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May 8, 2012

Mechanic Mom

Carchick Rebekah Fleischaker brings female knack to a male-dominated field

http://www.jewishjournal.com/business/article/mechanic_mom_carchick_rebekah_fleischaker_brings_female_knack_to_a_male-dom

Rebekah Fleischaker. Photo by Joshua Plotke

Rebekah Fleischaker. Photo by Joshua Plotke

Rebekah Fleischaker knows a thing or two about working as a woman in a male-dominated field. A mechanic for more than 20 years and owner of Sherman Oaks-based California Automotive and Mobile Mechanics, she goes by the moniker “Carchick.”

When Fleischaker speaks at women’s conferences, she encourages female attendees to not make their physical assets a focus when they enter a male-dominated career. She refers to it as drawing the “girl card.”

“Once you draw that card, you cannot put it away, and you instantly limit yourself,” she said. “You need to avoid limiting yourself through other people’s preconceptions.”

Whether Fleischaker is dealing with an ambitious entrepreneur or a customer, her message is to try something new and to not be afraid to ask somebody else you admire and respect to teach you how to do it right. In her case, that person was her first boss in auto repair.

Raised in a traditional Jewish home in Florida, Fleischaker joined the Navy out of high school to earn money for college. When her tour ended, she returned to find her truck totaled by a friend. It turned out to be a happy accident.

“While I was waiting for the [repair shop] owner to survey the damage, his phone rang and I answered,” she recalled. “Soon after that, he hired me as his secretary.”

Fleischaker spent her downtime reading auto repair manuals and catalogs. When she asked what a word meant, the owner said, “You don’t need to know.”

“And I responded, ‘If you could teach me a little bit about this, I feel that the garage would make more money because we would be better able to communicate with customers,’ ” she said.

The relationship ended up being a dynamic one.

“I never thought I would ever develop a passion for working on cars,” she recalled.  “However, he nurtured my curiosity and interest so much because he loved what he did.”

Shortly after moving to Los Angeles in 1989, Fleischaker happened across her first customer — a woman who needed a master cylinder installed for her clutch. After that, word of mouth spread so quickly that she quit her retail job to start an auto repair business that will pick up your car and deliver it when done, do the work where you are, or in their shop.

Fleischaker, mother to 9-year-old son Zane, notes that being a woman in a trust-based business like auto repair is actually an asset, especially at times when you have to break bad news to a customer.

“Most of my clients know that I will not lie to them, and that I am a good listener,” she said. “With each customer, however, I have to prove it to them through the quality of the work my shop does in rebuilding an engine or fixing the brakes. The other part of my gift is being able to tell my customers something, and from there be able to find a good response to their concerns. I listen closely to what they have to say back to me — or what they don’t say to me or ask me. I often look at their facial expressions to figure out how to solve a problem.”

Though the temptation to expand her business is there, Fleischaker says she would rather keep it the same size to ensure she and her team will never lose sight of the complex, quality work that has kept clients loyal.

“This is not a Jiffy Lube, in-and-out kind of place, but somewhere a customer would go to get specialized work done on his or her car,” she said. “With that attention to detail and commitment to getting the job right, there are only so many customers you can see in a day, and, as a Jewish mama, I want to give them and my staff the care and attention they deserve. After all these years, I still make the coffee at my garage. However, it is because I want my employees to have my coffee, because I love making it and I know it is better than the coffee they are able to make.”

California Automotive and Mobile Mechanics, 14254 Oxnard St., Sherman Oaks. (818) 780-4369. carchick.com

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