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Auto Repair Shop Run By Women

The image of men standing around in greasy cover-alls may come to mind when you think of auto garages. But there's at least one shop in Central Ohio that breaks the mold.

Chris Cozad leans back in her chair as she talks to a client. The shop's office is so narrow only one person can walk through at a time, but it works. Cozad owns Alternative Auto Care, a Short North business that's about to have its 26th anniversary.

It's a typical garage...the smell of oil in the air, car hoods propped open, countless tools. This shop has four mechanics, three are women.

Cozad took an interest in mechanics during college when she had no choice but to keep fixing her old car.

"At one point I was unemployed. And my friends kept calling me. 'Chris my car won't start,' or 'will you do my breaks,' 'my mom's car won't start.' And I reached a point where I was doing four or five cars a week like that for friends, friends of friends and friends of friends' mothers-in-law and, you know. And I thought, well, heck, I can do this," she said.

So Cozad had some business cards printed and threw her tool box in the truck. She worked, in her words, "on the street."

"Your street, my street, didn't really matter," Cozad said.

Then Ohio's cold weather kicked into high gear.

"I realized pretty quickly that that wasn't going to be very much fun."

She rented a tiny garage for a few years then moved to a bigger place on Second Avenue. Alternative Auto Care's now located on West Fifth Avenue. Cozad, who's an advocate for women in non-traditional jobs, said she's employed mostly women over the years.

"Sometimes you've gotta have a man just because there aren't enough skilled women. There are certainly more now than there used to be," she said.

Cozad said less than one percent of auto mechanics are women. And she faults the industry for not recruiting them more. "We have this sort of old grease monkey vision of what it means to be a mechanic. And that's really a thing of the past. We really need highly skilled people who are good with computers and technology and electricity and that is not typically where this industry recruits," Cozad said. One of Cozad's employees is Constance Taylor, a petite, young woman. She said she got her love of the trade from her dad. Taylor calls herself the "grunt" of the shop.

"They still teach me lots of things while maintaining the integrity of the shop. I'm not in there blindly banging around. Don't worry," Taylor said.

Cozad said people were surprised by women mechanics in the early 80s, but most accepted the idea.

"People want honest, competent auto repair at a fair price. And once they realize they're going to get that here the fact that we're women doesn't matter anymore."

Auto mechanics have a bad reputation of ripping off consumers. But customer Philippe Nadaud said he was not worried because the person working on his car was a woman.

"I was actually more confident. I had the feeling they were more serious and more, not lying to me, or trying to charge me more for something," Nadaud said. Cozad said some people might trust her garage more because women run it, but she'd like to think it's because she knows the trade and is open with her customers.