What Drives Her: Bogi Lateiner Is Empowering Women To Take Control Of Their Auto Repair Experience

All Girls Garage host Bogi Lateiner knows a thing or two about automotive repair–and she wants every woman to feel empowered in the shop.

Bogi Lateiner
Photo courtesy Bogi Lateiner

Bogi Lateiner has spent her life empowering women, both inside the automotive sphere and out.

She started off with a desire to work in law in order to help domestic violence victims and slowly discovered that her real passion came in empowering women to understand more about cars and to remind the world that girls kick just as much butt as everyone else. She wants women to know that cars aren’t scary, that it’s totally possible to know more about the machine you drive without having to get your hands dirty.

Now, Bogi Lateiner has established herself as a repository of mechanical knowledge, which she’s fortified by running her own shop, hosting car maintenance and repair classes for beginners, establishing scholarships for women in the automotive sector, and co-hosting All Girls Garage, a show on MotorTrend designed to show women can undertake the same complex automotive repair projects as their male counterparts.

And even with all that going on, Bogi still finds time to share her experiences to make the car world a more welcoming place.

Related: How a Vintage Volvo and Star Mechanic Bogi Lateiner Are Empowering Women and Changing Automotive

Bogi Lateiner

Photo courtesy of Bogi Lateiner

Bogi Wasn’t Always About Cars

“I didn’t grow up around cars,” Bogi said in an interview with A Girls Guide to Cars. “I didn’t know anything about cars. Nobody in my family was into cars—they don’t know where I came from.

“It started out less about cars and more about the challenge of it. I had fallen in love with Volkswagen Beetles when I was little. I thought they were really cool, and I was a little hippie kid and I wanted one. I started reading Volkswagen magazines to figure out what year I should buy. I noticed that women never showed up in these magazines unless they were wearing high heels and bikinis. That was the mid-90s, early-90s, and that was pretty much the norm. But my little feminist hippie mind was like, ‘ That’s not cool!'”

That mindset was only fortified throughout Bogi’s life. She not only bought her dream Bug but decided that she was going to renovate it and maintain it herself. Or, as she put it: “That became my mission. I was going to buy a Bug and rebuild it, and I was going to be in the magazine, and not in a bikini in high heels.” And when her friends and teachers tried to dissuade her from taking auto shop, it was fuel for the fire.

So, she did it. Bogi rebuilt her Beetle from the ground up. And even as she pursued law in college, she found herself teaching her friends about their cars, since there was such a massive knowledge disparity. She recalled, “It really became apparent to me that, when we teach people and help people learn about things that intimidate and scare them, and they realize that they’re not so intimidating and scary anymore, that translates to other areas of their life. Like, if this wasn’t as scary I thought it was, what else might not be so scary?”

“After college, I went to Universal Technical Institute—again, to the shock and awe of all of my friends who had no idea or understanding of what I was doing,” Bogi said. “I went off and became a mechanic and worked for BMW for seven years and worked on the line as a master technician for a long time. And then it was time to go on to the next chapter, which  was starting my own shop and creating my own space that was about empowering people, whether they wanted to become mechanics, whether they just wanted to have a different relationship with their car, whether they wanted to just feel like they were not be treated poorly at a repair shop.

“There were a variety of reactions [to my presence]. When I was coming up, it was the late 90s, early 2000s, and I was not welcome in a lot of places. It was very challenging to get my foot in the door and get my first jobs. I was looked at like I was weird. My motives were questioned. I had people who I worked with who were vehemently opposed to my presence. I definitely dealt with quite a bit of that, people point-blank telling me, ‘You don’t belong here, women shouldn’t be here, you have no right and I don’t know why you want to be a man.’ Like, I don’t want to be a man, I want to be a mechanic—that’s different!

“I also had a lot of folks who were incredibly supportive. Sometimes their voices were harder to hear because, as humans, we tend to hear the negative voices louder. It wasn’t always easy to focus on the positive voices.”

But she pushed through and proved to everyone around her that she was just that: a mechanic, and a damn good one.

Related: I Was a Guest in Bogi Lateiner’s Girl Gang Garage

Bogi Lateiner

The cast of All Girls Garage with Bogi on the far right. Photo courtesy of Bogi Lateiner

Making Space for Women

When it comes to carving out a space for women in the automotive world, Bogi doesn’t mince words: we need visibility. We need to see women actively participating in traditionally masculine roles, whether that be a female mechanic making repairs or a novice taking charge of her automotive maintenance.

“Be visible, project a professional, successful appearance,” Bogi said when asked about the key to success. “Keep doing what you’re doing, and I think that’s going to make the most change. People just need to see images of women legitimately working on cars, even if they’re not technicians. If they’re hobbyists or car owners just checking their air filter or changing their own oil. Women need to see that so it becomes less weird. So when a young girl goes into a shop and applies for a position, it’s not this like, “You want to be a what?” and instead it’s just, okay, yeah, of course.”

Bogi makes the crucial point of noting that this not only helps women make moves in the car world. It also means boys will grow up seeing women in more diverse roles and grow more accepting as well. It may take a few generations, but soon, the disintegration of traditionally gendered career paths simply won’t exist.

A lot of my passion in doing what I do now is driven by a desire to make the path a little easier for those who come after me,” Bogi said. “There were trailblazers who came before me who paved the way and made it even possible for me to take auto shop in high school and become a mechanic. As hard as it was for me, it was easier than it was for people of my parents’ generation. If I can be a part of making the path a little easier for the next generation, that’s what drives me. It drives all of the work I did within my repair shop, it drives the coaching I do with shop managers and shop owners across the country, teaching them customer service and community building within their organization. All of that is toward, how do we make auto repair less intimidating for women, both as consumers and as potential employees and co-workers?”

Related: Do You Have to Be a Car Expert to Make Smart Car Choices? Talking about Women and Cars with Consumer Reports

Where To Start On Your Own Car

Performing maintenance yourself or exerting more agency in your auto repair experience can be incredibly intimidating, especially for a lot of women. But taking control of that experience is so important; even if you aren’t changing your oil in your own garage, it can help to understand the basic components of your car so you can understand the work being done when you take it into the shop. And Bogi is all about educating yourself.

“There are tons of resources out there now that are geared toward the novice, the person who knows nothing about cars,” Bogi said. “There are articles and videos and information online that explains things simply, like how your power steering works or how your brakes work. We’re very fortunate to have social and digital content. There’s a lot of information out there.

“More and more, repair shops are starting to offer women’s car care clinics, basics classes. A lot of dealerships are doing programs for new car owners to learn about their car. I think that’s a great starting point.”

But beyond all that, Bogi notes that the most important thing is to maintain a sense of curiosity. Ask what’s going on. If you don’t know why your mechanic is undertaking some work, just ask for an explanation.

“When we go to the doctor and he tells us we have a disease, what’s the first thing we do? We ask questions,” Bogi said. “We search for it and read about it online. We want to see what it is and what people are saying about it. Do the same thing with your car. When someone throws a word at you that you don’t know, look it up. There are tons of resources out there. And ask the questions!

“A lot of what I teach is not necessarily how to become a mechanic but how to become a more aware consumer and how to not feel vulnerable. You know, what questions to ask, to not be afraid to ask questions. To insist on understanding. To ask to be taken out to see what’s going on with the car. To build a relationship with the repair shop. To change the relationship and really think of car mechanics and technicians as car doctors. How do we find a good doctor? Can we create that same relationship with automotive and take a little bit more of the power back and feel less vulnerable and feel more like, ‘I’m a part of this process.'”

I'm Elizabeth Blackstock, managing editor of AGGTC, blogger, journalist, novelist, editor, MA/MFA graduate student, wife, motorsport fanatic, and bearer... More about Elizabeth Blackstock