How did you come to be a mechanic?

I have a picture of me for my 2nd birthday and my cake has trucks and tractors all over it. Always loved cars. I can't tell you why– I was sort of born that way.

I came from a family of intellectuals. My whole family went to really good schools. My mom, grandma and sister went to Smith College. My dad, his father and brother went to MIT– so it was expected of me to do that. It was sort of shitty, because even though I was really good at problem solving and working with my hands, there was a ton of pressure to do well in school. If you didn't get straight A's and you came home with a B+, it was like, we're going to have a conversation about this B+.

So as a result, no one ever told me, "wow, Faye, you’re a super-good problem solver who loves working with cars– why don’t you get in a trades program?” No, I was supposed to go to college. I didn’t hold my first wrench and actually started working with a car until that little grey Volkswagen.

Faye Hadley next to an older Volkswagen.

I bought it in the middle of a road trip. I had a little freak-out in the middle of college– just like, what am I doing here? Like, I hate this, you know? So I lost my shit, took a semester off, took the money I was going to spend on school, bought a car and drove across the country. Halfway through, I found the Volkswagen, sold my perfectly good car, bought that piece of shit and the engine blew up. At that point, I had no money left, so I had one option– gotta fix it myself. I found/sort of made my own apprenticeship after finding my first mentor, a fella named Jesse Whitsell, at the Banchwerks Volkswagen repair shop in Providence, RI.

Every day after I got off work as a therapist, I'd put on my massive coveralls that didn't fit over my nice work clothes. I’d just come in and sweep floors, scrub the toilets, sell used parts online– anything to be around and learn from Jesse.

I rebuilt my engine in the back of the shop with his guidance… His rule with me was, “alright, every time you borrow one of my tools: 1st time you write it down. 2nd time: you save up. 3rd time you borrow it: you're fucking buying it. You're not using my tools that many times.” That's how I built up my first tool kit. He taught me a ton of skills.

Out of college, I was making $75 an hour telling people twice my age how to live their lives. You'd think I had the pinnacle of success. Then there I was, happy making nothing sweeping the floor, just because I was in that environment. It was where I belonged. It took me 2 years to build the engine. I messed up a whole bunch of things. He sort of let me fail sometimes just so I learned stuff. That was like, the best lesson.

In 2012, I showed up to Portland Toyota on Broadway, which was then Broadway Toyota. A girl there, who was working as a cashier, had a Supra, so every time I would go in to order parts, we sort of made friends. She was like, we're hiring for a technician right now, grabbed me by the wrist, pulled me back to the service manager's office and said, "this girl could fill the position. I'll recommend her." I brought my resume back the next day, they hired me on the spot and that was my first paid job.

Did you feel like you had some resistance from the men in the garages to hire you full time or as an apprentice?

I don't have the story that people want me to have. I had a hard time finding a job because I had no experience….I've had very little resistance from men. A lot of them saw my genuine interest and were willing to impart their knowledge on me, not because I was a woman, but because I was someone that wanted to learn their craft– because I was driven and I was motivated.

It was more my parents expectations that got in my way because they wanted a “better life” for me. They didn't want me to work with my hands. They thought that that was beneath me. And I think that that's a huge problem. Cars nowadays are so advanced that you have to be an engineer to understand how these models’ systems communicate with one another! You can't be dumb. Back in the ‘60s, ‘70s, ‘80s, some of this stuff was just like,”water pumps leaking? I’ll put a new one on.”

Faye works underneath a 2023 Toyota

The 2023 Toyota, you gotta put it in service mode to diagnose it electronically. There's 2 completely different cooling system circuits. They're so advanced. Being an automotive technician is not a job for dumb or lazy people. There's so much honor in working in the trades.

So, the expectations were what I had against me the most. That's not to say that I haven't heard horror stories from other women that work in shops. However, I think a lot of it has to do with how we conduct ourselves in a certain way at jobs. I did everything that I could to make sure that I was respected. People knew that I was there to be serious, not to make friends. I was there to do a good job and get it done. I sort of demanded respect and I got it back.

Tell us about a day in your work life.

Right now, I do so much, I am all over the place! I still work on cars for a select group of customers I've had since the beginning of my business. I make YouTube videos doing automotive DIY tutorials. I also work for Toyota as a part of their technical training videos– like the training videos I watched in 2012– so coming full circle! And then of course I work at All Girls Garage. I’m bringing some really cool projects to the shop for episodes this year, so I’m very excited– it’s really fun.

The show was actually how I convinced my parents and myself that it was okay to get into the trades. I wasn't lowering my standards at all… so about 15 or so years ago, I found an interview with my now co-host, Bogi, of All Girls Garage, on Youtube. She'd gone to Oberlin, pre-law, super smart, could do anything– and she chose to be a mechanic and explained her story in the interview. She owned and ran her own shop at the time. I showed that to my parents and said ‘look, this woman is super smart, she can do anything she wants and she chose this because she finds it rewarding too.”

That’s why I chose to do the television show as well– this woman, who was out there, changed my life. I'm not really sure if the TV life is perfect for me because it's a lot of pressure, so maybe I'll do it for a bit longer, then pass the torch.

How do your parents feel about it now?

My dad was the one who was most against it. I actually completely cut him out of my life for about 10 years. I reached out to him about a year ago now– brought him on the Hot Rod Power Tour for his birthday and he had a blast. He was so frickin’ proud. He was like, “all right, I think I understand it.”

It was my mom who I was talking to after I got off work as a therapist and couldn’t wait to tell her how excited I was about the next thing I was doing on the car… She was one that was just like, “Faye, are you happy with the life choices that you've made so far? Is everything going well for you?” And I was like, “I think so – I've checked all the boxes, I’ve followed the right steps.” Growing up in like a really strict New England household, you just sort of did what your parents told you to do, you know? I was like, “I don't really know how to answer that question, mom.”

And she's like, “well, I've never heard you happier in your life than when you're talking to me about your car. So just know, you've made us proud. You've done what we wanted you to do. You went to college– no one can take that away from you. You have nothing to prove to anyone anymore. So if you feel that the best thing for you is to pursue a different career, none of us are going to judge you. You've nothing to prove anyway.”

I burst into tears. I was like, “Okay!” And then I quit my job and moved to Portland.

What does workwear made for women mean to you?

It means so much. It means recognition. It means validity. It means being recognized, that I actually work in the establishment – that I belong in this career, in this trade, in this field.

And it’s a safety issue. I was talking about how I always like to be super appropriate in the way that I dress. The first month at Toyota, I was working on a lifted Tundra. I had driven it into the bay and as I hopped out, my shirt (which was way too big) got caught on the little lever for moving the seat back and ripped wide open. Thankfully, there was no one around, but I had ripped the shirt. In typical work uniform fashion, you have a set of 10-12 of them for a week, so I changed and got back to work – but c'mon! That's a safety issue. Imagine if I had drug it through some fluids and then across a hot radiator or hot exhaust manifold. You can’t be in clothes that are too big in our industry. I'm not trying to have clothes so form fitting everyone can see all my body lines– that’s not the point of it. The point is safety and functionality!

Follow Faye @PistonsandPixieDust.

Photos by Jan Sonnenmair

Dovetail Workwear Disclaimer: We are not the boss of our Women At Work! They say it their way and wear it their way.


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