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Shop Talk for Women : Mechanic Karen Valenti proves that car repair is not exclusively a man's world. She will explain the mysteries of the automobile during two hands-on classes at her garage.

February 19, 1993|NANCY KAPITANOFF | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES; Nancy Kapitanoff writes regularly for The Times.

Karen Valenti has owned and operated an auto repair shop in North Hollywood for six years. She learned how to fix cars primarily from on-the-job training given by her then-husband, a good auto mechanic with whom she shared the business before they divorced.

Contradicting the widely held notion among women that car maintenance and repair are complicated and baffling, Valenti will tell you that it is no more difficult than baking a cake.

"We know that putting certain ingredients together at a certain temperature with a certain pan will bring a product that we desire," Valenti said. "There's nothing different in car repair. Women are intimidated by a lack of knowledge, which gives them a lack of confidence. They feel they can't possibly understand it. And a man will find words that you can't understand because that's power to him."

In an effort to break down the mystery of the car, Valenti will open her repair shop for two hours Sunday and Feb. 28 to lead "Look Who's Under the Hood: A Two-Part Introductory Auto Repair Workshop for Women." Sponsored by the nonprofit National Council of Jewish Women's Women Helping Women Services program, these hands-on classes are open to the public at a cost of $15 per session. A sliding fee scale is available.

Valenti, who has taught the workshop once before, was introduced to Women Helping Women through a male customer who came to her with his '75 Buick Skylark. At the time, his wife was co-director of the program.

"He was so impressed with my shop and my service, he told his wife about me," she said.

"When we hear about something really good, we try to incorporate it," said Lori Karny, director of Women Helping Women. The program's services include a telephone talk line that women can call for emotional support and practical information, career counseling, and support groups that, among other issues, help women deal with divorce, being a single mother and sexual harassment.

"What we really try to do is help women do what they want to do for themselves, not what we think they should do," Karny said. "We get a sense of what is needed through the talk line."

After Valenti's first workshop, the talk line got a lot of calls from women requesting that it be offered again.

Valenti's approach to the workshop is in sync with the philosophy of Women Helping Women. This Sunday, she intends to go over the parts of the car, where they are and what they do. She'll discuss how to talk to a mechanic, and will recommend the book "Auto Repair for Dummies" by Deanna Sclar. However, her course of instruction will be determined largely by her students.

"I will ask people how much they know about their cars and take the feel from the class," she said.

With a staff of one mechanic and two helpers, Valenti's garage services all kinds of cars, foreign and domestic.

"I have a good following of people who have '80s cars," she said. "I happen to love older cars and they find me. America made great cars in the 1950s, '60s and '70s." She drives a 1975 Cadillac. "I could keep it for life. It was made to be kept for life."

Beyond the Sunday workshop, Valenti takes pride in the educational approach she also uses with her customers.

Some of them are refugees from mechanics who couldn't be bothered to explain in understandable terms what was wrong with a car and what needed to be done to fix it.

"As a woman who was on the other side of the counter, I offer them the security that they won't be treated with anything less than respect, and I don't sell them anything they don't need," she said.

Where and When What: "Look Who's Under the Hood: A Two-Part Introductory Auto Repair Workshop for Women." Location: North Hollywood Discount Muffler & Brake Shop, 6031 Lankershim Blvd., North Hollywood. Hours: 10 a.m. to noon Sunday, and Feb. 28. Price: $15 per session; sliding scale available. Call: To register, call Karen Valenti at (818) 980-0503 or Women Helping Women at (213) 655-3807.

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