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February 19, 2016

Five for Friday: Girls Auto Clinic's Patrice Banks

Founder of women's repair workshops talks about her next big career move

Lifestyle Five for Friday
021116_PatriceBanks_Carroll.jpg Thom Carroll/PhillyVoice

Patrice Banks, CEO and Founder of Girls Auto Clinic.

We've all been there: something in our car goes awry -- a blinking light, maybe a weird noise. We think of all the annoying things we'll have to do to get it fixed, from clearing our schedules to negotiating with the mechanic to decide what really needs to be done. Then the bill comes and yikes

For Patrice Banks, an engineer who used to be a self-described "auto airhead," this was an all too common experience. So, she went back to school to become a mechanic, got a job at a local auto shop and learned everything she could about maintaining and fixing cars. 

But she didn't stop there. Recognizing that plenty of other women lack the proper knowledge to maintain their own cars, she opened up Girls Auto Clinic where she empowers women to care for their vehicles. The workshops, which run monthly from April through November, are a big hit, and Banks is also looking to open her own repair garage, complete with a nail salon, to cater to women and female mechanics. She even wrote a how-to book, the "Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide," which Simon & Schuster's Touchstone Books will publish in the spring of 2017. (Until then, Banks' self-published edition is available online.) Online, Banks has started the "SheCANics" community for women to discuss auto repair and ask questions of female mechanics, too.

Below, we chatted with Banks about her big dreams, what women really need to know about their cars and how she landed a spot in O, The Oprah Magazine. 

What do your students learn at Girls Auto Clinic workshops?

So the Girls Auto Clinic workshops are free every month. They’re at 59th and Lancaster Avenue; it’s called Crest Auto Stores. It’s limited [space] because it’s really interactive. So if you sign up and you come, you’re going to learn your own car. We lift up their hoods and talk about what’s underneath it, what you can touch, what you can’t. What needs to be maintained, how often it needs to be maintained. How do you know when you need a repair, how to talk to a mechanic so you’re not taken advantage of. We have a table of parts that show you this is when these things need to be replaced, this is what it looks like when they're brand new. So, if the mechanic says you need brakes you know what they’re talking about, you know how thin they should be ... So I show them those things, I sell my book and T-shirts, and it’s just been so successful. They sell out every month, so we’re really trying to expand those. 

From being featured in "Good Housekeeping," Washington Post and across the web, to meeting with the CEO of Pep Boys and hosting your own TEDx Talk, Girls Auto Clinic has received tons of love so far. How does it feel to get all this positive feedback?

It’s amazing because this was my goal. I wanted to make Girls Auto Clinic a household name. I want to reach as many people as possible. You don’t have to feel this way anymore. You don’t have to have this anxiety. There is someone here to help you. This press is allowing that. I don’t have a PR person, it’s just me right now, so it was very overwhelming when it all first came out. It started with the Washington Post back in June and when that came out it was just one after another, of emails of people wanting me to come talk and be in their articles and it was really cool because people are starting to be aware of this. 

My ultimate goal is to open a repair garage and I want to have female mechanics working there and I want to cater to women. I’d love to have it be a nationwide chain, reaching every woman in every city. It’s getting a lot of publicity and people are hearing my message and what I want to do and so many people are coming out saying 'This is awesome, how can I help you?' or 'When are you opening in Houston, or in LA?' It helps push me forward. People love this, they want it. Everyone’s telling me it’s going to be big and I’m like all right, one step at a time! It’s really exciting but I don’t want to get carried away! 

So you know, Pep Boys, their CEO, saw my TED and wanted to meet me, so that was just – I’m looking at these as just really cool experiences. As I’m trying to build my business I’ve had the opportunity to have these amazing experiences. People are sharing my story, and hopefully, they’ll inspire other people to follow their dreams and also help women become more educated and feel more empowered about their car or bring more women into the industry so we see more female mechanics and females taking charge in the auto repair industry. It’s exciting. And next stop I’m going to be in Oprah magazine, their May issue. I’m excited about that one!

What do you find is often the hardest thing for women to learn at your workshops?

I think the hardest part with women is understanding price and how much things are going to cost, the cost of your repair. Women are just so afraid that we’re going to be taken advantage of and be charged for something that we don’t need or we’re going to be charged too much for something. It’s hard to get a grasp because it’s going to vary sometimes, but I think that’s one of the biggest concerns and hardest things to understand. Even with the workshop, they still come back with that type of question: “How much do you think this should cost?” Which I understand. We are the economic drivers, we worry about money. I can see that as the biggest concern.

What's the most common issue you see with women and their cars? 

We neglect our tires probably the most. We ride around with them without the proper air pressure in them. When the little exclamation point with the parentheses comes on our dash we kind of ignore it. We don’t get our tires rotated. We don’t get our cars aligned when they need to be aligned. And tires are sensitive. That’s not the most important thing, but that’s the thing we ignore the most. 

[Because] we just don’t know. When it was me, I just didn’t know I was supposed to get my tires rotated every other oil change because they don’t really explain the importance of it. I try to tell women these are what’s really important. Taking care of your tires is. I don’t think we preach the importance of that because [mechanics] want you to come back and buy new tires! If you take care of your tires they’re going to last 50,000 miles sometimes, depending on the rating and how long you have them...We definitely need to pay more attention to our tires, ladies!

The more your story spreads, the more women who will be looking up to you as a role model. Who are your role models?

My role models are any pioneer women. People like Serena Williams, people like Sara Blakely, people like Misty Copeland. Women who are pioneers in what they’re doing and they’re creating paths for other women. I love that. It’s so empowering. Every day I look up to women that I see in those roles. 

Just last Thursday I met with this woman, a broker, she’s helping me find a shop. She was 62 years old and is amazing. She was telling me about her career working in sales, how she went to Penn for entrepreneurship. She looks good, she’s got this cute little blond bob, wearing this nice suit dress, heels. I’m like, I can’t believe this, she’s like 62 and she is amazing! I’m inspired to be this way. She had such great energy; she’s a great role model. So I look up to any woman that fits that model.