Christine Boyce didn’t set out to own a chain of muffler and brake shops around the Cleveland area. In fact, she began her career as an accountant.
“I was introduced to the automotive industry because my brother-in-law managed several shops. He hired me to help him with some database creation and inventory management.”
Boyce transitioned into doing bookkeeping and payroll, an experience that allowed her to gain a deep understanding of the business from a financial perspective. This led to an opportunity to buy her own muffler and brake shop with her husband, Joe (who is also not a mechanic — he’s a chemical engineer).
Boyce brings an outsider's perspective to the auto repair business. Not being a mechanic herself, she operates her auto shops from the books backward rather than from the back forward, as is the case with many owners who were mechanics first.
In addition to acquiring deep expertise from working two decades in the industry, Boyce is intentional about surrounding herself with a team of mechanics that boasts 100-plus years of combined experience; this ensures that all customers receive the best and safest repairs and upgrades to their vehicles.
Another major differentiator? Boyce is a woman in a world that remains a predominantly male space. In 2022, women made up less than 4% of auto mechanics in the nation.
Boyce understands that many customers, particularly women, feel underserved or talked down to when they enter automotive spaces. She strives to alleviate these concerns by emphasizing empathy and transparency in her team's customer service approach.
“I try to make the mechanics and managers understand what it feels like to come into a shop and have to spend a lot of money and feel like you’re never quite sure if they’re lying to you or taking advantage of you. It’s a very uncomfortable feeling of anxiety and helplessness.”
We asked Boyce to offer her top tips for women who want to navigate the car diagnostic and repair process with confidence. Here’s what she had to say:
1. Don’t Be Afraid to Ask Questions
Both men and women want to be able to understand what’s wrong with their car and why it costs what it costs. Good technicians are not intimidated by questions; in fact, they welcome the chance to explain.
“Ask. There’s no problem with asking,” Boyce says. “They want to explain it to you, they want you to understand. They’re not going to think you’re dumb or laugh at you. They don’t feel like it's an annoyance or a waste of time. You’re not bothering them by asking questions. That’s why they’re here.”
2. Still Don’t Get it? Ask Again
If you can’t figure out what a charge is for or don’t understand why one part would cost so much, keep asking. Ask the technician to physically show you the problem with the car. Sometimes seeing it can help you understand better than talking it through.
“If it doesn’t make sense, there’s no shame in saying that and asking them to walk through it again,” Boyce says. “They can even show you on the car.”
3. Ask for Options
Not too long ago, a customer called her upset over a car repair estimate from another shop. The air conditioner had gone out in her minivan, and the shop told her it would be $3,000 to fix. Boyce offered to have her techs take a look.
“She has one of those minivans with dual climate control,” Boyce said.
The estimate to fix that type of system was spot on. Boyce was able to show her why but then she offered alternate solutions.
“We were able to show her that if you don’t care about the dual control, we can disable that part and stop it before the leak and have it be A/C in the front. We can get you out of here with your A/C, tires replaced, and headlights for $750. She was so happy.”
At her first shop, this customer didn’t even think to ask if there was an alternative plan that better fit her budget. And Boyce says that’s a mistake a lot of women make.
“The other mechanic didn’t show her why it was so much. The whole thing left her feeling like she had no choices. We were able to work with her and figure it out. A lot of times, there are flexible ways of working with people.”
Always ask your mechanic about repair options and how urgently something needs to be done in order to make your car safe. Sometimes, asking the question is enough to unlock creative solutions — and save money.
4. Ask for a Written Estimate
Getting an estimate in writing arms you with one more data point about your repair. “You can always ask to print out an estimate and take it with you and have someone else review it to make sure you’re getting a fair price,“ Boyce says.
Having an understanding of what services cost can be an advantage, especially for women. Research shows that women who come in with an idea of what a service should cost “can overcome gender discrimination and negotiate a fairer price.”
Good mechanics will welcome the discussion, but Boyce also advises all customers to adopt a cooperative rather than adversarial approach when they enter an auto shop. She encourages them to ask questions and request explanations to foster understanding and ensure fair pricing.
“Sometimes, when people are uncomfortable, they adopt an unnecessarily confrontational, aggressive stance right away,” she says. “The nicer and more flexible people are with us, the more it makes us want to try to find a way to help them to help them find a solution.”
5. Find a Shop You Trust
Finding a repair shop you can trust is fundamental for peace of mind and ensuring fair treatment. This trust isn't built overnight but grows from consistent positive experiences, transparent communication and fair pricing.
When seeking a trustworthy shop, start by doing some research. Look for shops with positive customer reviews, especially from women. A shop with a reputation for explaining procedures clearly, providing transparent pricing and delivering excellent customer service is likely to uphold these standards with all customers.
Trust also stems from open and respectful communication. When seeking out a repair shop, look for one where you feel comfortable asking questions, where your concerns are taken seriously, and where you feel included in the process of diagnosing and repairing your vehicle. Boyce has worked with her staff to ensure they approach all customers with empathy and understanding.
“You want to make sure the customer feels comfortable about what we’re doing and why we’re doing it,” she says. “Then they’ll feel good about coming back — and feel good about the money they spent.”
Changing the Way it’s Always Been
“Whether it’s true or not, the traditional perception is that men know more about these things and are able to negotiate and stuff,” Boyce says. “There’s a general perception by even the women themselves that this is not really their comfort zone.”
That carries over to women working in the field as well. Boyce often faces vendors or customers who call with questions, and instead of speaking with her or her knowledgeable service writer, Amanda, they will request to speak with a man.
“That’s how things have always been,” she says. But that’s not how they have to stay. Boyce has cut off relationships with vendors because of blatant misogyny and is not shy about calling out sexist behavior when she sees it in her shop.
“Just because things were always done a certain way doesn’t mean they always have to be done a certain way. There’s nothing wrong with demanding to be treated how you expect to be treated.”
Despite persistent stereotypes and inequities in the automotive world, Boyce is doing what she can to change the narrative in her chain of shops around the Cleveland area. By fostering a culture of empathy, transparency and open communication, she hopes to create a welcoming environment for all customers, regardless of gender or automotive knowledge.