Southern California native BJ Killeen inherited a love of automobiles from her father, who owned a 1961 Austin-Healey 3000, a first-year Mustang and other collector classics.
After obtaining a degree in English from UCLA, Killeen joined the staff of Motorcyclist magazine and soon cultivated a fondness for motorcycles and dirt bikes. Later, she moved to Motor Trend magazine and became the road test editor, writing many monthly columns, road tests and comparison tests, as well as voting in the prestigious Car, Truck, and Import Car of the Year competitions.
In addition to her Drivers Talk Radio duties, Killeen also writes for a variety of websites, such as jdpower.com, pickuptruck.com, and cars.about.com. She also has appeared on the Discovery Channel and morning news shows across the country as an automotive expert. BJ and her husband, automotive photographer Scott Killeen, have an established publishing company that prints the BUILD BOOK, which follow the build of one custom vehicle from start to finish. An upcoming BUILD BOOK will showcase the all-new 2010 Roush Mustang.
A nationally known female automotive journalist, Killeen is a two-year past president of the Motor Press Guild, the organization that represents nearly 750 automotive journalists and industry representatives across the country. She also conducts in-dealership product training and is in demand as a presenter for new-vehicle product presentation tours for a variety of domestic and import manufacturers.
“As the road test editor for Drivers Talk, I’m on the move constantly, driving everything that’s new, from off-road SUVs to high-performance super cars,” Killeen comments. “As a voting member of the Concept Vehicle of the Year Award, I also have a great opportunity to attend the major auto shows around the country and evaluate the concept vehicles, which means I see hundreds of cars every year.
“With 20 years of experience as an automotive journalist, I feel I have an insider’s ability to evaluate these vehicles, and in turn inform and educate the Drivers Talk audience so they can make an intelligent purchase decision.”
As a woman what features are your favorites in a car?
I like a vehicle that has a high H-point…where I can sit up a bit higher in the car to improve outside vision.
I also am an early adopter of technology, so I love all the in-car connectivity features that allow me to make hands-free calls or use the navigation and Bluetooth audio systems. I’ve been waiting for my flying car for too many years now!
Why does the auto industry seem like a difficult environment for females?
This is a question that’s both easy and difficult to answer. Like any other male-dominated industry, women have not been geared (no pun intended) toward trying to form a relationship with the subject as men have from an early age. It’s history. Mechanics was a necessity for men, fixing things to keep farms and homes running, while women were steered toward more traditional roles.
It’s not that women can’t understand the mechanics and electronics of vehicles, it’s just that there was little or no exposure to them. Today, even, women tend to shy away from these subjects because they may believe they have too much “catching up” to do before they can fully understand how everything operates. It takes effort to want to learn and understand automobile engineering, and while women are fully capable, they may not want to invest the time and energy.
Why did you want to work in the auto industry?
As with most other automotive journalists, I didn’t set out to work in the auto industry. However, I was exposed to cars at an early age. My father was a big enthusiast, owning a 1961 Austin Healy, a first-year Mustang, and many other sports cars. I have always liked to fix things, and when I finally got my first car (1975 Ford Pinto!), my dad showed me how to change tires, do my own tuneups, and more.
We’d also go (I was one of four kids) to drag races at Pomona where I’d come home with chunks of rubber in my hair, as well as to road-racing and oval tracks, and watch IndyCar races on television.
I even have a copy of an article I wrote and sent to Tony Swan (then editor at Motor Trend). I did get a nice reply in return telling me to keep at it!
First automotive job?
The first car-related job I had was as a valet parking attendant for Chuck’s Parking, a well-known private valet parking company in Los Angeles. It did give me a chance to drive a lot of high-end vehicles — but usually only a short distance! It also provided me with enough humorous material to write a couple of articles for Motor Trend when I was on staff!
My first real job in automotive was Editorial Assistant at Motorcyclist Magazine. I didn’t have much exposure to 2-wheeled transportation, and this was a great way to learn about street and dirt bikes (through its sister publication Dirt Rider). Some of the most fun I ever had at a job, and I’m still friends with just about everyone from both staffs!
Proudest professional achievement?
I’m proud to say I was the first female on the editorial staff of Motor Trend to actually write about cars and review cars. Back in the late ’80s, there weren’t many women in automotive journalism: Denise McCluggage, Jean (Lindamood) Jennings, Courtney Caldwell, Leslie Hazelton, and a few others.
It used to be that many times I was the only female automotive journalist on a press trip; now there are many more, which is great. Every once in a while I’ll go on a trip and be on a wave where I’m the only one again, and it feels odd now, where before it used to be the norm!
Current challenge at work?
What frustrates me most now is finding that the newer female bloggers who have a presence on the internet don’t really have an understanding of how a vehicle works. I actually get angry when someone is writing a review but doesn’t really understand why the vehicle is doing what it does, or that they criticize something without understanding even the physics of movement and the automobile, or the car company history. If you don’t know something, ask someone this goes for guys, too. No one will make fun of you, and it’s only in your best interest to learn from someone who can give you a correct answer.
Besides winning the lottery and becoming a beach bum?!
My husband Scott and I are working on continuing our publishing company enterprise. We publish a series of books called BUILD BOOK: From Concept to Reality, where we follow the build of one specialty or custom vehicle from start to finish from a top builder in the country. We have five books now and number six in progress. As much as I love the OEMs, the hot-rodding and custom industry is so much more fun because they aren’t being choked by the over regulation requirements of the government.
What you do to relax?
Relax? What’s that? I love doing anything with water: swimming, boating, fishing, hanging at the beach…Being a native Southern Californian, it’s hard to stay away from it!
One more thing I would add, Christina is about the importance of mentoring.
One of my best friends, and the co-host of our radio show, Driver’s Talk is Rick Titus. He was my go-to guy when I had questions about mechanics or vehicle operation. He was invaluable in helping me build my career. I think it’s important for people in the industry to mentor those who are getting started so they can give back as well as help put others on the correct path. I have helped three people grow their careers in the industry, and I hope everyone does the same.