Do Women Pay More at the Mechanic?
True or false: Women pay more at the mechanic because of their perceived lack of auto knowledge. Unfortunately ladies—it's true.
My sophomore year of high school, I got my first set of wheels. A blue hand-me-down, ’97 manual Honda civic. After my sister used it through high school, I thought I was poised to be the coolest kid in town behind that old wheel—but it needed a tune-up before it was ready for me. I distinctly remember my mom telling me to bring it in to the mechanic down the road, a Jiffy Lube I think. What stood out, though, was one additional instruction I found odd: Make sure my dad or one of my guy friends went with me. Wait—huh?
Mom wanted me to bring a man with me so the mechanic wouldn’t take advantage by up-charging or selling me things I didn’t need. Some mechanics are infamous for their assumption of female naïveté of the auto world, and consequential wallet-pulls from ladies everywhere. So, in a brave new world where Emma Watson chimes #HeForShe and Sheryl Sandberg urges us to Lean In—is this seriously a thing?
Sure, I have a story and some lady-friends who have had rough experiences with their auto repairs. But is this actually happening on a wider, more significant scale? A study on “The Importance of Appearing Savvy” out of Northwestern University gave us some hard evidence.
Both male and female mystery shoppers visited repair shops and announced one of three conditions. Some shoppers noted that they knew the accurate market value for the service being requested, some gave an unrealistically high value for the service, while the last group admitted that they had no value in mind. The results were as follows:
Take a close look: If women knew the market price, they were generally charged the same amount as men. However, if they admitted that they didn’t know the actual price of the service requested, women paid far more than their male counterparts. In addition, women paid slightly higher on average when they announced a price above market price.
What do we do with these numbers? How do we interpret them to understand better the price discrepancies and unequal treatment this data shows us? Study author Meghan Busse explains,
“Repair shops probably do not inherently dislike women or take pleasure in ripping them off. Instead, the data are more consistent with statistical discrimination. Shops believe, rightly or wrongly, that women know less about cars and car repair. In the absence of information to the contrary, they will be offered a higher quote. ‘But when you show that stereotype is wrong’—because you reveal yourself to be an informed woman or an uninformed man—’you get treated the same way.'”
So, there you have it. In an ideal world, I would be able to go to the repair shop and trust my mechanic in their expertise to fix up my car at a fair price. But, however unfair it may be, the hard truth here is that as a woman, it’s a simple reality that I must know and understand the market value of whatever service I need before stepping into my neighborhood auto shop, or run the risk of being uncharged or oversold.
So, besides the obvious advantages of appearing savvy by knowing the prices we deserve as consumers, what are some other ways we can be smart shoppers?
For starters, there are countless beginners shop classes offered nationwide—many specifically for women, and some are even free of charge. Knowing the shop-class basics will help you speak the same language as your mechanic, therefore interrupting the stereotype of female auto naïveté and saving you serious dollars on your repairs. In addition, you can avoid the mechanic altogether by being able to do your own at-home repairs on lighter jobs like checking fluids or maintaining your car battery.
Secondly, much like car insurance, Busse explains that, “If you are a woman, the smartest thing you can do to get a good deal is to shop around, either online or by phone.” Being upfront about your knowledge of a fair price and shopping around for the best you can find will ensure you savings.
Finally, find someone you trust. Obviously, there are mechanics that will take advantage. But there are also people who are honest, and will treat people equally with a fair price. Pay attention to your family’s mechanics, or friends who have had positive experiences. Seek out reviews, and build a relationship with a mechanic you can trust to be fair with you and your wheels.
Packard is proud to be female owned. We treat our female customers with respect and equality.
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