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Mechanic Shop Femme empowers women and LGBTQ+ car owners through automotive education

A woman wearing a vibrant, floral-patterned dress sits in the driver seat of a white car. She smiles at the camera while holding a copy of a book in both of her hands.
McKenna Patterson Photography
Chaya Milchtein holds a copy of her upcoming book 'Mechanic Shop Femme's Guide to Car Ownership.'

For a lot of people, learning how to maintain their car and what question to ask their mechanic can be intimidating.

Chaya Milchtein is a Milwaukee-based automotive educator, social media influencer, and writer who aims to make cars less complicated — especially for women and queer people. She creates educational content on social media and on her blog Mechanic Shop Femme to give car owners accessible, easy-to-understand information.

Milchtein spoke on Lake Effect about car myths, sexism in the automotive industry, and her new book Mechanic Shop Femme’s Guide to Car Ownership.

The following are excerpts from that interview, some portions are edited, paraphrased or consolidated for clarity.

On the internet, you go by Mechanic Shop Femme. What is Mechanic Shop Femme? What type of topics do you talk about underneath that name? 

Mechanic Shop Femme was my handle on Instagram when I started my blog. I wanted to make sure that I bring my whole self to this work because working in shops is not the most welcoming or enjoyable environment to work in, especially as a fat queer woman, so “mechanic shop” because I talk about car repairs and “femme” because that's what I am.

I'm bringing the basics that everybody should know, which they were often not taught because they were queer. Their parents were worried about making them un-queer or because they were women, and their parents didn't think that information was appropriate to teach them. I'm trying to show people how to navigate through the challenges that are there, giving them the tools necessary to understand their cars better and better understand mechanics, things that make people's lives easier.

What impact do you want to have with the way you educate people about cars, especially as it relates to inclusivity? 

I approach all elements of what I do by thinking of how I can be inclusive to the most amount of people, particularly to the people that have not been included in these conversations and this industry since the beginning of time.

One of the most impactful articles I feel I've written over the last couple of years is an article about sexism in the automotive industry and how it's impacting the number of mechanics available to repair cars. We have a massive shortage of mechanics in this country at this moment, and that shortage could be simply fixed by including over 50% of the population that is being excluded from those opportunities. If shops become better for their employees, they will also become better for their customers.

A woman wearing a black dress fills her car up with gas at a gas station.
McKenna Patterson Photography
Chaya Milchtein currently drives a Subaru Forester. She decided to buy the car because of its all-wheel drive, affordability, and leather seats.

Tell us about your book and what someone could expect to learn if they pick it up. 

The book puts the last decade of my automotive experience into one concise, easy-to-read, easy-to-understand guide to car ownership. It's intended to be used in conjunction with a good mechanic. It starts by telling you how to buy a car, then how to insure that car, how to find a mechanic, how to maintain that vehicle, and what maintenance you should do yourself and what maintenance you should do at the mechanic.

Let's say you know your old car is on its last legs. You can go to the section where I talk about how to decide if it's time to move on, then you could go to the chapter on how to sell your car or how to buy another vehicle. It all works hand in hand.

Do you have any memorable light bulb moments, where you were giving someone advice and everything became really clear to them? 

My brand partner iFixit, sponsored a video on winter car myths. Car breakdowns really scare people, so often these things are rooted in a bit of truth, but they have, at some point, lost their truth to them. For example, you don't need to warm up your car. Warming up your car was something that was necessary when you had carbureted vehicles. Warming up the car for the sake of the car is not necessary. So, there were lots of light bulb moments around that.

Why do you think that there are so many myths out there that people don't think twice about checking if it's accurate? 

When you block half the population from automotive knowledge, you are also blocking every single man that doesn't know anything about cars because now cars are tied to your masculinity. If you ask a question about cars to your mechanic and it's a silly question, then you might feel like you're less of a man. So, you pick up some myths from somebody, you hear something on the internet, and you don't ask clarifying questions. Then you teach your kids that, and you teach your spouse that.

My book is for women in their 50s and 60s that have recently gotten divorced or their spouses have passed, so they've never taken their car in for an oil change. It's for queer folks and women who never had the opportunity to learn these types of subjects, and it's for men who don't feel like they can ask the questions because it's emasculating.


Nadya is WUWM's sixth Eric Von fellow.
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