As a woman, I’m often asked how I got into the automotive industry. After all, this is an industry dominated by men—from the people who build cars to the people who repair them, and all the way down to the people who make ads for them.
Yet the answer to how I got into the industry is pretty simple—I was born with a love for cars. When I was just a few years old, I tossed my Barbies aside and begged for Hot Wheels. And I’ve been a gearhead ever since.
Today, I have over 14 years of experience in the auto industry. I make a living as a freelance writer covering all things car-related, while also working part-time as an automotive failure analysis inspector.
Although I’m no longer employed as a technician, I still keep my Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) certifications up-to-date. I currently hold a Master Automobile Technician certification, as well as the more advanced L1, L2, and L3 certifications.
Even now, I thoroughly enjoy turning wrenches in my spare time. I also love sharing my passion with industry newcomers, especially women.
I would be thrilled to have more women join me in the industry. However, women don’t always have the same natural path into this field as men do—and we don’t always learn about cars from our dads.
My dad is a highly intelligent lawyer, but he barely knows a spark plug from a water pump.
So how should women break into this field?
I believe passion is the key to success—whether it’s the auto industry or the legal field, engineering or accounting. When combined with hard work, passion can help you overcome adversity and rise to the top. That’s my “secret” to success, if you will.
Of course, there’s more to it than that. There’s a steep learning curve, but it’s imperative for women to not give up.
When I first started working on cars in my parents’ driveway, I made a lot of mistakes and broke quite a few parts. I had no one there to teach me—and YouTube hadn’t been invented yet—so I spent hours trying to follow Chilton repair manuals.
I remember it took me about five hours, which is way too long, to replace a power steering pump on my Chevy truck. But I didn’t give up.
Having a thorough understanding of cars doesn’t happen overnight. If you want to make it in the automotive business, you must be willing to make mistakes and put in a lot of time. There’s no shame in breaking a few parts here and there in the beginning. The key is to just keep trying until you get it right.
Furthermore, being a mechanic is physically demanding. The media often portrays female mechanics as long-legged beauties, wearing skimpy outfits and wielding wrenches. And except for a couple of perfectly placed grease spots, these ladies are clean from head to toe.
Even their makeup is flawless.
News flash: That’s not how it is in the real world. Being an automotive technician is tough—really tough. You’ll go home at the end of the day covered in grease, cuts, and bruises. That’s just something you have to expect.
Recently, I rebuilt the front end of my Astro Van in my driveway (a harrowing experience, I must say). When the job was finished, I looked as though I had emerged from a war zone. I was covered in grease from head to toe—there was even gear oil in my hair. Expect that every day if you work as an automotive technician.
I also learned the hard way that being a successful mechanic—or really, a successful anything—requires confidence. I was twenty years old when I started working as an automotive technician. And like most young girls, I had very little confidence. I was often anxious at work—and the feeling was amplified because I was the only female. Every time I made a mistake, I felt like all eyes were on me.
It took a long time to build confidence in myself and my abilities. Along the way, I faced some discrimination that, as a younger person, deferred my self-assurance. For example, I recall a customer complaining that she didn’t want me working on her car—she wanted the real (i.e. male) mechanic instead.
Also, I’ve dealt with inappropriate behavior from co-workers. Some of the male technicians I’ve worked with have made passes at me. Others have made lewd comments that were completely inappropriate.
Dealing with gender bias may have slowed me down here and there, but it never stopped me completely. I kept working and made it to where I am today.
In my current role as a failure analysis inspector, I have to question (and occasionally scrutinize) the work of technicians, most of whom are male. Sometimes I still face adversity because I’m a woman, but for the most part, I’m treated with respect.
I think I’m at a point in my life where I have enough knowledge—and perhaps, more importantly, enough confidence—that few people question me.
Finally, the automotive industry is a fast-moving, demanding one. It’s constantly improving—and that means we must constantly learn and better ourselves. As an aspiring technician, I spent hours pouring over ASE study guides. Then when I decided to become a better writer, I bought books on style and grammar. I love to learn and better myself—and that’s taken me a long way.
A few years back, I decided it was time to get better acquainted with hybrid and electric vehicles. So, I bought a non-running Toyota Prius for $500 and got it going. I also began taking some online training courses on hybrids and electrics. Shortly after, I was able to pass the ASE L3 Hybrid and Electric Vehicle certification test.
The moral of this story is: Automotive technology is always evolving. You have to be open to non-stop learning and continuous improvement, or you’ll fall behind.
I hope to find a defunct Nissan Leaf to fix up for my next project. That way, I can get more hands-on experience with battery-electric vehicles. To me, learning about new technology is the most exciting part of being in the automotive industry.