The Eleven Percent: Meet Nhu Nguyen, Auto Technician and Restorer
In her teens, Nhu Nguyen was passionate about cars and street racing. But when it came to choosing a career, she initially decided to distance herself from the automotive world.
“I got into cooking first, tried retail, teaching, office administration,” Nguyen says. “I tried a whole bunch of different jobs. And while I enjoyed them, I didn’t find any fulfillment in them.”
Then she decided to give cars another shot. She started an apprenticeship at a small independent auto shop and went on to spend almost eight years at a Porsche dealership. Then she moved into her current job at Pfaff Tuning, a high-end independent shop.
The first woman to earn Porsche Classic certification, Nguyen is also a Red Seal Certified Automotive Technician and a Silver Certified Porsche Technician. She works at races and entertains an active Instagram audience as @dear-nhu.
We asked Nguyen for her thoughts on becoming a mechanic and the state of the auto technician industry.
Q: Cars were an early passion. Why didn’t you pursue an automotive career earlier?
A: Cars were like an addiction, a really expensive hobby. I was getting speeding tickets and my insurance was really high, so I decided to exit it completely. I stopped driving. I sold my car.
Then when I was 30, the company I was working for started laying people off. I had to take a deeper look at what I wanted to do for the next 35 years of my life. That’s when I decided to go back to cars. Now I get that sense of fulfillment, that rush from working on and being around fast cars, without being financially responsible for any of it.
Q: Your job is such a great fit. What are your favorite parts?
A: I get to play with, or rather work on, super cool cars. It’s mostly Porsches, from maintenance and repairs to tuning — swapping out wheels, exhaust and suspension, and restorations. So I get a variety of work.
The technical, hands-on parts are my favorite. Problem-solving is hugely rewarding, and I’m constantly learning. Even though I’ve been doing this for 11 years, I feel like there’s still so much more I don’t know.
Also, the team is great. We’re a bunch of friends who are into cars, and we all get to work on cool cars together. It’s a really cool environment.
Q: On Instagram you share experiences like working at races and ice driving. It makes your job seem pretty glamorous. Does it feel that way to you?
A: Instagram is the lens that I share with the world. But I don’t go to these events as press. I go there to work. I’m pulling long days doing hard physical labor. So it’s not as glamorous as I make it seem. But it’s amazing to be part of it.
My job is beyond dreams, actually. I’m awestruck. Capturing and sharing those experiences that I find beautiful and wonderful is both an honor and a creative outlet for me. It’s my muse.
Through Instagram, I’ve also met a lot of amazing people, especially women in the trades. It’s helped me learn, network and further my career. There are a surprising number of us. That’s been pretty amazing to see.
Q: What are some challenges of being a woman in your field?
A: Periods are the physically obvious challenge, especially on race days. There’s a port-a-potty, usually a half a mile away, so it’s not fun.
But otherwise I think I live in a time and place where it’s almost normal for a woman to be a mechanic. People are still surprised, but they don’t cry witch and try to burn me at the stake. They think it’s great.
Q: Share some of your more memorable projects?
A: I’ve had so many memorable experiences, but one of the greatest was my first restoration. Porsche Canada was holding its inaugural restoration competition. I restored a 1987 Porsche 944 Turbo for the dealership. We were up against dealers across the country.
Even though I only placed sixth out of 12 places, it was an amazing experience. It was a project that I took to the deepest part of me, every single aspect of it. And then at the awards ceremony, at Tremblant racetrack in Quebec, I took the then-president of Porsche Canada around the track in the car that I built. It was a crazy, crazy experience.
Q: How do you think electric cars will change your profession?
A: They’ll change it quite a lot, but I have chosen to not pursue further training in the electrical field for the time being. I feel like it’s still in flux, and for now I want to focus my efforts on this work that I really enjoy.
Ultimately, I don’t know that electric cars are the actual answer. More cars of any type may not be the answer. Electric cars are a Band-Aid solution for now. But we still need to address aspects like the lifespan and disposal of batteries and the overall environmental impact of them.
Q: What’s your advice for young women who are considering entering the trades?
A: My advice is to persevere and don’t be afraid to follow the dream. But if that puts you in an environment that doesn’t work for you, if the place you’re working at isn’t feeling right, you don’t have to stay. It’s OK to leave and dream somewhere else. Just don’t stop chasing your dreams.
Q: What kind of car do you drive?
A: I don’t drive anything exciting at all. My friends at work have teased me about it: “We know you’re into fast cars and you can soup up a car. Why do you drive an accountant’s rental car?” I don’t know. Because I just need to get around?
I don’t have that hot blood anymore, like I did when I was 18, so I don’t really care. I get to work on the cool cars and I’m good with that. So I drive an automatic 2013 Volkswagen Passat. It’s so roomy. I honestly love it. But if you ask me about my dream car, I would love to own a [Porsche] 911. There are so many models, and I love them all.
Q: What are your pro-specific tools?
A: My everyday must-have tools are pretty straightforward. Because of the cars that I predominantly work on, I always have my Phillips-head screwdriver, a 1/4-in. bit ratchet set, a 3/8-in. impact driver, a flashlight and my noise-canceling ear buds. Those are my top five. Those I use without fail throughout the day.
Nhu Nguyen Bio
Nhu Nguyen is a Red Seal Certified Automotive Technician, Silver Certified Porsche Technician and the first woman in the world with Porsche Classic certification. She earned a 310S Automotive Service Technician designation from Centennial College in 2015 and currently works at Pfaff Tuning as a specialist in air-cooled Porsches.
Besides advocating for women technicians, she shares tips, tricks and inspiration on Instagram at @dear-nhu.
Writer Karuna Eberl Bio
Karuna Eberl is a regular contributor to Family Handyman. She spent the last 25 years as a freelance journalist and filmmaker, telling stories of people, nature, travel, science and history. Eberl has won numerous awards for her writing, her Florida Keys Travel Guide and her documentary, The Guerrero Project.
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