of the back wheels, and a dark shiny glob of oil from a minor leak, I realized I had never seen the dark underbelly of a car before.
This summer I moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina—the type of town where you need a car to get around. The idea of buying a car terrified me. I grew up in Brooklyn, NY—where the places I needed or wanted to go were the easiest to get to by subway. The only things I knew about car maintenance were how to pump gas, put air in the tires, and put on the spare tire (a skill learned quickly in a strange town during what felt like dire straits).
I used to drive my mom’s car up around my college in Connecticut—every trip to get something fixed, even something as simple as a burnt out brake light, turned into some man telling me that I had to replace some part I had never heard about. This time around, I was worried that as a young woman I would be an easy target for car dealers and that I wouldn’t get a fair deal.
Around June, a friend of mine sent me an article about Patrice Banks, a badass female mechanic in Philadelphia, who quit her job at a Fortune 500 job and became an auto mechanic so that she could combat sexism in the field while teaching other young women how to take care of their cars. Why doesn’t she live in the Triangle? I thought to myself. Meanwhile I spent my evenings trolling Autotrader.com and Craigslist for nearby used vehicles in my price range with decent mileage. I consulted the Kelley Blue Book regularly. I learned a lot about what could be wrong with a used car, but I knew that if and when I went to go look at the used car, I wouldn’t know how to identify the problems in person.
When I finally found a car I might buy in Raleigh, I realized if I actually thought the 2004 VW Golf was worth buying, I should take it to get a pre-purchase inspection at a mechanic. I thought about Patrice Banks and, just to check, searched “Raleigh female auto mechanic.” I found a shop called WINR Services Auto Repair, owned and run by a mechanic who also happens to be a woman: Dee Humphries.
Here’s why I love going to a female auto mechanic: not only did I feel great about supporting a woman in a male-dominated business, but also it was by far the best, most comprehensive and transparent auto service I’ve received to date.
Dee drives an awesome truck and has a cool tattoo of two interlocking Venus symbols on her forearm. Like every car mechanic I’ve ever been to, her work clothes are streaked grease and the wall of her small office in the front of the shop is covered with her diplomas and certificates.
Unlike every other mechanic I’ve been to, her shop is the first one where I’ve felt comfortable. After a test drive, Dee put the car up on the lift and showed me and my boyfriend the bottom of the car. She pointed out an oil leak (minor, not a “deal breaker” as she put it), the various and expected patches of rust, and different parts of the car you usually want to check before purchasing. She advised me to ask for a discount since the car’s timing belt and water pump had yet to be replaced. She took the car down, checked the oil and showed me how it ran “dirty” and compared it to some oil she had the shop, even though the car had just had an oil change, which is a sign that the previous owners didn’t change the oil frequently enough.
She checked everything under the hood and then when she checked the engine, she pointed out a funny ticking noise. Combined with the dirty oil, she told me, it probably meant that there was some oil grit build-up. She advised me not to buy the car if I wanted the engine to last longer than a year.
In that one 30-minute session, I learned approximately one thousand percent more about automobiles and how they work. Dee is businesslike and direct about cars, but she was the first mechanic who had taken the time to explain the problems to me. I felt comfortable asking her questions about car maintenance without being scoffed at for my ignorance.
Meanwhile, the male car dealers I had been dealing with continued to stress me out. These men would talk over me as soon as I began to ask a question about the CarFax report or assure me that what I had heard about the schedule for timing belt replacements was bunk; I couldn’t get a word in edgewise with them. Dee’s respectful, frank, and considerate advice was a fresh and welcome relief from their aggressive blather.
The next Friday when I called Dee after work from a used car dealership with yet another 2004 VW Golf, this time with lower miles and a nicer paint job, she told me that she wouldn’t be open that weekend but that I should bring the car in right then on a Friday at 5:15 PM—her colleague John would be there in the shop and he would do the inspection for me.
I was floored—no shop I knew in Brooklyn or Connecticut would have stayed open on a Friday afternoon to accommodate my 9 to 5 work schedule. John was just as lovely and thorough. He reassured me that what I called the “weird rattling noise the car makes when it’s in reverse” was something called the “heat shield” and showed me the missing washer from the front passenger side screw that caused the loose rattling noise in the first place—an easy fix. He remembered the other Golf I had brought in last week to get checked and told me that this one’s engine sounded way better.
Supporting a female mechanic helped me put my money where my big feminist mouth is. Paying WINR Services Auto Repair was the first time I felt really great about giving an auto mechanic money. Not only was I supporting a Black female mechanic in a severely male-dominated field, but also I was downright happy to pay Dee after the stellar pre-purchase inspection check she did and how much she taught me in a small amount of time.
I urge everyone and their mother in the Triangle visit WINR Services Auto Repair for their next repair. But, if you don’t live in this neck of the woods, some other women-owned shops are Girls Auto Clinic in Philly, Great Bear Auto Shop in New York City, A to Z Auto Service in Chicago, Girlington Garage in Vermont, Shattuck Auto in Berkeley, Auto Logic in Carrboro, NC, and My Favorite Mechanic in Atlanta.