Letty Ortiz would disapprove. The “Fast & Furious” character, a headstrong mechanic played by Michelle Rodriguez, is a rare example among women. A new survey by auto-insurance comparison site Insurance.com found a large portion of women lack experience in a number of basic automotive procedures.
In April 2014, the Foster City, Calif., website asked 2,000 married homeowners with children and driver’s licenses how they dealt with car trouble. Most (63 percent) said they had ignored a dashboard warning light on purpose, and six in 10 said they had imitated car noises for a mechanic.
Women were slightly less likely than men to do either one, but they were more likely to admit they didn’t know their way around a car when it came to checking oil, changing tires, jump-starting an engine, and checking tire pressure.
According to Insurance.com, 13 percent of women surveyed admitted they don’t know how to check a car’s oil level; just four percent of men admitted the same thing. Fifteen percent of women admitted they don’t know how to check tire pressure versus four percent of men. Twenty-six percent of women admitted they don’t know how to jump a car versus seven percent of men. And a third of women admitted they don’t know how to change a tire versus six percent of men.
Insurance.com restricted the survey to married, homeowning moms, so it’s unclear how childless women—or those sans house or spouse—would respond. Another factor: How many men simply wouldn’t admit they don’t know how to change a tire?
“I would assume that’s a large factor,” Insurance.com Managing Editor Des Toups told us. “I would never admit that I don’t know how to change a tire, personally.” But it’s not the only possibility, Toups added.
“The actual physical work of changing a tire is intimidating to someone who’s half our size,” he said. “Tires are huge, and they’re a lot bigger than they used to be. And it’s hard to imagine a 130-pound woman pulling most of her body weight putting a 22-inch rim back on a Ford Expedition.”
Experience could breed familiarity. The survey found 88 percent of men have changed a tire versus 47 percent of women. Ninety-three percent of men have checked the oil in their car versus 78 percent of women, and 93 percent of men have also checked tire pressure versus 76 percent of women. Eighty-eight percent of men have jump-started a car versus 65 percent of women.
Age also factors in. Four in five drivers age 55 and older said they’ve changed a tire versus 60 percent of their younger counterparts.
Perhaps some of that comes from the changing nature of tire changes. An L.A. Times report in 2011 found 13 percent of cars lack a spare tire, whether full-size or temporary. The weight savings of an inflator-and-sealant kit in place of a bulky spare means the percentage is likely higher today. And even in cars that have spares, equipment can be another obstacle, Toups noted.
“It’s not an intuitive process, really—especially when you have things that don’t look like the jacks you saw in driver’s ed,” he said. “Factory jacks tend to be fiddly, because they’re not meant to be used every day. They’re meant to be compact and light and not take up a lot of space in your trunk.”
What happens when car trouble lands you at the roadside? Fifty-eight percent of women surveyed by Insurance.com said they’d call their spouse; just 31 percent of men said they would do the same. Meanwhile, 38 percent of men said they would call roadside assistance versus 27 percent of women.
Knowing how to fix something yourself—versus being a repeat tow-truck caller—can affect insurance premiums, Toups warned.
“If you have emergency road service on your vehicle [insurance policy] and you call to get a tow truck to come and change your tire, it’s still a claim,” he said. “In and of itself, it’s not going to change your rate.”
But if you have multiple claims, even those where you’re not at fault, “they see a pattern,” Toups continued. “Having it happen once is not a big deal, but if you were to file two, three, four over a short period of time—a year or two—that could drive your rates up.”