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Trying to find your perfect vehicle is stressful. Add in trying to figure out if a car will be comfortable and accommodating to plus size bodies, and it makes that search that much harder! This is why automotive educator Chaya Milchtein, also known as MechanicShopFemme, is doing something to make finding plus size and tall friendly cars much easier!
I had the opportunity to chat with her about her latest project, an ambitious and vital database of the most comfortable cars on the market for plus size and tall people. This project is a matter of comfort (which we as plus size people deserve) and one of safety. As Chaya, herself has pointed out, plus size people are as much as 80% more likely to die in a car crash, which is one of the many reasons she is a fierce advocate of us being more informed about automotive care.
Learn more about the work Chaya does, and her latest project, below.
Q&A with Chaya Milchtein
Mayra Mejia: You’ve mentioned that your first job at a Sears Auto Center changed the trajectory of your life, and lead you to your career today. Can you tell us how your time at that job fueled your passion?
Chaya Milchtein: I started at Sears Auto Center at a pivotal time in my life. I had just aged out of the foster care system and was desperate for a job to be able to pay my bills. I originally thought that the job was just that. A job, to pay the bills and survive.
But I took to the work, asked the right questions, and started to really enjoy it. It suited me, and I suited it. Soon after I started, my car was totaled in a hit and run, and I transferred to the Sears Auto Center in Brooklyn, NY. I knew that going to New York would allow me to learn the ropes quickly, and efficiently, and I wasn’t wrong.
A few years after starting in the automotive industry, I started Mechanic Shop Femme. It was a blog, then a started teaching classes, and it snowballed from there.
Today, Mechanic Shop Femme is my full-time job; I teach, write, and speak about cars, empowerment, and being in the big boys club and. I’m an automotive educator, queer influencer, journalist, and I landed in this position completely by mistake, and it changes my life.
Mayra Mejia: For many LGBTQIA+ folks, as well as plus size people, “car stuff” can be extremely intimidating! Can you share a tip or two on what to do to feel more empowered when going to the car shop, either for repairs or when purchasing a vehicle?
Chaya Milchtein: Taking good care of your car starts with having a great mechanic. But the key to finding such a mechanic is looking for them before you are backed into a corner with a car emergency. I wrote a guide to different types of shops, so you can start your search today, and have a trusting relationship before your next car emergency.
Trust your gut. If you go to a repair shop or are working on buying a car, and despite your best efforts to keep an open mind something just don’t seem right, trust yourself. Whether that means asking more questions, walking away from a car purchase, or getting a second opinion, it’s not a bad decision to make. You might not know cars, but you do know people.
Mayra Mejia: You recently announced the launch of your extensive study/database to help folks find fat-friendly vehicles. Can you let us know more about it? How did it begin? And how can folks participate?
Chaya Milchtein: Finding a car that fits our bodies well can be a huge challenge. Simply googling “cars for bigger bodies” yields results that are filled with recommendations for tall people, or articles that use humiliating language to describe our bodies, and offer car suggestions based on unknown data points, or the size of the cabin or seat.
As a fat person, and an automotive expert, creating a resource to help my community just made sense. So last year, I put out an initial survey, and the response was overwhelming. Right then and there, I knew that a blog post simply wouldn’t be enough.
On March 22nd, after a year of thoughtful research, assistance from some of the most incredible minds in the field of consumer research, I launched a comprehensive study aimed at studying bigger people and their cars. I know the pain, joy, and struggles of life as a fat person, the qualifications to pull this massive project off, and a proven record of showing up for my community.
To date, over 3300 people have completed the survey. My goal is a minimum of 5,000 participants. Once the study is complete, I will analyze the data and create a directory of sorts on CarsforBiggerBodies.com (you can subscribe to the email list there to be the first to know when the directory launches). This directory will be using data points from actual fat people, considering things like height, how you carry your weight, and other factors.
In addition, this data will help understand what percentage of bigger people simply haven’t found a car in the last decade that fits their bodies well, significant information on seatbelt extenders, including how often dealerships offer them, if they have to be requested, and the best way for them to be offered, and much more.
To participate in the study, you must meet the following criteria:
a) Wear a pant size 24 (W) or 46 (M) or larger
b) Own or regularly drive a car made in the last ten years
If you fit the criteria, please take the survey here.
If you don’t, you can still help! Please share the link to the study widely. It is critical to get the word out there for the largest response because the more data there is, the better the ultimate outcome will be.
Mayra Mejia: What can you share about what you’ve learned so far with this study? What do you hope car manufacturers take away from your database?
Chaya Milchtein: The outpouring of love from the fat community has been incredible. I’m honored that so many people have trusted me with their experiences. This directory can’t come soon enough for so many, and they made that abundantly clear. And, as I expected, I’ve been bombarded with hate from people who think that being fat means we shouldn’t have access to cars that fit, but we should change our bodies instead.
I try to ignore the bullies and focus on the love, support, freedom, and joy this has, and will continue to bring.
Ultimately, I hope to give awards to the best cars for bigger bodies on an annual basis. I also plan to update this resource yearly, and as people use the directory, urge them to complete the survey. It’s important that the project be maintained long-term until this is no longer a radical concept.
Mayra Mejia: How can we (as a community) further support you?
Chaya Milchtein: Sharing this study is the more efficient way of supporting this project. In addition, if you have the financial means to support my work, I have a Patreon, which helps me bring projects like this to life. You can become a Patreon here.
If you’d like to learn more about being a safer, smarter, and prepared car owner, from a queer, colorful personality, I share tips, and advice across social media on a regular basis.
Don’t forget to participate in the survey, if you meet the qualifications mentioned!
What questions do you have about cars that you may have been too intimidated to ask? Do you have any car recommendations for folks in larger bodies? Feel free to mention them in the comments below!