Collision Repair: Women Do it Better

Four young females teamed up for the Pedal Car Challenge to encourage diversity in the automotive aftermarket industry.

By Iva Kestrankova, Photo courtesy of Stephanie Appel

Stephanie Appel, Emily Pendlebury, Caitlan Kirkby, and Louise Trenholm met at the ARA’s Women in the Automotive Industry event last spring. That is also where they were introduced to the Pedal Car Challenge, and they were instantly excited about it and signed up for the challenge. If the main purpose of the Women in the Automotive Industry event was to engage, support, and motivate females in this industry, it certainly achieved that.

A few of the women already knew each other, but this was their first time teaming up for such a project. Stephanie, Emily, and Louise are painter apprentices at Craftsman Collision’s locations in Kelowna, Kamloops, and Vernon, respectively, while Caitlan works as a parts coordinator at the Kamloops location with Emily.

“They are an amazing team and similar in age and skill level, which helps them work together as a good group,” commented Tim Brilz, a technical service representative with BASF, who helps train the young women at Craftsman locations.

(L-R) Stephanie Appel, Emily Pendlebury, Caitlan Kirkby, and Louise Trenholm proudly pose with their custom-painted pedal car that raised a record of $4,700 in the ARFI auction in support of people entering the automotive aftermarket industry.

Working on a pedal car was, for each of the women, a learning experience. “In the collision industry, you don’t do any custom work,” said Emily. “So it was our first time using a stencil when creating a design. It was the first time for most of us doing multiple colours on a paint job, and also doing pinstriping.”

Although the women had a mentor whom they could contact, they were determined to complete this project without anybody’s help. “We had Tim [Brilz] if we ever needed him, but we wanted to try to do this independently, so we could feel as proud as we can about it,” said Stephanie. And they did a fantastic job indeed.

As they said, they learned a lot from each other while working in a paint booth. Each of them also brought their own unique perspective to the project. “When you are all trained in a different way, there can be a lot of debate on how to go about things,” said Stephanie. “I think it’s a part of what made [this project] fun.”

And sometimes, they were all over the place with ideas. “I have to say that the toughest part about this project was—and I heard someone used this term once—there were too many chefs in the kitchen,” said Emily. The women met three times during the project and spent about eight hours working as a team. Individually, though, they put in a lot more time.

They eventually agreed on purple for the main colour for the pedal car, and blue for the striping. “We wanted something bright, but we also wanted something more on the feminine side,” explained Stephanie.

Now, there would not have been a proper learning curve if it were not for the challenges that the women had to overcome along the way.

There were many creative ideas that led to the final design.

 “When we met up for the third time, when we were in Kamloops, we were hoping to finish the car that day, but our base wrinkled,” said Stephanie. “So we had to basically restart and sand it all, and remake the whole stencil from scratch again.”

For Caitlan, who started in the industry as a detailer and now works as a parts coordinator, painting was a completely new experience. “It was really cool to actually see what goes into it,” she said. “I feel like I have more of an understanding of painting in the shop. I understand how much time and effort it takes to do all the little steps,” said Caitlan.

Except for learning new skills and techniques, all the women agreed that throughout the project, they also enjoyed the feeling of connection and mutual support that they often miss when working in a male-dominated industry.

Painting the pedal car was a result of a joint effort of all four women.

“It’s nice to have someone your age that you can talk to. In our shops, we don’t have anybody, we’re just us,” said Stephanie. “There may be other women in the shop, but there’s no one who’s in our position. It’s nice to have each other to lean on when you have a bad day or to celebrate with them when you have a great day.”

The women agreed that while it is not always easy to be a young female in a predominantly male environment, they take pride in their job, and they enjoy what they do.

“I consider [auto refinishing] as an art because you’re playing with different colours every day,” said Louise, who is close to completing her Red Seal journeyperson ticket. “Every job is a different colour, and it’s just a fun skill to have. You can use it towards other projects too.”

After thorough consideration, the team chose purple as a main colour with blue ornaments.

"We wanted to try to do this independently, so we could feel as proud as we can about it.”

It is hard to predict what the future will hold, but for now, all the women see themselves working in the automotive industry for the foreseeable future. Some of them even have a very clear idea of their ideal job.

“I joined the trade to go custom,” said Stephanie. “[The Pedal Car Challenge] was a great project to give me an idea of what it’s all about on a smaller scale, and it just made me even more excited to try and learn how to go as a custom professional painter one day,” she said. “I have never been great with cars, but I can never not look at a beautiful classic car and say, ‘Look at how beautiful that is.’ I’d love people to say it about my work one day.”

And what advice do these young talented ladies have for young females who are interested in this trade but are hesitant about whether it is a good fit for them? “Do it, try it. Go all out. You’re still young if you want to change your mind,” said Stephanie. “You may go and be a painter and absolutely hate it, but you may really be good at estimating or welding, and then you just switch over to that. There’s so many options that if you don’t like your first choice, just take another look.”

For Stephanie, the recipe to success in this trade is patience and confidence: “If you don’t walk into a booth feeling confident about the job, you’re going to do a bad job. But if you tell yourself, you’re going to rock it, you’re going to rock it. You have to have a lot of patience for what we do.”

Cover photo: The women unveiled their pedal car at the ARA’s 70th Anniversary Celebration and AGM in Whistler. (L-R) ARA Chairperson Ronald Tremblay, Stephanie Appel, and Caitlan Kirkby. (Photo: Burhan Osman)