Women throw a wrench in automotive world

Bogi Lateiner teaches a car-care workshop at 180 Degrees Automotive in Phoenix. (Photo by Lauren Whetzel/Arizona Sonora News Service).

A small middle-aged woman sits on the ground of a mechanic shop in jeans and leather boots. She places a wrench on a tire but instead of using her arms, she stands on the bar and jumps down to make it turn.

“You need to find leverage in different ways since women’s strength isn’t in our arms,” said Bogi Lateiner, owner and operator of 180 Degrees Automotive in Phoenix.

Pull up to the shop, the garage is open and filled with cars and power tools, the classic auto shop look, but inside the lobby has a feminine touch. It’s an art gallery. Individually lit canvases line the wall, comfy black couches lie on a purple rug, and on the wall next to reception are hand-written testimonies from previous customers. Lateiner believes the conditions of your waiting room tells a lot about how a mechanic is going to treat your car.

Women sit in the lobby of 180 Degrees Automotive after a car care workshop in Phoenix. (Photo by Lauren Whetzel/Arizona Sonora News Service).

Lateiner holds monthly workshops for women. These workshops break down the basics of car care and make sure women are confident walking into any auto shop. The classes change women’s views about what they’re capable of, she said.

“I love seeing women do something they didn’t think they could do,” Lateiner said. “When that light bulb goes off and they understand something, there’s nothing like that.”

Vivian Schiliro attended the car care workshop and said her experience was incredible.

“I just like knowing these little things about my car,” she said. “It gives me peace of mind and makes me feel empowered.”

Bogi Lateiner explains how an engine works at her car care workshop in Phoenix. (Photo by Lauren Whetzel/Arizona Sonora News Service).

The workshop focuses on breaking down the basics of car care. Lateiner first goes over how to communicate with mechanics.

“It’s not that you’re a dumb girl,” Lateiner said. “This just isn’t your field. Take away that ‘I’m a dumb girl’ mentality and be confident walking into a shop.”

Lateiner said customers need to be able to point out what is wrong with their car, ask to see parts, and take a mechanic on a test drive.

The rest of the workshop focuses on getting down and dirty by changing tires, checking oil and coolant, and mastering jumper cables

“I know, for me, learning about something that scared me, empowered me,” Lateiner said. “I think anytime we can encourage and be there with someone as you help them view something they see as an obstacle, there’s just something really cool about that. And I just know that’s going to bleed into other areas of their life.”

180 Degrees Automotive started 11 years ago when Lateiner was working on cars in her own garage. Having an all-women auto shop wasn’t always the plan, but giving females the opportunity to work in the trades was a goal.

“No one is coming to a female-owned shop if they have a problem with women fixing their cars. So we filter out a lot of that crap naturally, just being predominantly women,” Lateiner said.

She wants to change people’s perceptions about women in the trades. She wants people to know that she’s as capable as any male mechanic.

“Eighty percent of the pushback that I get isn’t straight-up negative against women; it’s more apprehension or suspicion,” Lateiner said. “Then the 20 percent that say, ‘I don’t think women should be mechanics, they don’t belong in the shop.”

Lateiner said she use to walk around with a chip on her shoulder. She was feisty when a man asked if she was actually a mechanic. Now she has a different approach.

“My approach is to kill them with kindness,” she said. “I know if I get defensive they’ll get defensive and we won’t get anywhere, but I take every non-believer and I see it as an opportunity for me to educate and inform and change their mind.

“And if I do it right, if I don’t do it with my fists closed, I might actually change somebody’s heart and mind about what women can do.”

Lauren Whetzel is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact her at laurenwhetzel@email.arizona.edu. 

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