Running the Shop With a Mechanic’s Expertise and a Woman’s Touch

Pasiana Rodríguez and the rest of Dacar Auto Radiator

She’s the boss. The team at Dacar Auto Radiator reports to Pasiana Rodríguez, including her husband, Darío Caro, to her right. (Photo by Silvina Sterin Pensel/EDLP)

Meet Pasiana Rodríguez, of Dacar Auto Radiator in Queens. Some customers who walk into the shop take one look at her and ask for the mechanic. Others try to woo her. But with a bit of patience, the strong-willed Dominican has established herself as the queen of radiators, auto repair and oil changes. An El Diario/La Prensa profile of this “mechanical goddess” by Silvina Sterin Pensel, appears translated from the Spanish below.

Cars move across ground dotted with potholes as big as craters. Drivers can do nothing but leave the steering wheel alone and see how their vehicles rock up, down and side to side.

Anyone with a love for his or her car would scream to high heaven at these streets full of potholes. But if any damage happens, this is the place to be: Willets Point, the New York Mecca for car mechanic shops. In this Queens neighborhood, more than 250 auto repair shops – one right up against another – compete to attract customers.

In this world of tires, clutches, and motors, testosterone clearly rules.  But the rules of the game change at the corner of 127th Street and 37th Avenue.  There, among the men’s guffaws you can hear a lighter, more crystalline laugh. The person who really wears the pants here is Pasiana Rodríguez, 42, the star mechanic at Dacar Auto Radiator.

Pasiana Rodríguez

Pasiana Rodríguez is the only female mechanic in Willets Point, Queens, a world dominated by men. (Photo by Silvina Sterin Pensel/EDLP)

Attractive and with a strong personality, this woman will not be intimidated by either the cars or their drivers. In the more than 15 years she has been doing this work, she has learned to master both.

“Some people think I’m a helper and ask me to call the mechanic,” she said. “When I tell them that’s me, they look at me with distrust. Others try to make a pass at me, but I don’t give them a chance. When all is said and done, everyone ends up accepting and respecting me.”

Her cell phone in hand, Rodríguez walks around the place asking for pieces from the auto parts workers and avoiding extension cables, drums full of lubricant, and all kinds of tools.  She can do an oil change blindfolded, and replace a radiator in an hour — or maybe two if it’s a BMW because, she explains, “they’re a little more complicated than a Honda or a Toyota.”

On her way to mastering the mysteries of vehicles, Rodríguez had a couple of accidents.

“This tooth here is an implant,” she says, touching one.  “A colleague broke it unintentionally while he was struggling with a parking brake cable that didn’t want to go into its place.  And another time an air conditioner exploded on me because I put in too much coolant.”

As she operates the lift lever to raise a car and examine it, she talks of rotors and compression valves with the same passion as other women talk about shoes and handbags.  But the feminine touches of this Dominican mechanic are plainly visible: the iridescent purple eye shadow that brightens her eyelids, the bottle of hand cream she applies between one job and another, and the image of Mother Theresa amid the photos of bikini-clad women and “No Smoking” signs.

Pasiana arrived at Dacar in 1995 knowing nothing at all about cars, when she drove in one with a very sick radiator.  She was met by the owner, Colombian Dario Caro.

“I gave her a new radiator, and she stole the business and my heart,” said this native of Bogotá, half in jest and half seriously; since then he has been inseparable from her.

“At first I thought this idea of hers of learning the trade was nuts, but she quickly became an unbeatable mechanic,”  Dario said before excusing himself to meet a client.

“The boss lady will explain to you what has to be done with these brakes,” he tells an Indian man with a worried face.

“We’ll have to try this out on the road,” Rodríguez assures the customer, climbing into the driver’s seat.

“Are we going?”  Alfonso Villalba asks as he jumped in to accompany her. The Mexican mechanic taught Rodríguez a great deal about the job, besides being the one responsible for the tooth episode.

“What do you say, bro?” she says as she steps on the brakes, making the passengers do a sudden and involuntary lurch forward.  “That little sounds ticky-ticky. I don’t like that at all.”

Back at the shop, Pasiana goes through the options with the client, from the most economical up to the higher-quality choice.

“A regular brake will squeal and wear out fast,” she said. “And besides, keep in mind that it’s your life that’s at stake.  Don’t give me your answer now. Take your time to think about it.”

Dario watches her with pleasure, sure that the Indian man will come back ready to invest in the better brake.

“I stayed off to the side because she is much better at negotiating,” he said. “I tell them, ‘this job will cost you a hundred dollars,’ and they say ‘I’ll give you thirty.’  That kind of haggling offends me and I won’t stand for it. But Pasiana on the other hand talks to them patiently, explains everything to them, and all of a sudden I see them hand her the hundred dollars and thank her with a smile.”

The couple work six days a week and close the shop on Sundays to enjoy Anderson, their six-year-old son who they live with in Kew Garden Hills.

“At home, the only cars we have are toys,” Pasiana says, “but even those break, and I have to roll up my sleeves and fix them.”

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