Auto repair workshop 1st stop for women on journey from violence

A group of Ottawa women will soon be equipped with the tools they need to confidently make car repairs, verify whether a mechanic has completed a job properly and negotiate deals when buying a new vehicle.

The women — mostly survivors of violence — will be picking up the skills at a series of Women on Wheels workshops hosted by the Women's Initiatives for Safer Environments (WISE). The first session revved up Tuesday, helping women navigate an industry typically dominated by men. 

Elsy David, the organization's program director, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning she was moved to start the free workshops in 2016 after hearing from women struggling to rebuild their lives, often with limited resources and children in tow. 

"They felt anxious about second-hand cars that were breaking down and how that was sort of becoming a hindrance towards them getting the level of independence that they needed in order to start over," David said.

While the sessions are geared toward those who have experienced domestic violence, they are open to any women wishing to attend. This year, more than a dozen participants will learn basic repairs like changing a flat tire, installing a new windshield wiper and replacing a car's air filter. They'll also be given tips on how to get the best bang for their buck when paying for more complicated services. 

Elsy David/WISE

Success at negotiating table

The workshops will also focus on how to fight for a fair deal when buying a car, whether it's a second-hand purchase or a new vehicle. 

Many women felt uncomfortable in that world of negotiation. - Elsy David, WISE

After making a new purchase, women told David that they later realized they paid more than they should have. She said that happens, in part, because women feel nervous when it comes to asserting themselves at the negotiating table. 

"Many women felt uncomfortable in that world of negotiation. Oftentimes when it comes to things that relate to cars, they've always been used to outsourcing that activity to a male figure in their life," David explained.

Women will learn how far they can bring down a car's retail price, how to make sure a vehicle's price tag corresponds to the condition it's in and how to add extra perks to the deal, like free winter tires. 

'Ripple effect' from new skills

The skills participants can gain go beyond basic car knowledge — they contribute to overall empowerment, too. 

David recalled a past participant who experienced a transformation in her confidence after attending the workshops last year.

"She described herself as feeling meek at the beginning when she'd have to go in and say that there's something wrong," David said, adding that the participant now feels much better about entering a repair shop.

"Even the way that the mechanics speak to her is different. That's a very, very serious change in their feeling of empowerment."

WISE's workshops were previously taught by local female mechanic Kathy Ewen. Due to Ewen's unavailability this year,  Women on Wheels will be offered by mechanics at Legacy Auto Centre, which is holding sessions over the next three weeks at their Richmond Road shop.

Registration is full, but organizers suggest checking the WISE Facebook page for further chances to sign up.