Look ahead: the driving force is female

As good drivers, women overtook men long ago. Now they're looking under the bonnet, too, writes Ann Treneman

For years I have known exactly what to do when the car breaks down, or makes a dreadful noise or starts to steam. Make a phone call. So the other day when the temperature gauge surpassed the red zone, I headed for the phone. But that was broken, too, and so I did the unthinkable: I opened the bonnet and looked inside.

In this mini-breakthrough I am not alone: such behaviour is part of a trend that shows women are finally beginning to feel at home with their cars. By almost any measure, women are travelling in the fast lane: at the moment there are five women learning to drive for every three men and, within seven years, the number of male and female drivers will be equal.

The future of the road is female. Women purchase 50 per cent of new or used cars but they have a deciding influence on 80 per cent of purchases. They aren't impressed by speeding (1 per cent find it exciting compared to 40 per cent of men) and were involved in only one-third of accidents. In 1994, in England and Wales, men were found guilty of 97 per cent of dangerous driving and 93 per cent of drink driving.

Such figures mean that a woman's hand on the wheel inspires discounts from insurers and, the AA estimates that a 17-year-old girl could pay pounds 110 less than her twin brother on an average car. By 21, that gap can widen to pounds 194. "Best of all are premiums on hot hatches - a 20-year-old girl could drive a Golf GTi for around pounds 721 less than a man," says an AA article called "Women, the new driving force".

And part of that is a new confidence when it comes to car maintenance. The RAC notes that lack of basic car maintenance is behind half of the breakdowns it is called to, and so far it has trained 100,000 women in the basics of oil, water and tyres in workshops over the past five years. "The image of the woman who never looks under the bonnet is long gone," says Shelley Maxwell of the RAC.

Well, not that long gone. That same RAC does not employ one female mechanic in its 1,400 patrols. Halford's is also curiously reticent about finding out how many women it employs as mechanics at its 400 stores. "I don't think we have any," a spokeswoman admits, adding: "We think of our customer base in terms of families and family users."

In this they are lagging behind. Ford Women's Marketing panel includes female employees from 10 countries, ranging from the assembly line workers to engineers to designers. They are called in to test everything from ad campaigns to tailgate handles. The company runs a course in how to sell to women and even one in how service receptionists should deal with female customers. "There's an awful lot of women who do know what's going on with cars these days," says co-chair Carol Giles.

And yet an AA investigation found that garages charge the lone female customer up to two-thirds more than men for routine maintenance. To counter this the AA has set up an Approved Garage Scheme. But the Women's Driving Initiative - a motoring club based in Northumberland - has gone one further. Working with the Retail Motor Industry Federation, it is embarking on a campaign to get a "women's charter" taken up by garages this summer.

"We have to be careful not to come off as women liberationists," says founder Judy Fawdington who owns a franchised garage in Hexham. "Because that's not what we're about at all. What we want to do is bridge the gap because there is still a problem in some garages." The Women's Charter is a six-point plan that may look simple but will test many a garage. Included is a commitment not to be patronising or condescending.

Pity the garage that patronises Anita Vidler (and she says a few have tried). She is one of 20 female mechanics employed by the AA. "I wanted to be a lorry driver - my granddad was a mechanic and my dad was a mechanic - and the only way I could become a lorry driver was to join the army. Part of the HGV training was mechanics and that's how I got started really."

Vidler, who has worked on patrol for three years, has got used to a surprised reaction when she steps out of the AA van but, she says, most motorists are so pleased to see help on hand that they aren't too fussy about who serves them.

But why, as the glass ceiling starts to crack in a post-feminist age, are women still so slow to make a living (and a good one) fixing cars? "My personal point of view is that women make good vehicle mechanics. Why there aren't more appears to be entirely attitudinal," says Mike Almond, training director for the Retail Motor Industry Federation. "We've got 5,500 mechanics under training and 200 are women. The numbers are creeping up, though. The number of our female trainees in heavy vehicle mechanics has doubled - from one to two"

News
Ben Little, right, is a Labour supporter while Jonathan Rogers supports the Green Party
general election 2015
News
The 91st Hakone Ekiden Qualifier at Showa Kinen Park, Tokyo, 2014
news
Life and Style
Former helicopter pilot Major Tim Peake will become the first UK astronaut in space for over 20 years
food + drinkNothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
News
Kim Wilde began gardening in the 1990s when she moved to the countryside
peopleThe singer is leading an appeal for the charity Thrive, which uses the therapy of horticulture
Sport
Alexis Sanchez celebrates scoring a second for Arsenal against Reading
football
Life and Style
health
Voices
An easy-peel potato; Dave Hax has come up with an ingenious method in food preparation
voicesDave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
News
i100
News
Japan's population is projected to fall dramatically in the next 50 years (Wikimedia)
news
Life and Style
Buyers of secondhand cars are searching out shades last seen in cop show ‘The Sweeney’
motoringFlares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

    £18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

    £16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

    Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

    £18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

    Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

    £28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

    Day In a Page

    NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

    Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

    A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

    The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
    How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

    How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

    Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
    From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

    The wars that come back to haunt us

    David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
    Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

    A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
    Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

    UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

    Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
    John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

    ‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

    Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
    Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

    Let the propaganda wars begin - again

    'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

    Japan's incredible long-distance runners

    Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
    Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

    Tom Drury: The quiet American

    His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

    Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
    Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

    Beige to the future

    Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

    Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

    More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
    Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

    Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

    The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own