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How a new platform hopes to help those feeling overcharged by mechanics

Finding a trustworthy mechanic that won’t oversell or overcharge you can be a challenge for anyone, but a Waterloo, Ont., woman has launched a new service designed to help women with the challenge.

AutoCate is a new platform which has been launched by University of Waterloo grad and former auto mechanic Stefanie Bruinsma.

Bruinsma says women can be charged up to 30 per cent more for auto repairs than men and she believes her service can help anyone who fears being taken advantage of at the mechanic to get a fair price.

There have been a number of studies done over the years that back her claims, including a recent one which found that women in the U.S. were paying more than $100 extra for car repairs.

For Bruinsma, AutoCate is somewhat of a passion project as her love of cars began with the introduction of the Dodge Viper when she was 12 years old.

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“It was a crazy idea. A giant truck engine in a frame of a car that didn’t handle very well,” Bruinsma explained.

“I thought this is the most amazing thing ever and was like, I want to be an automotive engineer.”

That passion would lead Bruinsma to become a certified mechanic after high school, before heading to the University of Waterloo where she would became a mechanical engineer. A second quest for knowledge would see her head back to the post-secondary institution for its entrepreneurship program.

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“Of course, my experience as I tell it is a really nice story, but it was very tumultuous,” she said. “And there was a lot of bad experiences and a lot of rough waters.”

The licensed mechanic began to think about those tumultuous times on a grander scale.

“To get taken seriously in the (automotive) industry all throughout, I really had to be careful how I portrayed myself and how I acted, especially as a mechanic,” she said, noting that she was often forced to dress down to fit in. “Otherwise nobody would work with me.”

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Bruinsma wondered, “If I am a licensed tech and I get pushback when I’m dressed normally, ‘what’s it like for women who don’t know anything about cars?’”

To help educate women (and others) about their cars, she formed something which would morph into what is now Autocate.

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“AutoCate started as a social initiative,” she explained. “Once I graduated Waterloo, and I had a little bit more time on my hands, I started doing a lot more volunteering for women in engineering, women in mechanical engineering and just kind of give back.”

AutoCate is a subscription service which is designed to help those who have questions about auto maintenance and repairs.

“So fundamentally it is like you get a mechanic best friend, right?” Bruinsma explained. “The core of it is like, can everybody have an expert in their back pocket that they can call that works for them, so that they can get information to make a better decision on their car repair?”

She noted that overselling is a rampant issue throughout the car repair industry.

“It is the idea of OK, you came in, your car wouldn’t start, we told you, you needed a battery, but while you’re here, you need X, Y, and Z,” Bruinsma said. “And you say yes to X, Y, and Z because nobody wants to come back to the mechanic twice. And you may or may not need X, Y, Z.

“In fact, 27 per cent of the time you don’t.”

Right now, AutoCate is in beta testing with 100 subscribers, and while the service is directed towards women, 25 of the users are men.

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The company founder said they are working on building out answers to common questions users might have through the use of AI and data analysis.

“So initially, yes, you’ll have to deal with the mechanic, but over time these problems become repeatable and we can solve your problem without immediately calling an expert,” the engineer explained.

She said that the service can also be a boon for mechanics as well, as they can send customers to AutoCate so they can build trust.

“There are a lot of great mechanics out there. I’m friends with a number of them. And they love AutoCate, too,” Bruinsma said.

She provided the example of replacing a rear main seal, which is a part which costs a few dollars but is a repair which can run into the hundreds if not thousands.

“What AutoCate can do is tell you is, ‘hey, that engine has got to come out,” the Kitchener native explained. “This engine takes, you know, eight hours to come out. Then I pop that seal in, and then it’s going to take me eight hours to get back in.

“Right. Suddenly you have built trust with your mechanic by using auto as a service.”

As the company continues to work on the development side of things it has also begun running workshops Ontario in an effort to educate its clientele.

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“It’s inviting people in to get some hands-on experience and time with mechanics to ask questions and be a part of a community,” Bruinsma explained of the knowledge they are hoping to hare. “We find even if you are stuck on the side of the road changing a spare tire and you’ve never done that before, it can be very intimidating.”

She said that those who are coming to learn under a licensed mechanic will help people with their confidence when the need arises to do simple repairs.

Click to play video: 'How one Ontario woman is breaking down barriers in the skilled trades'

How one Ontario woman is breaking down barriers in the skilled trades

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