All Cylinders – A woman’s work

David Lewis for Columbus Alive, January 2007

chris cozad

I’m afraid of garages. I admit it. My childhood memories of the garage are of my father screaming profanities and launching Craftsman missiles, which ricocheted dangerously through the air.

 As I grew, little changed that perception. Trips to the local mechanic for my own car were always fraught with men far manlier than me, covered in oil and babbling in curses and gibberish-jargon.

So it was with some apprehension that I approached Alternative Auto Care for my meeting with the proprietor and president, Chris Cozad.

Much to my relief, the garage was not only scrupulously clean, it was altogether free of flying wrenches and gear-heads. The atmosphere felt professional and the technicians were friendly and personable. I felt no pressure to chew tobacco or mumble any of the few “car words” that I know.

Every technician is ASE certified; Cozad is an ASE Master Technician and recently achieved ASE Advanced Engine Performance Specialist and Service Consultant certifications.

And Cozad is that rarity in the automotive industry: a woman.

“Less than one percent of automotive technicians are female,” she explained. “I attribute that to a recruitment flaw in the industry. Women are not encouraged to master trades or vocations, and it is unfortunate, because the mastering of a trade is a great way to achieve financial equality.”

 Cozad, who also teaches automotive repair at Columbus State Community College, has been in the industry for 25 years, the last 24 of which were spent operating her own garage.

“Any independent garage that has been around for 25 years is doing something right,” she said with a smile. “Sure, at first it was kind of a novelty ‘powder-puff garage.’ But the shock value has worn off and it is much more accepted now.”

 As an established face in a highly competitive industry, Cozad has seen a lot of changes. The percentage of female technicians has doubled over that period of time: from 0.4 to nearly 0.8 percent. Her classes at Columbus State occasionally have a few female students, but then, as she said, “I am not in charge of recruiting.”

 Cozad attributes her success to her customer service. “It’s just how you treat people,” she said. “I value the opinions of my customers, and I respond to their questions.”

 “The customer drives that car every day,” she added. “They are full of valuable information that they may not be able to articulate. Our job is to ask the right questions. Not only does that foster trust in the relationship, but it helps us accurately diagnose the problem, so there are no costly surprises later.”


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Alternative Auto Care is Proud to be a Columbus GreenSpot Business!

Greenspot-LogoHere’s how we will inform and engage
Mandatory Commitments Within the next year:

  • By January 15 of each year, we will record and submit the green initiatives we’ve begun or continued as a result of being part of GreenSpot.

  • We will create and display an environmental policy or mission statement.

  • We will measure our compliance with local, federal, health, safety, and environmental regulations.

Additional Commitments:

Within the next year:

  • We will challenge a neighboring business to become a GreenSpot by referring them to the GreenSpot website.

  • We will display our GreenSpot decal in a window or some other prominent place.

  • We will keep employees informed about our green efforts by including updates in newsletters and bulletins.

  • We will openly encourage employees to be responsible environmental stewards in their personal lives.

  • We will post a list of the requirements for becoming a GreenSpot business where both customers and employees can see it.

  • We will support an environmental nonprofit organization through financial contributions, in-kind services, volunteer work, or board service.

Here’s how we will reduce, reuse, and recycle

Mandatory Commitments

Within the next year:

  • We will buy office and other supplies made with recycled materials.

  • We will establish a business-wide recycling program that includes-at a minimum-glass, aluminum, plastic bottles, steel, and paper.

  • We will perform a waste audit of our business.

  • We will track our monthly waste.

Additional Commitments:

Within the next year:

  • We will buy products in returnable, reusable, or recyclable containers.

  • We will communicate electronically-instead of on paper-whenever possible.

  • We will donate unwanted furniture, supplies, scrap materials, linens, phones, etc.

  • We will email or post staff memos and schedules in a central place instead of printing copies for each employee.

  • We will expand our recycling program to include additional materials, such as plastic film, refrigerants, re-use of water, hangers, etc. Additional materials we will include in our recycling program are…

  • We will provide employees and guests reusable dishware instead of disposable.

  • We will purchase condiments (milk, sugar, cream, etc.) and supplies (soap, toiler paper, etc.) in bulk.

  • We will purchase or obtain used office furniture.

  • We will recycle electronics that no longer work, or are no longer useful.

  • We will recycle toner and inkjet printer cartridges.

  • We will reduce our paper use by: Not making unnecessary copies, and double-siding the copies we do make. Not using a separate cover sheet for faxes .Reusing paper for scrap paper. Removing our name from junk mail lists. Keeping our customer mailing lists current, without duplications.

  • We will reuse packaging (bubble wrap, cardboard boxes, polystyrene peanuts), or donate them to a local shipping company.

Here’s how we will conserve & protect water

Mandatory Commitments

Within the next year:

  • If applicable, we will fully comply with the City’s Spill Prevention Control and Countermeasure Plan requirements.

  • We will check for leaks by performing a water audit (if we have more than 100 employees) or by closely reviewing our water bills (if we have fewer than 100 employees).

  • We will fully comply with the City’s Fats, Oils, and Grease Regulation.

Additional Commitments:

Within the next year:

  • We will clean all outdoor areas-like parking lots, sidewalks, alleys, and patios-with a broom and/or damp mop instead of a hose. If hosing is required, we will collect the runoff and dispose of it as recommended by the City of Columbus

  • We will install a water-efficient (1.6 to 2.2 gallons/minute) pre-rinse spray nozzle in our kitchen for washing dishes.

  • We will keep receiving areas and dumpsters clear of litter by periodically sweeping the area, and ensuring each waste receptacle has a tight-fitting lid.

  • We will provide an outdoor receptacle for cigarette butt disposal.

  • We will replace toilets that use 3 or more gallons of water per flush with ones that use 1.6 gallons or less.


Our business is responsible for the landscaping. We will do three of the following:

  • As new plants are needed, we will use native, drought-resistant plants.

  • We will redirect downspouts towards landscaped areas where possible.

  • We will water only when needed.

Here’s how we will conserve energy

Mandatory Commitments

Within the next year:

  • We will perform an energy audit, or use EnergyStar’s Portfolio to track our energy use.

Additional Commitments:

Within the next year:

  • We will convert to energy-efficient light bulbs, such as compact fluorescent lights (CFLs), and/or upgrade existing fluorescent tube lighting with T-8 or T-5 lamps with electronic ballasts. We will begin with five light fixtures-or 10% of our lights (whichever is greater)-and commit to changing the rest in the next two years.

  • We will implement a facility-wide policy of turning off equipment and lights when not in use.

  • We will perform regular maintenance on our HVAC (heating, ventilation, and air conditioning) and refrigeration systems-or ask our landlord to do so.

  • We will use caulk and/or weather-stripping around windows and doors, keeping caulk in good repair.

  • When replacing equipment and appliances, we will ensure they are EnergyStar rated and/or equipped with energy-saving features.

Here’s how we will streamline transportation

Mandatory Commitments

Within the next year:

  • If applicable, we will make our fleet more efficient. We do not have a fleet of 10 or more vehicles, and transportation is not a major part of our business. We have a fleet of 10 or more vehicles, or transportation is a major part of our business. We will achieve at least a one-star rating with the Ohio Green Fleet Program.

  • We will encourage all employees to participate in “Two by 2012”-a commitment to commute to work twice a month using an alternative form of transportation (not a single-occupancy vehicle).

  • We will install a bike rack in our facility, or provide employees with another secure location to store bikes.

Additional Commitments:

Within the next year:

  • If we reimburse employees for driving, we will also reimburse them for biking.

  • We will encourage employees to walk or bike to meetings, lunch, etc.

  • We will offer preferred parking arrangements for car pool vehicles.

  • We will provide green driving tips on an employee bulletin board or in newsletters.

We will provide employees with information about ridesharing and bus transportation on a bulletin board and/or in newsletters.


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Car Repair with a Difference: After 25 years, Alternative Auto Care Continues on a Road Less Traveled

Originally published in Short North Gazette, December, 2008 by Dennis Fiely

Chris Covad

Chris Cozad (left), an auto service instructor at Columbus State Community College and owner
of Alternative Auto Care, keeps tabs on the work of apprentice Constance Taylor. ©Photo/DarrenCarlson


The fact that Alternative Auto Care (AAC) remains “alternative” after 25 years in business reflects how little the car repair industry has changed since Michael Jackson reigned as the King of Pop and the United States invaded Grenada.

The shop, near the corner of Fifth and Hunter Avenues, has remained female owned and operated for a quarter-century of feminist stagnation in which women have continued to make up less than one percent of the nation’s car mechanics.

“This just isn’t a field that women have gone into,” said Chris Cozad, a master certified technician and the owner of AAC. “We’ve done a poor job of recruiting them.”

The industry’s “grease monkey” image, poor customer service, and small-business exclusion from minority hiring incentives have combined to discourage women from pursuing careers under the hood. The neighborhood garage is one place where the glass ceiling has been replaced by a shatterproof windshield.

It’s a shame, said Cozad, because automotive technology offers a rewarding trade to working-class women who may not have the means or inclination for a college education. “The work is very gratifying: If it’s broke, I fix it,” she said. “It’s also very challenging, like trying to solve a puzzle. There is always something new to learn. It’s never boring.”

Even though she is a longtime community activist for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender issues, Cozad crashed the good old boys’ club out of necessity more than a pioneering spirit. The 53-year-old Clintonville resident decided to turn her avocation into a vocation when she opened a one-car residential shop “on a whim” near the Ohio State University campus after having been fired as a McDonald’s manager for what she suspects was her sexual orientation.

“At the time, I was just trying to survive,” she said. “I needed a job and I was fed up with working for somebody else. I never thought of this as a lifelong career choice.”

Her experience was strictly grassroots. She learned the trade trying to keep her 1969 AMC Rebel running while a student at Hiram College. Before long, she was working on friends’ cars. “My first location was really on the street,” she said.

Cozad established her first commercial shop in Harrison West, where she operated AAC for more than 20 years until moving in June of 2006 to her new site – a four-car garage and office.

“I love this location,” Cozad said. “I get a lot more neighborhood and drive-by business. The building is more visible, easier to find and it is not full of 20 years’ worth of grease and junk. My landlord remodeled it to suit me. The downsides are that is smaller and does not have a big parking lot.”

Her staff includes shop manager Jen Hoover, technician Rodney Harris and apprentice Constance Taylor. Cozad, Hoover and Harris hold certifications from the National Institute of Automotive Service Excellence, a nonprofit organization that tests mechanics.

They abide by Cozad’s founding principles that strive to reverse the negative public perception of car shops as repositories of dishonesty, pollution and customer complaints. The “alternative” in Alternative Auto Care encompasses more than gender equity.

“Auto mechanics have terrible reputations,” Cozad said. “Surveys have identified them as among the least trusted professionals, along with attorneys. Certainly people do get ripped off, but there is also an awful lot of incompetence. Cars today have up to eight or 10 computer systems on board and some mechanics simply are not up to speed on the technology. It’s not even easy to change your own oil anymore. The profession requires a lot of continuing education.”

Cozad not only receives that education, she gives it as an auto service instructor at Columbus State Community College, where she impresses upon students the need to deliver quality work at a fair price.

It’s a mission readily welcomed by her employers. “We’re just honest with people,” said Harris, who has worked with AAC for nearly five years. “I hate to lie, and I’ve worked at shops where I was required to lie, fixing things that didn’t need fixed.”

The shop engenders trust through communication, a major point of emphasis in Cozad’s college classes. “We don’t teach technicians how to talk to people,” Cozad said. “I really believe there is nothing on a car that can’t be explained.”

Cozad’s communication skills are reflected on the shop’s Web site that provides maintenance tips to prevent expensive repairs, and on the phone, where she recently could be overheard negotiating payment from a customer for a new starter. “I am willing to negotiate with you on that,” Cozad said graciously. “You tell me what kind of a arrangement you need, and I’ll tell you if I can do that.”

Her passion for customer relations has helped Cozad build a loyal consumer base that takes care of its cars. “About the only time we run into a neglected car is with a new customer,” Harris said.

Cozad preaches the gospel of regular maintenance, noting that most cars can last at least 200,000 miles. “Taking good care of a car and following its maintenance schedule are two different things,” Cozad said. “The maintenance schedule is a bare minimum service requirement to keep the warranty intact. The manufacturers don’t want your car to last forever, just seven to eight years on the outside end. I still recommend an oil change every 3,000 miles, although some maintenance schedules push that to 5,000 or even 7,500 miles.”

Despite their unconventional approach, staffers at AAC look every bit the part of mechanics. They wear gray uniforms with their first names embroidered on their shirt pockets. The garage looks like any other in Columbus with its cement floor and metal walls, adorned by pegboard displays of professional certificates.

Appearance begins to deviate from the norm in the garage’s adjacent office, noticeably absent of “beefcake” calendars and other sexist symbols of the profession.

“The environment is much better than 25 years ago when suppliers would drape a picture of a scantily clad woman over anything to sell a car part,” Cozad said. “The girlie magazines are still around but not as prevalent as they used to be. I’d like to think I had something to do with that, because I raised so much hell about it.”

Marketing to men doesn’t make any sense anymore, because women today make 65 percent of automotive decisions, Cozad said. Female drivers initially dominated her customer count, which has been expanded in recent years to include an equal number of men and women. The shop frees men who are not especially car-savvy from machismo posturing, pretending to be well versed in car talk.

“This is a place where men and women feel comfortable,” Cozad said. “Everybody wants good quality, honest care at a fair price, regardless of gender.”

Many regulars express the trust she values when they bring in their cars. “They just toss me the keys and say, ‘fix it,’” Cozad said.

The “alternative” in Alternative Auto Care extends to the environment. While car shops are legally required to recycle oil and batteries, AAC absorbs additional expenses to recycle its metal and cardboard scrap. “We even recycle our plastic lunch containers,” Harris said.

Cozad continues her history of community involvement in the feminist and gay rights movement. She sits on the boards of the Buckeye Region Anti-Violence Organization and Columbus Community Relations Commission and serves as Mayor Michael Coleman’s liaison to the gay and lesbian community.

She drives a 1998 four-cylinder Ford Escort and is outspoken about her distaste for America’s traditional obsession with gas-guzzlers. She calls SUV’s “weapons of mass construction,” but when one rolls into her shop, she sets her political views aside and practices the non-discriminatory policies that have governed her professional and personal life.

What’s she thinking when Ford Explorer settles into one of her bays?

“Ka-ching!” Cozad said.

Spoken like a free market capitalist, and there is nothing alternative about that.


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