Girls Auto Clinic Owner: ‘I Couldn’t Find A Female Mechanic, So I Had To Learn’

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Patrice Banks is now a mechanic, and the owner of a successful auto clinic, but there was a time when she avoided taking her own car in for routine maintenance.

"I was afraid I was going to be taken advantage of," she says. "I was tired of feeling helpless and having to go talk to a guy."

Banks, who was working as an engineer at DuPont at the time, thought she'd feel more comfortable with a female technician. There was only one problem: "I couldn't find a female mechanic," she says, "so I had to learn it [myself]."

She enrolled in night classes at a technical school. "I was the only girl with a bunch of boys, 19-year-old boys," she says. "That was interesting. I was 31."

Eventually, Banks left her six-figure salary as an engineer. She worked in a couple Philadelphia garages for free while she completed her training, and in 2016 she opened the Girls Auto Clinic repair center in Upper Darby, Pa., which is staffed by female mechanics. To make the shop more appealing and convenient for women, she also opened an adjoining manicure-pedicure and blowout salon.

Banks recounts her experiences and provides tips for car maintenance in her book Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide.

Interview Highlights

On her decision to pair the auto shop with a nail salon

Me and my girlfriend that I worked with at DuPont would go to this specific Jiffy Lube on our lunch break because there was a nail salon next to it. We'd drop our cars off and we'd walk next door and get our nails done while we waited.

We just thought we were the smartest people, because it's lunch [and] we're killing three birds: We're out to lunch, we're getting our oil changed and we're getting our nails done and we're back at work all in about 45 minutes to an hour. It was fabulous and we would do that every couple of months when we needed our oils changed.

I started thinking about opening this shop. ... Women, it's like a chore, we hate going in to get our oil changed — it's always a chore, it's always a burden. But we look forward to doing things like getting our nails done. And so I thought it would just be cute and just [be] the cherry on the top when I tell people, "I have a shop that caters to women. Full service auto repair, all female mechanics!" They're like, "Woah!" I'm like, "And there's a nail salon there."

On making customers feel comfortable at the shop

People are coming in, especially women, with that guard up. In order to get them to trust you, you have to let that guard down. So No. 1 is just listening to them and respecting their opinion. Looking at them when they're talking to you. ... Stand in front of them and talk to them, and I make sure they don't leave without feeling comfortable about spending their money.

I want them to say, "Yes, my car needs this. I believe my car needs this and this is how much it's going to cost." So we take them out to the shop and we show them.

Mechanics do a lot of diagnosing from hearing, seeing, feeling and smelling. So if we can hear, see, feel and smell it, so can you. So I'm going to show you what I'm looking for, what I'm feeling for, so you can feel comfortable and you know this is what's going on with [your] car. ... It's just about transparency and communication.

On whether your car needs regular or premium gas

The difference in the grades of gas is the temperature that the engine burns the gas. So if you have an engine designed to burn 87, which is the regular grade, if you put premium gas in it, you're not doing it any good because the engine is not designed to burn the gas at that temperature. Now, if you have an engine, like a BMW, that's more sophisticated and engineered, high performance, it's going to need the high performance gas because its engine was designed to burn it and compress it at a different temperature. ...

How you know what type of gas you should have is by looking in your owner's manual. A lot of times it will be on the gas door. But one of the things I tell women is luxury cars, if you have a luxury car, it's going to be more expensive for the gas, for the fluids, for the repair — everything is going to be more expensive on it. Keep that in mind. The most important decision you can make for your car is the type of car you buy.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Nicole Cohen adapted it for the Web.

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