New service aims to be a ‘big sister’ for women intimidated by the mechanic

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For many women, taking their car to a mechanic can be a daunting task. The typically male-dominant environment can leave some customers feeling out-of-place or nervous to speak up. 

The Kitchener-based founder of a new platform hopes to eliminate some of the anxieties often associated with visits to the mechanic. 

“I have six older sisters. They are lovely and wonderful and none of them are mechanics,” explained mechanical engineer and AutoCate founder Stefanie Bruinsma. “Of course, when they have an issue, they call me. So it was, how can we make that little sister or big sister more accessible to folks everywhere who have the same problem.”

AutoCate is still in beta testing but was developed to help its users get in contact with a team of female experts for educational purposes before making any car-related decisions. The name is a combination of the words auto and educate. 

“We target women but of course our platform is open to anyone. The gross neglect, like overcharging in the industry occurs about 27 per cent of the time. So it’s not so much charging you too much for brake pads, but the adding in of other services that aren’t necessarily required,” she said. 

According to the AutoCate website beta memberships are available for either $10 or $15 per month depending on the service required.

Members won’t be able to get their cars fixed through the platform, but instead the experts provided will make sure they won’t have to go through the process alone. 

“Picture something akin to like a Telehealth. You have somebody that you can call that can quickly triage: ‘Is this an imminent problem or is this a light that actually means you’ve accidentally somehow shut off the vehicle handling?'” said Bruisnma. “Our customers, they don’t know what all of the buttons in their cars do, we can certainly help them with that information.”

A woman fixes a car.
Mechanical engineer and AutoCate founder Stefanie Bruinsma describes her platform as a “big sister” for women looking for help when going to the mechanic. (Sara Jalali for Communitech)

How it works

Bruinsma shared the story of a customer who had air conditioning in her Honda that was no longer working. 

The AutoCate experts advised the customer to go to a shop and get a testing service done and call them back with the results.

“Three items were recommended but one was a little bit unusual and it was a drive belt. The other two items were definitely related to the AC problem specifically,” Bruinsma explained. “My first question when I see something like that, because she didn’t mention it, was ‘Is it making noise? Is your belt squealing?’ and she said ‘no’. Then my next question was ‘Is the belt cracked?'”

After a video consultation so the customer knew exactly what Bruinsma was referring to, more questions arose. 

“The belt wasn’t cracked and it wasn’t making noise. Very unclear about why that [drive belt] was recommended.”

Kitchener resident and car owner Brittany Blake says she can relate to feeling nervous when getting work done on her car, despite having a mechanic in her family. 

“It’s kind of ironic because my brother was always really good at automotive everything, so he actually went and is now a diesel mechanic,” Blake said. “But every single time I would go and get a vehicle checked or fixed, I would have this anxiety and I never really knew what it was or why I had it.”

She attributes those feelings to a lack of confidence in knowing what the mechanic was talking about.

“I still don’t know anything about when things need to get fixed but I started to find mechanics that I trusted,” Blake said.

“One was a good friend and they would actually bring me into the shop and show me and teach me under the car what it would look like and what they were talking about.”

Blake said, in her opinion some mechanics can capitalize on people who don’t know much about their cars.

“When anybody walks into a mechanic shop, I think that it’s the responsibility of that shop to educate people and that’s just not how the industry has functioned,” she said. 

“The industry is not designed to teach and educate people on their own vehicle. So I think that’s where the industry might be lacking in their servicing.”

LISTEN | Stefanie Bruinsma, a mechanic and founder of AutoCate tells us more about this new website:

The Morning Edition – K-W7:08AutoCate, a new platform built by women, is making trips to the mechanic easier by connecting you with an expert before you go

If you’ve ever run into car trouble and find yourself stuck with no idea what to do, there’s a new platform, built by women, to help make trips to the mechanic easier. Stefanie Bruinsma, a mechanic and founder of AutoCate tells us more about this new website.

AutoCate backstory

Bruinsma says that the tumultuous beginning to her mechanic career was another reason why she wanted to develop AutoCate.

“Getting started was really tough. I was 15 and I wanted my first co-op job. I didn’t grow up working in a garage but I just had this innate love for cars and I was dying to learn,” she recalled. 

“I had shop owners look at me and say ‘I don’t hire girls’ or ‘If I hired you, you’d be a distraction to the other guys in the shop’. That was just to get in the door.”

She adds many female mechanics have similar stories as less than five per cent of women work in the industry. 

“Immediately people are asking for evidence … or they start quizzing you. If that’s the experience of women who are mechanics, what is it like for women who aren’t?”

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