Jessica Chou has only ever owned used cars, but after encountering one too many breakdowns, she became inspired to not only learn how to fix her car troubles herself — but to teach others too through a platform she knew people turned to for DIY help: YouTube.
One morning in 2011, Chou's 1995 Honda Civic — which had more than 200,000 miles and was missing paint all along the hood and roof — stopped working on her way to work.
"The more I learned, the less scared I was. And I feel like most people drive cars every single day — how do we go on doing that without some basic knowledge?"
In a panic, she called her dad, who told her to check the oil. Chou followed his instructions, not knowing what she was doing, and eventually found the dipstick. Sure enough, it was completely dry, and there was no oil in the engine. That was Chou's first lesson in basic car maintenance.
"I started learning about my car more out of need than anything," Chou told NBC News.
While she felt intimidated at first, the more Chou learned about cars from the internet and a friend, the more she found that the solutions were more straightforward than she first thought. She also realized by taking matters into her own hands, she was saving money and prolonging the life of her car.
"The more I learned, the less scared I was," Chou said. "And I feel like most people drive cars every single day — how do we go on doing that without some basic knowledge?"
Chou began uploading videos to a YouTube channel in August 2016, to teach viewers how to change spark plugs, jump start a car, and fix a headliner, among other routine maintenance.
"I'm not a mechanic, and I'm not even really a car enthusiast, so it's not like I'm trying to soup up my car or drop a new engine, or make my Mazda3 Sport a muscle car," Chou said. "You'll never see me doing any of that, but I think there are plenty of basic maintenance we can all learn."
Chou notes that her female-focused car maintenance videos are an extension of her previous work. The Forbes 30 Under 30 honoree was previously the head of production at a media company focused on women-created stories — a field she chose after working in what she said was a toxic environment after graduating in 2011.
"I just very quickly picked up on the fact that a lot of the girls who were my age, and were assistants as well, really didn't know their worth," Chou said, adding that they often came to her to talk about the way they were being treated.
But even on YouTube, Chou has to deal with her share of naysayers, including comments or questions about whether she's strong enough to make repairs. Her approach? To focus on the positivity that's come from her platform.
"I only have so much energy to go around," Chou said. "I'd rather engage in conversation with people who are asking me questions."
Chou added that she hopes to position herself in such a way that women naturally gravitate toward her channel, and that she's always looking for new ways to connect with her audience. Last November, she set up a booth at the LA Auto Show and showed people how to work on her used Volkswagen Jetta.
"I'm trying to show that it's practical to work on cars, and we can do it, and we don't have to be scantily clad or dressed a certain way," Chou said. "I want to show that we don't have to be covered in grease, or that it's dirty."