It's making a noise like 'vroom grrrr reekkkkkk'.
March 10, 2010 6:09 PM   Subscribe

Help me convince my parents I'm making a good choice and that girls can be mechanics! -or- Tell me what I haven't thought about and why this might not be a good idea. Details after the jump.

Brevity is not my strong suit, but I'm going to make the attempt.

I was a starving student and lost my job. I was getting a degree that was practical and what my parents wanted (Biology: Education), but not really what I wanted, so I was bummed when I had to take an indefinite amount of semesters off but felt kind of like it was my chance to do something else.

So, last week I enrolled in Community College where they just happen to have a kick ass Automotive Program. I've always wanted to work with my hands and I want to go to school and get my ASE Certification, cool right? Well, my parents think I'm making a 'huge mistake' and will 'regret this for the rest of my life'. Their reasons are that:

1.) I won't make a ton of money
2.) There's no guarantee I will be able to find a job
3.) Women aren't mechanics*
4.) I'll never find a husband because everyone will think I'm a lesbian*

The only one I'm worried about is #2, so I was hoping for some reassurance. I'm fine with not making a lot of money, I'm thrifty as it is and it can't get much worse than 1k a month that I have now. So I guess my question is two part:

1.) Am I being too impulsive, or seizing an opportunity?
2.) How can I convince my parents this is a good idea?
3.) Do any mechanics out there have words of wisdom/advice/warning?

Thanks guys! I'll stick around to answer questions or you can MeMail me.

*My parents are older (late 50's) and from the south, these are valid arguments to them, I know its outdated and weird, but that's my parents, I still love them, please respect that and don't bash on my parents.
posted by julie_of_the_jungle to Education (43 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
Having a degree in biology and education is setting yourself up for not making a ton of money and having to worry about getting a job. There are plenty of things you can do with a working knowledge of mechanics, particularly if you really fall in love and take it further (e.g. I know someone who works for a science organisation designing and building machinery for them). If nothing else other people's cars will always need fixing and you'll save some money in fixing you own.

I'd say your parents are letting 3 and 4 cloud their judgement too much. So prove them wrong!
posted by shelleycat at 6:17 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: There's no reason you can't study more later, or fund your 4-year college career with work as a mechanic. It's not like getting an ASE Cert is a terminal decision!

I've taught business ethics to mechanics students at a community college; while I don't have a lot of women in my classes, I do usually have at least a few in each cohort. They get jobs as the same rate as the men. You may or may not find in the long run that working with your hands is what you enjoy doing, but you can definitely market yourself to garages/dealerships as someone who can make female customers feel more comfortable! Many mechanics have a LOT of client contact. And if you find it isn't for you in the long term, you'll have a reasonably well-paying job that can support you in going back to school.

Good luck!
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 6:20 PM on March 10, 2010

Reassurance, straight from The Man. Anecdotally, I can tell you I'm dead certain it'll be easier than education, that's for sure, even in the sciences.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 6:21 PM on March 10, 2010

Worst-case scenario: You get a cert, can't find work that uses it at all, and go back to working low-wage jobs and working on a four-year degree, with a little more perspective on what you might actually want. You make a little extra cash on the side by doing basic maintenance on friends' cars and impress the heck out of a lot of people by having an unexpected very-useful skill.
posted by Tomorrowful at 6:28 PM on March 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Best answer: As a woman, I am a good deal more likely to trust a female auto mechanic. Pretty much since I was born I have been hearing tales of how often women get overcharged or sold unnecessary services because they are perceived (correctly or not) as not knowing about cars. I would (correctly or not) assume that a female mechanic would be aboveboard and fair to me in a way that her male colleagues might not. Yeah, this is sexist of me, but I'm stating facts here.

In other words, you could really, really make a killing by opening a business marketed specifically to women and fleecing us all dry. We would never figure it out!

Seriously, I think you have an opportunity to carve yourself a niche here if you wanted to do this as a career. If not, it's a great skillset to have in your back pocket. Cars aren't going anywhere, figuratively anyway, and they're not getting any less likely to need repairs.
posted by little light-giver at 6:29 PM on March 10, 2010 [19 favorites]

Best answer: My boyfriend has been a mechanic for about 12 years. He says that there's a lot of money to be made but it's a very male-dominated and misogynist field. He said that he's worked in places that specifically wouldn't hire women and even if they did, there would be sexual harassment. Even now, he works with some pretty ignorant people. This isn't to discourage you, but just to let you know of the problems you might face. It's also a pretty physically demanding job which will require heavy lifting. I say go for it and as someone else said, even if you find it's not something you will want to continue, you will have gained some extremely useful skills.
posted by MaryDellamorte at 6:31 PM on March 10, 2010

The last mechanic for my motorcycle was a woman, and she was better than any male mechanic I ever took my bike to. She was also far better at listening to my concerns, working with me on diagnosing my problems, and making me feel like a valued customer. If she hadn't left town, I'd still be going to her.

It's an incredibly useful skill, it's a way to pay the bills, and mechanic's hours would let you go to night school without too much difficulty.

And as for concern #4, het guy over here thinks women who aren't afraid to get dirty and have some mechanical knowledge are *awesome*.
posted by swngnmonk at 6:31 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

I have a degree in Mechanical Engineering. When I was underemployed, I was able to make a decent living (beer money, mortgage) working *part time* as a mechanic.

A degree in hard sciences is no guarantor of a decent salary. Far from it; most pure-science graduates I know (male and female) are driving ten-year-old cars and not putting money in their 401Ks, if you know what I mean.
posted by notsnot at 6:33 PM on March 10, 2010

My Favorite Mechanic is a Woman, a local shop in Atlanta, GA. And well regarded at that. The word on is that it's a bit expensive and charges a premium for being so cool. So there's one little piece of anecdata for you.
posted by zpousman at 6:40 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think your gender would be a fantastic advantage - I would much rather take my car to a female mechanic, too, and a smart garage should recognize that as a huge selling point.
posted by Miko at 6:40 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Okay, so I'm not feeling so nervous any more, thanks guys! Now, how do I convince my parents? It's not like my dad is anti working man, he started out as a carpenters assistant at 14 and worked up from there. Advice on talking to parents?
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 6:45 PM on March 10, 2010

You might well be subject to annoying sexism, but if so, you might do better in a more urban-type progressive location.
posted by amtho at 6:46 PM on March 10, 2010

Here's an upbeat article from about prospects for female auto mechanics. Do you think your parents might respond well to that?
posted by craichead at 6:49 PM on March 10, 2010

One way you could convince them is to set a time limit on this project. "I'll get the certification and then try the field for two years. If I haven't found a good job as a mechanic by then, I'll return to school and get that teaching certificate [or wahtever]."

Also, present them with some evidence. If an informal survey of MeFites isn't good enough, do a Facebook survey, or some other kind of packet of evidence showing that (a) female mechanics exist (b) I bet some are even married and (c) the public responds well to the idea of a female mechanic as more trustworthy and more caring.
posted by Miko at 6:49 PM on March 10, 2010

Another worst-case scenario is that you get your certification and a job, but find it tedious, repetitive, dirty, dangerous work. There are reasons parents often don't want a blue-collar future for their children, and they're not all class prejudice.

The mechanics who work on my bike tell me that there's a huge turnover in workshop staff, at least in the motorcycle industry, especially from the back to the front of the stores. They get to sell nice new bikes, rather than work on old broken ones, and lift nothing heavier than RTA documents.

On the other hand, there's always work for qualified experienced mechanics.
posted by Fiasco da Gama at 6:50 PM on March 10, 2010

Can you find a couple of women who work as mechanics and do informational interviews with them? That's generally the best way to find out about a job, and your parents may be more impressed if they think you've really done your homework.
posted by craichead at 6:52 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: Jen at Werkstatt is a very well regarded female motorcycle here in SF. She owns the shop. She did it, so can you.

On the seen as a lesbian front, I wear a tool belt to work and have a mostly queer group of friends and am generally pretty tomboyish, but am very rarely assumed to be anything other than straight.
posted by mollymayhem at 6:52 PM on March 10, 2010

Having been a trailblazer in my own field, I can certainly tell you that it won't be easy trying to compete as a woman in a male-dominated field. But the very act of surmounting those odds will fill you with a sense of confidence that you never thought you would feel. Whether you devote your total career to the field or not, the pride that you were able to help pave the way for other women will be a source of warmth and satisfaction even when times are very tough.

With that said, here's my advice: You should follow your heart. Your parents' arguments are valid and they are also not valid. It all depends on whether you set out to prove them right or to prove them wrong. Whatever you decide to do, it should be what you want to do and not what anyone else wants you to do. It's time to take charge of your life and make decisions.
posted by DrGail at 6:54 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: 2.) How can I convince my parents this is a good idea?

Lovely, delightful fact about being an adult: you get to say, "Mom, Dad, I love and respect you, and I've heard your concerns, but this is my decision to make."

The funny thing about your situation is, in a different family you might be faced with the same (or nearly) list of concerns regarding your original academic path: teachers make little money, "women don't do science", etc. You will inevitably face situations in which you make life choices your parents do not like or approve of. This is one of those situations. You may or may not be able to convince them, but the truth is you don't have to.
posted by Meg_Murry at 6:59 PM on March 10, 2010 [10 favorites]

Best answer: If you become certified as an auto mechanic, you will have a flood of female clients seeking out your services. And if after a few years you want to break away and open your own shop, your clients will follow you. I see only a positive outcome in wanting to pursue your dream.
posted by BostonTerrier at 7:03 PM on March 10, 2010

Auto mechanic is one job that isn't going to be outsourced overseas. So I think your prospects for finding jobs are good. There are no guaranteed jobs in any field.

And 2nding Meg_Murry - you don't have to convince your parents. It's your life, not theirs. They're living their lives, they need to let you live yours. And I'm saying this as a nearly-50-years* old parent myself.

(*Sweet jeebus, when did THAT happen?)
posted by MexicanYenta at 7:13 PM on March 10, 2010 [2 favorites]

"Mom and Dad, anywhere I go, for the rest of my life, I will have a skill in my own two hands. And everywhere I go there will be cars."

Here is some inspiration!! Woman-owned GIRLINGTON GARAGE in Burlington, VT.
posted by missmary6 at 7:20 PM on March 10, 2010

For #1 and #2, what about mechanic jobs beyond auto mechanic?
I know someone who started a car mechanic, changed to a mechanic for ground vehicles for an airline company, and now manages all the mechanics for the ground vehicles and makes more than I do with my Masters degree.
posted by SarahbytheSea at 7:26 PM on March 10, 2010

If your parents are set on the idea of teaching, you could float the idea of teaching future auto mechanics. Your own teachers are doing that, after all. There would be opportunities at high schools, technical schools, and community colleges. I'm not saying that you would have to teach, but you could mention it to your parents as a possibility. Their idea that teaching is a good idea and appropriate for a woman might make them amenable to this suggestion and happier with your current goal of studying for certification.
posted by TrarNoir at 7:32 PM on March 10, 2010

Best answer: Go out and get yourself a copy of "Shop Class as Soul Craft" which is about one tenth as what color is my parachute and ten times more labor theory than the title makes it sound like. (A bunch of it was previously published on the web, btw.)

Read it. Then have them read it.

I have a degree and a career in the sciences. It's great when they leave me alone and let me do science, but that gets to be less and less common. Oh, and on average, every time I go to the bathroom my corporate masters lay off ten people. I wish I were making that up, but not so much.
posted by Kid Charlemagne at 7:40 PM on March 10, 2010 [3 favorites]

Seconding Meg_Murry. At your age, it's time to cut the apron strings and be more concerned about what you think and what you want than what your parents think and what they want. Your parents have fulfilled their function, which is raising you. Now it's time to fly.
posted by exphysicist345 at 7:53 PM on March 10, 2010

To piggyback off zpousman, I can easily name a second Atlanta shop that is woman-owned and operated: Catherine's Auto Repair is similarly well-regarded. The owner did a how-I-made-it interview with the local paper (PDF here) a few years back.
posted by deludingmyself at 8:02 PM on March 10, 2010

Response by poster: Thanks a ton guys, I set up an appointment with my dad to have him call me tomorrow, I feel totally prepared!

I'm going to let him know that I'm going to go ahead and sign up for classes and work towards my certification because it's what I want to do and even if I don't end up pursuing it as a career I will have gained valuable skills.

Metafilter, you guys rock!

Also, I ordered the book you recommended Kid Charlemagne, it'll be here in 4 days!
posted by julie_of_the_jungle at 8:10 PM on March 10, 2010

I think your pursuit of automechanics sounds like a great idea with a lot of potential. When I lived in Vancouver, I used to take my car to Nic's Garage (Non Intimidating Car Service). Nic's is very popular because of all the female mechanics--they are a draw rather than a liability.

I'm sure your parents do mean well, but I agree with those above who are saying your career choice is yours to make. Unless your parents are paying for your education, the ultimate decision is yours. They can give you input, but they can't have the final say.

On preview: Congratulations on your decision!

Oh, also: you might want to look around your community to see if there is a "Women in the Trades" professional group so you can make some connections for mentoring, support, etc.
posted by hurdy gurdy girl at 8:16 PM on March 10, 2010

Not sure how it is where you are, but in Illinois, teachers are being laid off right and left. K-12 teaching is not currently a stable profession in states with budget issues (California, Illinois, etc.).

By the time you're done with school, the new cars everyone bought during the Cash for Clunkers program will be starting to break down.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 8:29 PM on March 10, 2010

Man I love the idea of a female mechanic! If having your own shop interests you, as has been mentioned above, would your parents be interested to hear about your entrepreneurial aspirations?

FWIW, when Kari from Mythbusters was on maternity leave, Jessi Combs stepped in. She appears to be well-respected and is smokin' hot. I don't know her personally so I can't definitely comment on her sexual orientation, but she comes of as very hetero, and my boyfriend definitely thinks she's hot.
posted by radioamy at 8:42 PM on March 10, 2010

Have you ever thought of training up as a mechanic, *then* following it up with a teaching certificate so you could teach other women to be mechanics? The benefits of this would be:

a) you can tell your parents that you still want to teach down the track... you just don't want to teach biology.

b) I bet there are SO many women who would be keen to do a short course in mechanics (ie. through the community college system). If you find that mechanics is for you, you could have a long-term game plan of setting up a course like this. Maybe if you ended up with your own garage one day you could run evening courses there too?

Good luck - what an ace adventure you're embarking on!
posted by Alice Russel-Wallace at 9:04 PM on March 10, 2010

Nth'ing motorcycle mechanic. Less of the heavy lifting, more of the nimble fingers - and bikers of both sport bikes and cruisers love, and I mean love women who know more about bikes than they do. You're dealing with deeply committed hobbyists rather than everyday schmoes - geeks, in short. They get it, and worship people who are skilled enough to work with the objects of their passion for a living. Expect frequent marriage proposals, and serious respect for your skills.
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:16 PM on March 10, 2010

It's well known that one of the reasons for the pay gap between men and women is that women are less likely to take the more lucrative blue collar jobs, like construction and mechanics, and instead end up in the low wage "pink collar ghetto" of stereotypically female jobs like teaching and social work. So your parents' belief that you will earn less by going into a male dominated field is exactly wrong.

With respect to not getting dates because of being perceived as a lesbian, they are also wrong. You are far more likely to be sexually harassed once your coworkers figure out you are straight - you should probably start steeling yourself for this and deciding on a coping strategy now. Not all of your coworkers will be mysogynist assholes, but some will be threatened by you.

And outside of work, I can guarantee you that many many guys will think it is totally hottt that you are a mechanic! There's serious allure to being a feminine tomboy and you'll totally be able to work it.
posted by yarly at 11:25 PM on March 10, 2010 [1 favorite]

Mechanics are like undertakers. The details may change, but the job's gonna be there a long time. Twenty years from now you may spend more time on electrically powered cars, but they'll still have transmissions and steering mechanisms and whatnot that most people won't be able to fix for themselves.

As others have noted, there's probably a market for women mechanics amongst women, if nothing else. And as for point 4, please. Car guys are complete drooling fanboys for women who like and, more importantly, know about cars.
posted by rodgerd at 11:41 PM on March 10, 2010

Auto mechanic is one job that isn't going to be outsourced overseas. So I think your prospects for finding jobs are good.

True, but cars are getting (a) more reliable and (b) full of electronics (which may need special equipment*).

Car maintenance in the future may become more and more the domain of official dealerships - which may limit your ability to command a higher wage because of your gender, or to open your own shop.

My suggestion: Sure, get the qualification, but don't assume the mechanic market is going to treat you well forever.

* Anecdote: My father once had a door replaced on his car, and the independent garage he went to didn't have the equipment to set up the moved door lock on the electronic security system. So unlocking the passenger side door first meant the car alarm sounded.
posted by Mike1024 at 4:47 AM on March 11, 2010

I just want to chime in with : Good luck! Career choosing is never easy but I feel you are going in the right direction.
posted by Vindaloo at 7:58 AM on March 11, 2010

I'm sure it is a very male-dominated and misogynist field, and some places will not hire you, or will treat you badly. Because of that, if I went to a garage with a female mechanic, I would think they were more likely to be smart, evolved businesspeople, and I would trust them more, and do business with them. I did a little feminist trail-blazing in my younger days, and it's not always easy, but is satisfying. Good mechanics are hard to find. Be good at it, and you'll get hired.

As far as people thinking you're a lesbian, if that really concerns you, and it certainly concerns Mom & Dad, the way you dress, wear your hair, and makeup will speak volumes to men. Actual lesbians will know that you don't know the secret handshake(kidding).

Men are customers of garages, so you will meet men from all walks of life. Many of them will be intrigued by you. If you're a teacher, most of the men you meet are dads, many of them married. As they say, do the math.

Go to the library and research incomes for mechanics and biology teachers. The math will speak for itself.
posted by theora55 at 8:36 AM on March 11, 2010

Regarding the lesbian thing, they're likely secretly worried that people are going to ask them embarrassing questions about you. I would (and did, myself) basically engage in a little bit of very kind handwaving there. Hey, they brought you up to be strong and smart and stand on your own two feet, right?

Aww, times have changed and we've fought so hard towards women being accepted on their merits in whatever field they choose without getting personally judged. Mom and Dad, if anyone wants to know, I'll politely tell them that I'm not a lesbian not-that-there's-anything-wrong-with-that and let's get back to the business at hand.
posted by desuetude at 10:46 AM on March 11, 2010

Hey I'm a girl and I'm in school for welding at the moment. I already got a college degree and couldn't find a job making decent money but kept finding openings for mechanical jobs that pay better - go figure. Biology - education is no fast track to lucrative employment.

Also, I have never had guys more interested in me than when I tell them I want to be a welder and can weld. I know a girl who isn't employed as a mechanic, but has killer knowledge of cars and fixes up her own trucks / motorcycles / quads/ everything. Shes smokin hot and guys drool all over her (but she has a steady boyfriend).

I totally get the desire to work with your hands. I have a clerical job now and its booooorrring. get certified and kick ass! Girl Power (oh, sorry, i thought it was still 1995...)!
posted by WeekendJen at 2:31 PM on March 11, 2010

Best answer: Being a mechanic is pretty great and I enjoy it. I had completed a 4 year BFA, graduated, and then realized I had no way to make money so I went back to school for automotive technology. Since then, I've always had a paycheck and have never gone without a job. Once you have all of your certifications and licenses, you'll always have options and opportunities. They might not always be your favorite, but they'll always pay the bills. And you'll always make more than $1000 a month, that's for fucking sure.

I'd give you a list of good points to argue to your folks, but just get a couple copies of Shop Class as Soulcraft and have a book-club with your parents.

So, here's some advice that I'd like to share about some practical issues in regards to being an Automotive Technician:

1. Be prepared for your first few entry level jobs to suck and pay very little. You will likely do oil changes and tires and help other more experienced techs for at least 6 months. If you stick with it, you'll learn a lot and a positive attitude will keep you moving up the ladder quickly.

2. Be prepared to never stop spending huge amounts of money on tools. And don't cheap out, either. Your tools are your livelihood. If they break, you're screwed and if you don't have the right tool, it's much harder to do the job. I've only been doing this for about 5 years and I must have already spent over $20k on tools and a tool box. You'd better have a tool fetish.

3. Be prepared for electrical and computer diagnosis to be a major time consumer. It's not going to all be ripping out motors and rebuilding differentials. There's going to be lots of wiring diagrams, voltmeters, oscilloscopes, and scan tools in your future. And the best techs are the ones who've mastered electrical and computer networking diagnosis. Pay real close attention in your drivability and diagnosis classes.

4. Go to a GOOD technical school. The Community College might have a good program, but a place like UTI puts you in touch with the automotive community and leads to opportunities like factory training. Get into one of these factory training programs. Their cutting edge technology will give you a good jump start and, after the training, working at one of their dealerships will be a great learning experience and it'll fast track you out of #1 pretty quickly.
I went to a crappy tech school and had a couple crappy jobs before I found a way into a factory training program. I learned a lot at the dealership and was able to take their credentials, my ASE certs, and my awesome looking resume, and leave the "stealership" and get a good position in an independent shop.

5. Get involved with as soon as possible. It's like AskMeFi, but the community is exclusively automotive technicians. It's a fantastic resource and the techs involved are knowledgeable and supportive.

6. Just because you took the class, it doesn't mean you can pass the ASE exam. I made that mistake when I was in tech school. Experience will really help when taking those tests and, especially with the transmission exams, you won't know half of the answers unless you've actually spent real time working on the relevant systems.

7. I hope you like being tired and dirty. All the time. Your hands will never be clean again and, even after showering and scrubbing thoroughly, there will always be grim you missed and you'll have no idea how it go there. Never skimp on your shoes, either. Make sure they're comfortable and supportive, otherwise you'll be crippled by the time your thirty.

8. Don't worry about the sexual harassment. Surely, your fellow technicians will be mean, crude, vulgar, disgusting, and revolting. There will be horrible name calling, booger flicking, pecker-checking, wet willies, and general ball-breaking. But if someone calls you names, just poke them in the ribs with an extension while they have their head in some dark crevice under the hood and call him a nancyboy. Or kneecap him with a screwdriver handle while he's on a creeper under a car. It's never going to be personal. Everyone takes punches in this kind of environment. Everyone is going to make embarrassing mistakes and blunders and everyone is going to take some flack. Even to my best friends, I'm a Heeb Kraut Pollack Poindexter.

If you like fixing stuff, taking stuff apart, electrical systems, computers, networking, and knowing how stuff works, you'll love being a mechanic. You get to really use your brain every day, learn new things, and overcome obstacles. I was a really unlikely candidate for this field, too. I was a skinny art-school nerd who had never done any real manual labor before. So, don't worry too much. If you love it, it'll come to be. Just start doing some pushups, otherwise simple tasks will be a struggle.

If you have any questions at all about this field, school, cars, or anything, feel free to MeFiMail me at any point in this process. Good Luck!
posted by Jon-o at 3:40 PM on March 11, 2010 [13 favorites]

Another piece of advice:

Get a job in a shop as soon as possible. Even if it's just a part time job after class, find yourself a position somewhere. It's extremely helpful to be able to immediately apply the information you learn in school in a practical setting and there's no substitute for hands on experience. School is great for technical theory, but you'll learn more about how to actually go about making repairs working in a shop.
posted by Jon-o at 3:57 AM on March 12, 2010

Luscious Garage is a great woman-owned garage in San Francisco that specializes in hybrids - definitely a growing market, which makes a lot of sense from a business perspective (hello, parents!). You might read Carolyn's blog &/or email her for advice - I'm sure she'd be happy to encourage you & share her thoughts.
posted by judith at 8:16 AM on March 12, 2010 [1 favorite]

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