I’m not a car person and I try to leave any repair or maintenance issues up to my husband. But a few months ago I ended up having to take the car in for our annual tune-up. I drove away with a $600 bill for all kinds unnecessary extras my husband would never have agreed to. I felt like an idiot. They clearly saw me coming from a mile away.
After that horrible (and rather humiliating) experience, I came across this article in The Atlantic that breaks down the results of two academic studies focused on the role of gender and race biases in the world of cars. The first study shows that car repair shops consistently quote higher prices to women than they do to men. For any of you who’ve felt like you’re being fleeced that’s no big news. Based the study’s results, it’s easy to assume that auto-mechanics think we’ll fall for anything — no questions asked, right? Yes… and no. What’s interesting about the study is that when women and men suggested a price (any price, whether high, low or fair), both genders were given the same offer.
So, coming into the shop armed with a number significantly levels the playing field for women when it comes to cars. Why? Because when the mechanic thinks you’re well-informed enough to have a price in mind, the gender bias goes out the window. In fact, repair shops were even more likely to lower their prices if a woman asked.
This is good news, right? It is when it comes to car repair — but we aren’t so lucky when it comes to buying a vehicle. The second study, reported in The Atlantic, found that white males are consistently quoted lower prices at new dealerships than black or female test buyers, even when identical negotiating practices were used. So much for quoting a price and getting what you want. In Ayres and Siegelman’s study there’s really nothing women and minorities can do to level the playing field no matter how much homework we do and how good we are at negotiating. The study is both alarming and depressing and it’s something the automotive sales industry should be looking at closely and correcting.
Looking back, I do think I took my hands off the proverbial wheel when I went in unprepared to deal with a pushy maintenance guy eager to up-sell. Going in armed with a price is always the first line of defense against inherent biases. Lesson learned.
Money expert Caroline Cakebread has been writing for Chatelaine.com since 2006. She is a recovering academic and the mother of two small kids. She lives in Toronto where she writes and reads about all things financial. Follow Caroline at Twitter.com/ccakebread.