Girls Auto Clinic Offers Special Services and Advice for Women

Editor’s note: This story was originally published in October 2018.

Patrice Banks used to be the type of woman who felt like she needed a man with her when she took her car to a mechanic or bought a new car.

“[It] wasn’t a very empowering position, considering I’m an engineer,” she says. “I’m in a male-dominated field, I’m smart, but yet I was an auto airhead.”

After reaching out to other women, Banks realized she wasn’t alone. All too many found themselves in similar situations. She decided she was going to do something about it — for herself and for other women.

So Banks went back to school to learn how to become an automotive technician. She quit her engineering job at a Fortune 500 company and opened an auto repair shop in Upper Darby, Pennsylvania — just outside of Philadelphia — in January 2017.

The shop — Girls Auto Clinic — is run by women and caters to a female clientele. Banks owns a salon — Clutch Beauty Bar — adjacent to the shop, where customers can get their nails or hair done while waiting for their cars to be serviced.

Banks is dedicated to changing the face of the automotive industry and empowering women with auto education. She hosts free car care workshops at her shop once a month from April through November and is the author of the “Girls Auto Clinic Glove Box Guide,” which teaches women about car maintenance, car buying and finding the right mechanic.

Banks recognizes not every woman will want to get dirty and fix her own car but says women should know the basics of how to take care of their cars. After all, your car is an investment that can cost tens of thousands of dollars. You want it reliably getting you from point A to point B — not inching its way toward the scrap-metal yard.

Forget the Old Oil Change Rules

Banks says the most important thing car owners can do is to make sure to get their oil changed on schedule.

“Do you want to spend $40 for an oil change or $3,000 for a new engine?” she asks.

Following conventional wisdom, many people think they’ll need to spring for an oil change every 3,000 miles or three months. But that may not be the case, Banks points out.

“A lot of cars can go 5,000 [or] 10,000 miles between oil changes,” she says. “It is based on your owner’s manual.”

For those of us who haven’t cracked open the owner’s manual in a while — or ever — Banks says that’s where you’ll find a maintenance schedule that’ll outline when your vehicle needs routine care, like getting tune-ups, your filters replaced, your tires rotated and your oil changed.

An oil change is one of the least expensive auto-related costs you’ll likely encounter, she says.

So How Much Will This Cost?

Prices for auto jobs can vary widely depending on a number of factors, including how your car is made and where you live, Banks says.

However, she says you can generally lump the work done at an auto shop into three categories. The least expensive are tasks like oil changes, getting your tires rotated and replacing your windshield wipers. Banks says these types of maintenance jobs might cost less than $50, but they are tasks that need to be performed most frequently — at least once every year or two.

Light repairs and more involved maintenance work — like fluid flushes or getting new brakes and tires — fall in the middle tier, Banks says. You can expect to spend between $100 and $300 per job, and you’ll probably need these types of jobs completed every two to five years, she says.

Major repairs will be your highest expenses. And the older your car is, the more likely it’ll need some major repair work. A 2018 Ally Financial survey of over 2,000 Americans found that 80% of those who needed a major auto repair in the past five years paid $500 or more for it.

“When a car gets to be what I call in its second life, like 100,000 miles or over — what I call over the hill — that’s when it’s all fair game; anything and everything that could break will break,” Banks says. “I tell women everything on a car will fail. It will fail eventually. You have to expect it.”

If you’ve financed your car, Banks recommends you pay off your car note before your vehicle hits 100,000 miles. Then start saving up for repairs. You should expect to have repair costs on top of the regular maintenance work you’ll still need, she says.

Build Your Savings and Find a Good Mechanic

A woman mechanic shares advice on auto repair.
Women get advice about car buying, basic maintenance, realistic repair costs and finding the right mechanic in Banks’ free monthly workshops. Photos courtesy of Girls Auto Clinic

Planning ahead is the best way to not get caught unprepared when you’re hit with a high auto-related expense. Banks says to expect to pay about $1,000 a year in car repairs if your car has over 100,000 miles on it. She recommends socking away about $100 a month.

Pro Tip

Set up a sinking fund to save regularly for future repairs. Deposit savings in that account monthly and only withdraw when you need to pay an auto bill.

Another important aspect of being a smart car owner is to have a mechanic you trust. Open communication between technicians and customers is one thing Banks prioritizes at Girls Auto Clinic.

“Mechanics … diagnose things by hearing, feeling, seeing and smelling,” she says. “So if we can hear, feel, see and smell it, so can you.

“One of the things that I suggest that [customers] do, whether they come to us or any other mechanic, is to say, ‘Show me.’ We take people out into the shop and we show them what we’re seeing,” she says. “We have them listen to what we hear… We have them try to smell what we smell. We have them feel what we feel.”

Communication is key to helping clients not feel like they’re being taken advantage of, Banks says.

She acknowledges that car owners are sometimes hesitant to visit a mechanic because they fear they’ll feel pressured with recommendations for products and services that’ll add to their bills. Chain repair shops and dealerships are notorious for upselling, Banks says.

She says she combats this by being transparent with clients about what work they need right away and what they can wait a few months to have done. If your budget is tight, don’t be afraid to speak up, explain what you can afford now and ask what work can wait for a future visit.

Banks says she used to be a “get-in-the-car, turn-the-ignition-and-go type of girl,” but with knowledge and confidence, she’s no longer clueless about cars.

And when her car needs work done, she doesn’t have to call a man to help.

Nicole Dow is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder.




Is Home Insurance Required When You Buy a House?

If you’re buying a home, one question you might wonder is this: Is home insurance required when you own a house?

In many cases, homeowners insurance is indeed mandatory—and even in cases where it isn’t absolutely necessary, it’s still a good idea. To help you understand why, we’ve put together this Home Buyer’s Guide to Home Insurance, which will help walk you through what you need to know from beginning to end.

In this first article, we’ll introduce you to what homeowners insurance is, why it’s often essential, and what can go wrong if you don’t have it.

What is homeowners insurance?

With home insurance, as with other types of coverage (including health insurance), you pay a relatively small amount of money either monthly or annually in exchange for the promise that your provider will help you pay for unexpected costs you might incur as a homeowner.

What can go wrong? So much, including natural disasters, fires, crimes, accidents, and other emergencies, many of which can be expensive to fix. Without home insurance, you run the risk of getting stuck with a bill that could be in the tens of thousands of dollars. Home insurance offers protection and peace of mind that you won’t get hit with expenses that might be hard to pay on your own.

Why you need home insurance with a mortgage

If you need a mortgage on your home, most lenders will require you to get home insurance before they approve your loan and close the deal.

The reason: By loaning you money for the house, lenders are also investing in your property. If this investment suddenly plummets in value—since, say, a tornado turned it into a pile of rubble—it’s in your lender’s interests for you to have a home insurance plan that will rebuild and restore what you (and your lender) have lost.

“Homeowners insurance is typically required by a mortgage company,” says Brian Rubenstein, senior director for Ally Home. “A lender wants to protect the financial investment they made in your home.”

When to get homeowners insurance

At closing, most mortgage lenders will need you to show proof that you have an insurance policy already in place—even though you don’t officially own the home yet! This proof is known as an insurance binder, and serves as a temporary agreement between you and the insurance company that becomes permanent once you officially close on the home.

In fact, most lenders will want to see an insurance binder at least a few days before closing. As such, you’ll want to start shopping for insurance a few weeks before your closing date, so you have time to compare policies and find the right insurance company for you.

Do you need homeowners insurance without a mortgage?

Now, what if you don’t have a mortgage? Technically speaking, no, you’re not required to have homeowners insurance. But then the question becomes “Should you pay for home insurance?” The answer is still a resounding yes.

“Even if you don’t have a mortgage, home insurance protects the investment you’ve made in your house,” says Amy Danise, chief insurance analyst at Forbes Advisor.

“Think of the worst-case scenario, because that’s really what insurance is for: If your house burned down or was destroyed by a tornado, would you suffer financially?”

Reasons to get home insurance: What home insurance covers

If you don’t have homeowners insurance, you could be in for a rude awakening if disaster strikes and you need to pay engineers, contractors, electricians, masons, painters, roofers, and other highly specialized (read: expensive) professionals to repair the damage to your house.

According to the Insurance Information Institute, about 1 in 20 insured homes will file a claim each year. Meanwhile, data from the Insurance Research Council finds that, on average, insurance companies pay out about $8,787 per claim to help defray homeowners’ costs. Below are some of the most common and expensive insurance claims homeowners experience.

  • Wind and hail: Wind and hail damage is the most frequent reason why homeowners file insurance claims. Every year, 1 in 40 insured homeowners files claims related to wind and hail, with claims paying out an average of $11,200.
  • House fire or lightning strikes: Every year, about 1 in 350 insured homeowners files claims due to fire or lightning. These accidents are also among the most costly to repair, with claim payments averaging $11,971. Furthermore, lightning strikes are becoming more expensive. Why? Because our homes are rigged with an increasing number of electronic systems like smart home technologies, which can go haywire when struck by lightning.
  • Water damage or freezing water: About 1 in 50 insured homeowners files a property damage claim caused by water damage (like a leaky roof) or freezing water (burst pipes) each year. The claim payments average $10,849.
  • Theft: About 1 in 400 insured homeowners files claims due to theft every year, with claims paying an average of $4,391.
  • Personal injuries damage: In addition to covering your home and belongings, home insurance often includes liability coverage. This means that if a visitor gets hurt on your property, her medical bills should be covered by your home insurance company. About 1 in 900 insured homeowners files claims related to bodily injury every year. This injury could happen inside your home or, in some cases, elsewhere. For instance, if your dog bites someone on your property or even on the street or down the block, that is typically covered by your home insurance. The reason: Although we all know that dogs are members of our family, pets are considered property in legal terms. As such, any damage they inflict on others is often covered by insurance, wherever the incident happens. And good thing, too, since the average claim to cover the injured party’s medical bills hovers around $45,000.

All that said, what exactly is covered under a home insurance policy—and what you’ll pay for it—varies by provider. As such, it’s important to shop around and understand your options.

So how much does home insurance cost, and how much do you need? We’ll cover that in future installments of this guide. Stay tuned!


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Good Financial Cents, and author of the personal finance book Soldier of Finance. Jeff is an Iraqi combat veteran and served 9 years in the Army National Guard. His work is regularly featured in Forbes, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur.