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Battling Car Repair Stereotypes In Northcenter

By Jason Kreke | Thursday, August 11, 2011

Gil Valdez and Jayne Ciasto in their shop's office. Credit: Jason Kreke

As co-owner of A to Z Auto Service, 4129 N. Western Ave., in Northcenter, Jayne Ciasto spends her days fielding questions about car repairs and fighting stereotypes. In a profession dominated by men, Ciasto is one of the few women involved in the auto repair industry, and she knows from experience how some places are all too ready to take advantage of less-than-knowledgeable customers, especially women.

“I say women are screwed on two things in life: oil repairs and salaries,” she said. “I can’t do anything about salaries, but I can do something about oil repairs.”

Ciasto co-owns A to Z Auto with Gil Valdez, whom she met eight years ago when she was having car trouble of her own. According to Ciasto, the mission behind the shop is to push back against the old stigma that everyone in the repair business is a con artist. As much of a teacher as he is a mechanic, Valdez prides himself on being upfront with customers. “I like to show people and educate them on what is happening with their car,” he said. “I don’t want to see people come back with the same problems.”

Gil Valdez in his repair shop. Credit: Jason Kreke

Part of dispelling the stereotypes is giving everyone a fair shake, something that Ciasto says is hard for women, who might be more susceptible to being taken advantage of. She says that because many women don’t know enough about cars, some shops will use that opportunity to up sell products and services that aren’t really needed. Part of the reason for opening A to Z Auto is to have a place where women can feel they are getting the service they need.

“It’s a place where anybody can send their mom, aunt or sister and be treated fairly,” she said. “[Valdez] takes everybody into the shop and shows them the parts. The girls too,” she said. “I say, ‘Are you going to learn about parts or day dream about what you’re going to make for dinner?’” Girls don’t have to be afraid, she said. “He treats them like it’s his mom driving.” Even if people just learn the basics, Ciasto added, they will have that knowledge for life.

Ciasto’s road to A to Z Auto started with car trouble of her own. About eight years ago, she paid $800 to repair her car when the check engine light came on. Three days after it was fixed, the light came on again. Feeling frustrated, she went to another place, where she met Valdez. He charged her hundreds less, explained what was wrong, and most importantly, fixed the car. As a woman, she appreciated the time and effort Valdez put in so she could understand what was wrong with her car. The two eventually started to date, which led to A to Z Auto. “I was the one who pushed him to get the place,” she said.

For Ciasto and Valdez, A to Z Auto is about providing fair service for any type of car, whether it’s a ’34 Ford hotrod or a newer Saturn. “I’m not out to make a million dollars,” Valdez said. “Safety is first. I look for things that impact the safety of the car, and I’m not going to up-sell something if the person doesn’t need it.” Services include everything from scheduled maintenance and tune-ups to HVAC and emissions. An area that both have noticed a definite upswing is in prepurchase inspections, where people bring in used cars to inspect before buying.

Behind the bright red exterior, Ciasto oversees the back office responsibilities while Valdez handles the repairs. With nights routinely stretching well past the normal 6 p.m. closing time, Valdez is adamant about letting people know what’s wrong, even if it keeps him up at night. “I enjoy the challenge of it,” he said. “I’m going to stay on it. I won’t sleep well thinking that people are going to come back with the same problem.”

Right now, Valdez and Ciasto are having fun keeping a business and relationship going. After 35 years, Valdez said that he is getting ready to retire and head out east where Ciasto’s family is fun. “If everything works out, we’ll take it day by day,” he said. “I’ll retire and pass on the torch. I just try to be fair and do my job and make sure people aren’t taken advantage of.”

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  • http://twitter.com/ChicagoYeti Chicago Yeti

    Never been to A to Z Auto.  They sure do sound like nice people though.  When my car needs some love, I take it to Lincoln Square Service.  These guys are good too!  Stephan let me stand and watch him work on my car and answered all my stupid questions.  I’ve been there several times and they didn’t even charge me.  Check it.  http://www.yelp.com/biz/lincoln-square-service-chicago

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