A Book for Beginners: Mechanic Shop Femme’s Guide to Car Ownership

a person holding a book in a car
'Mechanic Shop Femme' Invites You to Love Your CarKELLY MCKENNA PATTERSON

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At the ripe old age of 29, Chaya Milchtein has more than a decade of experience working in the automotive industry. She speaks to a large audience via social media about car basics and has gathered the results of her experience in a new book, Mechanic Shop Femme's Guide to Car Ownership. Over the course of a dozen-plus chapters, Chaya delivers succinct, knowledgeable advice covering the entire gamut of car ownership. Buying, maintaining, and selling are all thoroughly explained in straightforward language that anyone can understand.

We sat down with Chaya to discuss her new book, the atypical journey she took to get there, and her efforts to make the automotive landscape welcoming for everyone.

chaya milchtein book

Car and Driver: So, your automotive journey began at 18, when you landed your first job as a repair shop service advisor.

Chaya Milchtein: When I got that job, I had no idea that I wanted to do anything with cars. I didn't have a driver's license. I had no plans to remain in the automotive industry. And I truly had no idea what I was getting into. I started having nightmares about tires falling off people's vehicles.

But I asked a million questions. I demanded to understand every element that I could so that I can explain it to the customer. I loved explaining to customers about problems, and I loved making sure that they if they spent their hard-earned money with me, that they would know what they spent it on.

While I was in those shops, I realized that there was nowhere else for me to go up in this industry. I was an area manager for Sears Auto Center when I was 21 years old. I was managing a franchised repair shop in Brooklyn when I was like 22, 23 years old, and my employees were double my age.

Eventually I met with a career coach, and I was like, "Listen, I need to figure out: Where am I going? What's the thing?" She suggested I start a blog because "a blog is a great way to make money."

And is it?

[Laughs] Don’t start a blog if you think you're going to make money quickly! But I started that blog in 2017 and started writing about cars, and I called it Mechanic Shop Femme. And I did that because I wanted to bring my full self to work. And I wanted to bring the femme to it.

There are very few sites that you can go and find somebody with such a significant following of women who are just regular people—not automotive enthusiasts—who are interested in learning more about vehicles.

Then I posted in a women's entrepreneur blog: "What should I do next? I have this blog, but I don’t understand yet how I’m going to monetize this." But also, I’m already bored. It’s just a blog.

a book on a table

Someone in a Facebook group suggested that you start teaching classes.

My immediate thought was "Fuck no! That sounds like a terrible idea." I don't want to teach people how to fix their own cars, because there’s a million people already doing that—and the people that I’m serving don't want to fix their own cars. They don't have the capacity for that. They can't invest in the tools, and most of them don't have a house with a driveway to work in.

But I had a friend who bought an Isuzu truck. And you couldn't find any parts for it, because it was junk. They started sending me messages on Facebook: "I'm looking at this car on Craigslist." And I would look at [the listing] and offer my feedback. They ended up with a really great Honda CR-V for not a lot of money that I'm almost positive they're still driving today.

That’s when the lightbulb went off. I was like, I can teach car classes. I'm going to teach people how to buy a used car.

I think the community support really makes a huge difference. Seeing how much value I can provide to people and seeing the end result of a 30-minute conversation with somebody that helps them buy the best car that they've ever been able to buy for the money they have or, you know, answering somebody's question on TikTok. I have customers that follow me on social media to this day. Watching the joy they got from just being treated like a human being. I mean, that was magical. And I never want to stop doing that.

chaya milchtein book
Car and Driver

How did your experience become this book?

I wanted to offer a comprehensive resource that had a lot of nuance in it, that could be easily referenced on the go when you're at the shop or before you go to the shop. I want to teach people about the journey of car ownership, and all the different elements that go into it.

I tried to acknowledge people's lived experiences, and I also tried to acknowledge the reality of the industry that they’re walking into. How much of a dehumanizing experience it has been for me to be a woman, especially a queer, fat woman, in the automotive industry.

I think that [it's important] to realize that this environment keeps people thinking that they're stupid, they don't know anything, they can't trust themselves when they go into a repair shop or they go into a dealership. I'm sure it affects women and queer folks and people of color predominantly, but it also affects every single man out there who doesn't know squat about their car.

At the end of the day, Mechanic Shop Femme's Guide to Car Ownership was written for queer folks and for women, but it is applicable to everybody. And it is applicable at every age. There's no reason why anybody can't walk in somewhere and buy a car. You need to believe that you have the emotional tools. You've spent your entire life dealing with people in deciding whether they're honest or not honest and you just need a little bit of help. And you need a little bit of empowerment so that you can believe yourself.

I hope that this book doesn't just have an impact on the people who are reading it, but also has an impact on the industry at large to make them see that our money is green, that we're worth the investment and, you know, we deserve to be seen as full human beings.

<p><a href="https://www.amazon.com/dp/0316565512?tag=syn-yahoo-20&ascsubtag=%5Bartid%7C10048.a.60649463%5Bsrc%7Cyahoo-us" rel="nofollow noopener" target="_blank" data-ylk="slk:Shop Now;elm:context_link;itc:0;sec:content-canvas" class="link ">Shop Now</a></p><p>Mechanic Shop Femme’s Guide to Car Ownership: Uncomplicating Cars for All of Us</p><p>amazon.com</p><p>$19.99</p>

We have a huge shortage in the automotive industry right now. We have a shortage of mechanics. We do not have enough people to fix the cars that are on the road. And this shortage is only getting a lot worse. And when people are like, "Oh, they should hire women because that's going to fix the shortage." Yes, they should. They should hire women and they should hire queer folks. But first we need to make the industry one that that is a safe and comfortable place.

On the Road

My book tour is so freakin’ cool. April was National Car Care Month, and when I found out my book was coming out in April, I was like, This is fate to the universe telling me that I need to go and need to take this series on tour.

My book tour is going to 16 different women-, queer-, and POC-owned mechanic shops across the United States. I want to uplift these shops. I want to get their voices out there. I want to connect to their local community, to a shop that does things differently.

Cars are just my medium for helping people.

Mechanic Shop Femme’s Guide to Car Ownership is available online and at bookstores nationwide.

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