Sexism & Scamming

It’s Friday. You’ve just finished all your assignments for the week, and you’re ready to go home and kick back. Then, your phone starts ringing.

“Oh, hey, Dad,” you say.

Then, he hits you with the dreaded line you hear twice a year.

“It’s time for you to get an oil change.”

Suddenly, your surroundings are spiraling. The sky’s turning black and you feel your spirit separating from your body. Certainly, it can’t be that time of the year already.

If you feel a sense of anxiety every time you’re required to take your car into the shop, you’re not alone. Why is that though? What’s the big deal?

Sure, it’s boring. It’s an errand. But there’s more than that.

I, along with many other women, have faced mistreatment at auto repair shops. Whether we are talked down to, ignored or overcharged, it seems like plenty of us have an unseemly story to share.

Why women? Why are they the target?

A study from Northwestern University suggests that these customers are assumed to be less informed and addresses how gender plays a role.

According to the research, callers who announce that they don’t know what a repair should cost before requesting a quote are told the same prices on average as callers who announce that they have an accurate idea of what the repair should cost. However, these averages mask a crucial difference – the gender of the caller.

Northwestern University’s study found that female callers that say they are uninformed about accurate repair prices are quoted $20 higher than male callers that say the same thing.

In the experiment, researchers evaluated the results of three different test groups: individuals who researched and knew the market price; those who said a price that was above market value; and those who claimed to have no knowledge as to what the price should be.

“… The data are more consistent with statistical discrimination,” said Megan Busse, one of the researchers. “Shops believe, rightly or wrongly, that women know less about cars and car repair. In the absence of information to the contrary, they will be offered a higher quote.”

Many young women can relate to the experience of repair shops expecting them to not have prior knowledge of what they’re coming into the shop for. I, myself, am guilty of this. However, when I’m treated condescendingly, I leave and take my business elsewhere.

Specifically, I recall an instance where I needed to get a couple of new tires. Tires are already expensive as is, but it also costs extra to get the tires installed as a service by the shop. At the time, I had a friend who worked at a dealership, and he’d promised me he’d install them for me free of charge.

When my mother and I were discussing our course of action in front of the worker at the tire shop, I mentioned that we didn’t need to pay for the installation fee – we could just buy the tires.

At this comment, the employee smirked at us and chuckled mockingly.

“What? You gonna install them yourself? Please.”

I couldn’t fully fathom the level of disrespect in his tone at the time, but I was instantly irritated, and I dragged my mother out of the shop, insisting we take our business elsewhere. I look back now and realize that this behavior of condescension is all too common.

“I’ve just always been told to go with a man whenever I go to the mechanic so they don’t scam me,” said Teresa Cadavid, 22. “And when I go alone, my dad always calls me to make sure they’re not overcharging and even sometimes talks to the mechanic for me.”

Luckily, I have found a couple of businesses in town that treat me respectfully, but it took me a while to locate them. However, the point still stands: This should not be an issue in the first place.

Interestingly enough, there is some good news. The Northwestern University study also found that upon asking, women tend to receive discounts more often than men, 35% as opposed to 25%. According to The Atlantic, “… repair shops are surprised perhaps when a woman customer defies the stereotype that women don't haggle and negotiate. They think she will walk out the door; hence, she gets a discount.”

A word of advice: Do your homework in advance, and evaluate the market price of the service you need before going into the shop. Also, ask for a discount if you feel that you are entitled to one. Oil changes don’t need to be the enemy.