For all the ladies out there, visiting the auto shop can be a frustrating experience. We often are not treated as well as men, aren’t given explanations for many things, and frankly, not treated as equals. On top of that, some mechanics or men visiting the shop might make women in the shop uncomfortable. Still, women need their cars serviced all the same. This is what prompted engineer and mechanic Patricia Banks to open a ladies-only auto shop. This is Philadelphia’s Girls Auto Clinic.
Girls Auto Clinic: The Ladies-Only Auto Shop
Patricia Banks noticed a major gap in the auto shop industry: There were no spaces for women. She decided it was time to make a change to this male-dominated field and opened up a ladies-only auto shop in her home city, Philadelphia. The shop, called Girls Auto Clinic, is the first black, female-owned auto shop. (1)
The goal of the clinic is education and empowerment. Banks and her colleagues want to turn women into what they call “sheCANics” – women who know how to take care of their own cars. They also want to increase the presence of women in the industry and make female mechanics as well-respected as male ones.
She then opened the Girls Auto Clinic Repair Center in 2017. It is female-owned and female-operated – no men involved whatsoever. This is a place where women can take their cars and feel comfortable. They are not taken advantage of and everything is explained to them fully.
How It All Began
Women make up the largest and most influential part of the vehicle customer segment, despite this, they are often mistreated in these situations. Part of this reason is that many women were never really taught about cars or how to take care of them. This comes from the sexist viewpoint that cars are a male-only interest.
Patricia was once a self-proclaimed “auto-airhead”. She decided to take control and educate herself – and now she wants to educate and empower other women. (2)
“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.”
At 31, she enrolled in night classes at a technical school. Not only was she the only woman, but she was also older than the average student by about 12 years. She then quit her six-figure salary job as an engineer and began her apprenticeships in various garages around Philly. Finally, she opened the doors to her very own garage, the Girls Auto Clinic, where she employs only women.
“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,” she explains. “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.”
More Than Just An Auto Shop
Patrice also added a beauty salon to her auto shop. Here, while women wait for their cars to be serviced, they can have a manicure, a pedicure, or even a blow-out. This really helps elevate the experience for their customers and gives them something they can’t find anywhere else.
“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,” she recalls. “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.”
She and her colleagues work hard to break down barriers for women in the industry. They also work hard to educate women and girls on cars and how to service them (at least the small stuff). Patrice has even written a book called The Glove Box Guide that teaches women what they need to know about taking care of their cars. Hopefully, Patrice will inspire other women to also get involved, and hey – maybe more female-run auto shops will appear in more cities around America and the world!