“Women drivers” are a road hazard because they are too busy applying mascara using the rear-view mirror. And parallel parking? Forget about it.
Yeah, Peggy Torres knows all the stereotypes. The 49-year-old Tottenville resident is just too busy defying them to let such outdated cliches run her down.
She earned her rare spot in a “boy’s club.” According to 2017 U.S. Department of Labor statistics, fewer than 2 percent of America’s auto repair pros are female. (And research confirms women who know less about cars pay more — but more on that later.)
Torres is a certified New York State Auto Inspector working at My Mechanic in Great Kills. When we caught up with Torres, it was a typical Wednesday morning in the shop. The garage was packed cars as Torres made her rounds, talking to customers and lending a helping hand to her boss, My Mechanic owner Javier Gil-Rojas
“I do everything here,” Torres said, who’s been a mechanic at the shop since 2010. “Everything. From paper work to invoicing to New York State inspections to basically running this shop when the boss isn’t here.”
GETTING HER START
After getting laid off from her office job in Manhattan in the aughts, Torres needed to ask the question most of us still struggle with: “What do I want to do with my life?”
“I’ve always loved cars,” Torres said. “I’ve always been intrigued by cars and a friend of mine worked at Midas in Staten Island.”
This was her in. Before working at My Mechanic, Torres held down a receptionist position at Midas. Shortly after, she took online classes to learn about hybrid cars and their functionality.
When Torres found her place at My Mechanic a decade ago, her curiosity became her purpose.
“It’s easy for a receptionist to order parts but what do these parts do?” said Torres. “Javier really pushed me and basically taught me everything I know.”
Torres and the friends and family around her thought she was unstoppable. Until, she needed to make some repairs to herself.
On Valentine’s Day 2016, Torres had a heart attack. Doctors told the mother of one she had four clogged arteries — and almost no chance of survival without open heart surgery.
One of the first calls she made post-surgery was to Rojas, asking how things were at the shop.
“I was online checking out banking information, calling the shop to ask if they needed anything,” Torres said. “To me, this is a 24-hour job. As sick as I was, my mind was still on the job.”
Three months later, she returned to My Mechanics.
“It was a big challenge for me. I’m still recovering but I wasn’t going to let it stop me,” Torres said. Although she is not completely healed, she feels good today. That’s what she is thankful for.
“I wanted to come back to work so bad. I love my customers, I love working here,” said Torres. “I’m better now. I’m stronger now.”
‘CAN I SPEAK TO A REAL MECHANIC?’
Being a woman in what is perceived to be a male dominated field is no easy task. Torres can recall several instances of male customers questioning her opinion and doubting her legitimacy.
The response she commonly gets after stating her professional opinion to someone of the opposite sex is “OK, can I speak to a real mechanic now?”
“Really?” Torres shoots back, recalling the story. “I don’t just sit here for nothing. I know what I’m talking about.”
More than once, when Torres has called another mechanic over to assess the situation, they tell the customer exactly what she just said.
“We’re here to make money but we’re not here to lie,” Torres said.
‘I’M GOING TO BE HONEST WITH THEM’
A common fear women have while entering an auto shop is getting scammed. Torres is not blind to sexism, saying she’s been shops where the men working there look at a woman, thinking “Thats an easy sale.”
BTW: A Northwestern University study backs Torres up, reporting that women do pay more than men for auto repairs, especially if they have limited knowledge of cars.
In her experience, it seems like women 70-and-older are most vulnerable to scams, including unnecessary car repairs.
“I want women to know that I’m here,” Torres said. “I’m going to be honest with them. I’m going to go out there and show them what’s wrong with their vehicle and tell them why they need something and not just saying they need it so I can make money.”
Things like changing an air filter is easy to do at home with a little research, Torres said. She and Rojas pride themselves on their shop’s honesty and transparency, even if it costs them a sale.
“I want women to feel comfortable because there is another woman involved instead of just speaking to a man,” Torres said. “I want them to have an idea of whats wrong with their car.”
PEGGY’S ADVICE TO WOMEN DRIVERS
Of course, it would be great if everyone had a Peggy Torres in their life. But for the majority, going to get car repairs alone can be a daunting task. Here’s her advice: Follow honesty and do your research.
“It’s like going to a doctor,” Torres says. “Get a second opinion, Be careful who you go to and if you have any doubts, listen to your own instincts.”
The blunt pro-tip from this Staten Islander: Know more about the car you have.
“I have a lot of women who come in and all they know is getting in the car and driving,” Torres said. “It frustrates me, as a woman, when I ask, ‘What year, make and model?’ their car is — and they don’t know.
“If I could help out another woman and give them a crash course on their own car, [they’re] more than welcome to come by.”
My Mechanic is located at 20 Giffords Glen in Great Kills. The shop can be reached at 718-984-4600.
By Victoria Priola [Silive]