For the 176th week of "7 QUESTION SUNDAY" we shine the spotlight on another influential individual from the PNW. Chelsea Bidwell is the owner of Chelsea’s All Girls Auto, taking the horror out of car buying!
4EVRGRN: Hey, CB! Tell us a little about yourselves.
CB: I grew up in Tacoma and have lived here for most of my life. I went to Stewart middle school, attended Mt. Tahoma high school for my freshman year (where I met the man who I would eventually marry), and graduated from the Tacoma School of the Arts. After high school I panicked about my future and ended up going to culinary school, before enrolling in Central Washington University’s college of business. It was while I was in Ellensburg that the idea of Chelsea’s All Girls Auto was born, and after college I began an exciting career in the world of used car sales. I learned a lot from my time on auto row and am happy to use that knowledge for the benefit of others now.
I still live in Tacoma with my husband, a wonderful roommate, and our dogs. I’m fortunate enough to have friends living just a few blocks away from me in either direction too. It makes getting together for regular game nights and potlucks a lot easier. We love being social and getting together with friends and family all the time.
- How did Chelsea’s All Girl Auto come about?
CB: When I was in college my car broke down in a really bad way. The timing belt snapped at highway speeds and pretty much ruined the engine. My college town was 150 miles away from home, so I had to take it to a local shop for repairs. I’d had a decent experience previously with a shop in town and I thought they’d do right by me again, but it ended up being one of the worst experiences of my life. The shop owner and manager would only ever communicate with my husband, even after we told them multiple times that I’d be the point of contact for the whole ordeal; they charged me all of my money for the repairs, then gave me a half-fixed car back and tried to tell me the problems I was still experiencing were new and unrelated to the work they’d just done to fix it (therefore not covered by their work warranty); they charged me for work they didn’t do and didn’t plan to do, and only admitted it when a male friend of mine confronted them. Ultimately, I had to steal my own car back from them and have a friend tell me he could fix my car for $30. It was a nightmare, and it made me realize I’m probably not the only woman dealing with these issues.
I started asking around and found that every woman I spoke with had her own mechanic or dealership horror story. Then I started digging into the statistics and found that, while women make up the majority of customers in the auto industry, we’re often the most overlooked. We’re the most likely to be overcharged, the least understood and the least represented in the auto industry. Women make up over 60% of customers and only 20% of employees in the auto industry, and that lack of representation leads to the unfortunate perpetuation of these predatory practices.
Obviously not every dealership or mechanic are out to swindle or cheat their customers, but it keeps happening on a regular enough basis that there’s very much a need for advocacy here.
- What inspires you to help women find the right car?
CB: I think back to every bad car-buying or -fixing experience I’ve ever had, every time I’ve felt unseen or unheard, or just outright dismissed, and I use that as fuel. Women have had to fight for every freedom we enjoy in today’s society, and the idea of being unable to easily shop for reliable transportation feels a bit like a slap in the face of all that. Having the right vehicle is not only a matter of convenience (being able to get from home to work or to social events), it can be a matter of safety for a lot of women as well.
Being able to give women the peace of mind of having safe, reliable transportation, and educating them on my process, showing them how I came to my conclusion in their car hunt, gives me a huge sense of accomplishment. If I can provide a sense of security and reliability, I have done my job. Plus seeing someone excited about a new car always gives me the warm fuzzies.
- What’s the biggest mistake you’ve seen new car buyers make?
CB: Probably the biggest mistake I’ve seen new buyers make is handing out their credit information too early. It makes sense to try and see if you can get approved on that car that caught your eye, but people don’t always realize that as soon as their credit is pulled they’ve started a countdown timer. When trying to get approved, that first credit pull can drop your credit scores (all 3 of them) by about 30-40 points. From that moment you’ve got a window of 30-45 days to secure a loan and find a vehicle to buy. Otherwise, if you continue pulling credit, your score will continue to drop. On top of that, handing out sensitive personal information to every dealership you stop in is just a risky practice in general. The best option for buyers, especially brand new ones or people working on rebuilding their credit, is to wait to hand out credit information until they’ve found a vehicle they’re actually likely to be approved on. If you want to know your credit score before you go car shopping, you can go online to any of the credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian) and request a free credit report. You can do this once every 12 months without it effecting your credit score.
- What is your favorite car?
CB: Jeep Grand Cherokee. I’m very biased after my own Jeep took a hit from a semi-truck like a champ and kept me safe and sound.
- One thing everyone in the PNW should always have in the car?
CB: Aside from a general roadside emergency kit, everyone in the PNW should have a blanket/towel in their car. You never know when the weather is going to change on you up here and I’ve never regretted having one in my car.
- Favorite PNW road trip destination?
CB: It’s hard to say, because there are so many gorgeous places to go up here. If I had to pick one though, I’d say my favorite road trip right now is to a campsite on the backside of Mt. Rainier. It’s not a view I get very often and being able to see a different side of the mountain is such a treat.
- If you could give every woman in the PNW one car buying tip, what would it be?
CB: Do not be afraid to walk away from a deal that smells funny. You don’t owe a dealership your time or money and if you’re not comfortable with the deal they’ve offered you, you don’t need to pay them or sign any paperwork.
Learn car tips or hire Chelsea! She's on...
Facebook: Chelsea’s All Girls Auto