Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Reality from the Radical Wrencher

It was a rainy day yesterday and like most people I don't always think about my wiper blades until it's raining and they don't clear the windshield like they should. It makes me laugh sometimes that I spend so much time giving this advice and then don't have time to listen to it myself.

Unlike most people however, I carry extra blades in my truck. I'm not really sure where they came from. They are probably from a purchase I made once when I was in an automotive store and it struck me that I probably need them.

It was easy enough to just replace the offending wiper and go on my way. So don't wait, like me, until it's really annoying to see out your windshield...check your wiper blades about every 6 months and replace them once a year or more often if need be.

Now I'm hoping that I remember to throw that bad blade away so I don't reach for it next time! ha


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Thoughts from the Radical Wrencher

So for the last week and a half I've been helping Dan pack up his wood shop to move to a new location. For the most part it's just been the two of us. This week we had to load his storage pod and that meant that we needed some burly men to lift the heavy equipment out of the basement and carry it to the pod.

I've gotten very comfortable working with Dan. He respects what I do for a living and thinks it's great. He tells everyone he introduces me to what I do. The two movers came and apparently Dan told them what I do too. They not only think it's cool, but one even asks me a question right away about a problem he's having with his truck.

I found myself feeling like I was back in the shop again. It was so easy to be with these guys. We talk cars, Harleys and even an occasional bad joke slips out. I think it's funny how after just a few hours there seems to be no distinctions between all of us.

We've had some candid conversations, and while we may not all agree, there is mutual respect. I find this refreshing. It's nice when I can be around men who are not afraid to admit that they know nothing about cars and to hear about how they often feel pressured to act like they do.

After 20 years of working with men, I have to say I know a lot about them. Because I work right along side them there are often no pretenses as to how they should act around me. Don't get me wrong, I'm quick to tell them if I find something they say or do to be offensive, but for the most part we've developed a great camaraderie.

Many times I think I'm lucky to have been able to get away from all the stereotypes and just work and have conversations from one human being to another. I think I'm going to miss working with the guys next week.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Musings from the Radical Wrencher....

Saturday I was teaching a class and we were going over fluid levels and how to check them. After we talked about everything, one of the women said "this is what they charge $40 for?". She was referring to some of the ads that have people come to their shops to check and top off fluids.

I guess I don't really think about it because I have always taken care of my own vehicle, but she made a great point. She realized that after I showed them everything, it was a less daunting task than they had thought. I think that there is merit in offering a service like this to people who don't have time or interest in checking it themselves, but in today's economy, a little knowledge can save you some money.

I always encourage the women to get under their hood and familiarize themselves with where everything is located on their vehicle. I tell them that if it explains how to check it or replace it in the owner's manual, then it's something they can do.

Obviously there are some jobs best left to a trained technician, but the simple every day walk-around maintenance items can often be done by the owner of the vehicle. It's also an opportunity to catch things before they become serious problems by simply knowing what you're looking at.

It was great knowing that I was able to de-mystify some of the automotive jargon for this group of women. By giving them confidence to explore their vehicle on their own and know how easy it can be to maintain it, they can now be educated consumers and that their automobile may not be so mysterious after all!


Wednesday, May 13, 2009

For the last couple days I've been working with someone who does woodwork. We've been breaking down the shop in his home to move it to his new work space. My initial reason for helping was to make some extra money. Once I got there, my whole perspective changed.

First of all you need to understand that I'm a huge fan of power tools. While hand held ones are what I usually use, I'm always fascinated by larger equipment. Well he has it. Routers, saws...things I've never heard of that do really cool things to wood. We hit it off right away.

He laughed the first day when he told me that my eyes where huge looking at all of the equipment. I think for most people that like to work with their hands, no matter what it's easy to be pulled into other interests like plumbing, electrical and wood workeven if you don't do a lot of it.

For me it's all about building something, or understanding how something works and then making it work for you. I have to laugh though, because again I've been sucked into something that few women do...again. Almost as rare as working on cars, women in woodworking is also something more men tend to do.

And why is that? Because we wouldn't want the little women to get hurt using this dangerous equipment! :) He's already asked me to come help him set up the new shop with him....which of course I'm all over. I have a great old desk at home I'm hoping to take to his shop once he's set up and learn all about refinishing it. Of course I'm also itching to get on that band saw!

I cannot stress enough to women, if there is something that you love to do, but have been afraid to try because someone has told you it's too dangerous, or women don't do that....stop and think to yourself...why not? and give it a try. I am most happy when I have a project to work on that doesn't involve sitting at this computer all day! Which I have to tell you I've already had to remove the keyboard to fix..yet another "hands on project"

Get out there and play...the world is a big place and there's lots of fun things to try and learn!


Monday, May 11, 2009

Wrenching in heels?....Not a good idea!

So Friday I had a filming scheduled for Channel 3 in Phoenix – “Your Life A-Z” I do a short segment with them every few weeks sharing basic car care tips and simple things that everyone should know about their cars. Its lots of fun for a few reasons… the fact that I love teaching and empowering people through knowledge is the obvious one. The less obvious is that it’s one of the few times I get to dress up these days, and despite the fact that I’m a mechanic and love getting dirty… I also really do love being ‘girly’ and dressing up nice once and awhile ;)

The day started out nice and smoothly, woke up early picked out a nice shirt and clean nice jeans, did my hair (translate: wash, brush and leave down instead of pulling back), threw on some make up (translate: mascara, lip gloss) and slipped on some cute retro heels. Yeah, yeah, yeah – I know you’re all thinking “that’s *all dressed up*?” I know – but for me… that’s a big deal!

I rolled into the shop to make sure my team was all set for the few hours I’d be gone, picked up my props and headed to the studio. The filming went great – I get less nervous every time… still takes about half an hour for my heart rate to return to normal though!
I got back to the shop which was busier than I have ever seen it, realizing I’m gonna have to hit the tools I grab my uniform shirt and pants and go change… only to find out that I *completely* forgot to bring a pair of shoes! So what’s a girl to do? I throw the heels back on and head into the shop….

Let me tell you – it was quite the look…

I told my staff it was our new uniform. Interestingly Matt responded without hesitation “just wait – I’ll show up like that on Monday,” while Christina on the other hand looked at me stunned…. “But –“she stammered “I don’t even know how to *walk* in heels!”
I worked for three hours that way… fixing coolant leaks, doing brakes and running around managing the shop and chatting with customers (who all got a good laugh out of it) till my lifesaver of a mother showed up out of the blue and offered to go to my house to pick up my work shoes!

While I often joke that I’d make a fortune (and go completely against everything I believe in) if I opened up an female only shop where the women wore bikinis and high heels, after a partial trial run – the idea is officially off the table. I don’t know how women wear heels all day long… I was miserable!

My tip for the day? Heels and car repair definitely do *not* go together.
I tell my students this, but I’m apparently better at giving advice than taking it: Keep a pair of old sneakers in your trunk just in case you ever need to change a tire… or (note to self) run a repair shop!


Friday, May 8, 2009

Sunny Day....

The sun finally poked it’s head out this morning and I wasted no time putting my shoes on and heading out for a walk. My destination….the library. I love where I live because I can walk to many of the places that I need to go. I stopped to talk to a neighbor who was working in his yard and another who was out for a walk with a friend.

Most of my neighbors are in their 70’s so like me, they’re around during the day. Many of them know me as the girl who works on cars, or the one who rides the Harley. People wave even if they don’t know you. This is why I like living in the city as opposed to the burbs. I actually talk to my neighbors here.

The neighbor who was walking with a friend told me that she had recently had surgery and so she was taking it slow and just walking around the block. We chatted for a few minutes and her friend asked me my name. You know I ALWAYS have my business card in my pocket for just such occasions…so I handed her one. She smiled and said “you go girl!”

She loved the fact that I was doing something to empower women. We said goodbye and I headed back on my way to the library. I think I had a smile on my face for the next 2 blocks. It’s never easy starting your own business, but I have to say that so far it has been the most rewarding thing I’ve ever done.

I think it’s because my business is not about me and how much money I can make, it’s about reaching out to as many women as I can to empower them and teach them something that can truly make a difference in their lives. I have never gotten a negative reaction to what I do and often women hug me after a class. When was the last time you were rewarded in this way for doing your job?

It’s days like these that make me forget about the struggles of trying to make it on my own as a female business owner and remind me why it’s worth it. Doing what you love always brings things around full circle and it’s the passion for doing it that makes you successful.


Thursday, May 7, 2009

Enough Rain Already

I’m starting to think that I’m living in Seattle with all the rain we’ve been getting here on the east coast recently. I know I shouldn’t complain, it is spring after all. But I’ve mowed my lawn twice in 4 days, and that was in between storms.

I realized that it’s not only me that’s affected by the weather, but my 21 year old truck as well. For years the pop up sunroof has leaked onto the driver’s seat when we get a hard rain. I keep a plastic bag in the truck so that I can sit on it and not get wet. The most annoying thing is that it drips while I’m driving, right on my head. Of course I always forget about it and I’m surprised to find water running down my face after hitting a bump.

I also have a pulley that squeals when the engine is running after it rains. For some reason I feel I need to set an example of a finely tuned vehicle and it bugs me that, until it dries out, I have this loud screeching noise. I’ve lubricated it, and that works for a while, but like a human….the truck is getting older and the weather affects it.

I also get a brake squeal after it rains. I know, I tell everyone that it’s normal…but it doesn’t mean I have to like it. The latest problem is that even after it’s dry, I still get the noise sometimes. I mostly hear it on the passenger side front, so I keep that window rolled up so it isn’t so loud. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not telling you to ignore noises that you hear coming from your vehicle, find out why it’s doing it.

Pay attention to whether the noise is only at start up, or maybe when it’s cold or wet out. Does the noise go away after you drive for a while? By paying close attention to when the noises occur you’ll be able to help your technician do a better job at diagnosing the problem. In my case, I am my own technician and if I don’t fix it early when I first hear the noise, I know it could become a bigger problem down the road and cause me more of a headache to fix.

So if you find an annoying or problematic issue that’s happening with your vehicle in the wet weather, write it down so that you can talk intelligently to your technician. Fixing the vehicle right the first time is a win/win for everyone, now if I could just remember where I left my umbrella.


Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Aren't you that Car Lady?.......

I was recently at a gathering in my neighborhood where I only knew the people giving the party. As I was introduced around the room, some of the people felt they knew me from somewhere. All of a sudden someone said “Hey, aren’t you that car lady?” I had to laugh and then I told them I was.

I teach a class for the local community and for the last year, they have posted my picture next to the class description. I never really thought anything about it, but I have had people see me in the neighborhood and recognize me. It’s a strange feeling to be recognized by strangers, but also fun to hear them tell me that they want to take my class. Women get excited when they hear what I do and they are eager to learn about their vehicles.

I understand this because I know that many of them have never had the opportunity to learn about their vehicles. If you had told me 20 years ago when I started turning wrenches that I would one day stand in front of a group of women and teach them about cars, I would have said no way.

When I first started working on cars I did it because I loved working with my hands, solving new problems every day and not worrying about getting dirty…..not because there were no women in the shop and I was trying to prove a point that women could do it too.

I did learn however, that women wanted to know more about their cars and they didn’t like the way they were being treated by shops and service personnel. I thought that maybe if I could teach them the basics about their vehicle and give them the terminology, they would feel comfortable talking to their service representatives. This would also help them to become more confident and better-educated consumers.

I found that these classes have been just as rewarding for me. I love the fact that I am able to give back to other women the knowledge I have attained over many years. The look on their faces when they learn how easy it is to change a tire is something I cherish every time I teach. Women are strong, smart and want to learn if given the chance and I enjoy every opportunity I get to work with them. I’m not sure how I feel about being called the ‘car lady’, but it beats being called ma’am!


Tuesday, May 5, 2009

The rambling wrench wench......

Yesterday I spent the morning learning how to use a weed eater and than figuring out how to rewire the ballasts for all the fluorescent lights in the office… Not what I would normally expect to be doing as a mechanic in my own auto shop – but it reminded me of an important lesson… A few customers came in while I balanced at the top of a ladder, various electrical tools in hand, each of them commented with something along the lines of – ‘wow – you’re an electrician too?!’

If there is one thing I learned from my long journey of becoming an auto mechanic and a shop owner it is this – the *only* thing that ever holds me back is my own fear. Once I got myself out of my own way, got over my fear of all things mechanical and unknown – not only did I excel at automotive work but nothing scared me anymore. (Ok – that’s a lie, I still don’t like swimming in the ocean *grin*) I’m not an electrician, not a roofer or a plumber – but I’ve tried my hand at all these things and when something needs to be done, I figure out how to do it. It was the fear that always stopped me in the past. Fear of doing it wrong, or breaking something, or getting hurt, or looking foolish. Sometimes that fear still tries to stop me, but I recognize it for what it is and do my best to push through.

This above all – is why I teach the classes I teach. Because shaking or working through the fear was so liberating and empowering for me. I want more than anything to share that with other women. Even if you never want to change your own tire, or learn to diagnose your car or even check your own fluids… there’s something powerful about knowing you could if you wanted to.

We've got a class coming up on the 16th at the shop... maybe you'll think about signing up? What could be more fun than a bunch of cool chicks hanging out and talking cars? Plus, you may just surprise yourself with what you find you are capable of!


Monday, May 4, 2009


This is a place where Lori and Bogi plan to not only help you understand more about the vehicle you drive, but to share our stories of being female technicians and our continued effort to show the world that women can fix cars too!