How to Start an Auto Repair Shop
If you enjoy repairing your vehicle and have some training or experience working on cars, opening a car repair shop might be the career move for you. With a car repair shop, you’ll get to work on vehicles daily, and you’re sure to see a variety of challenging repair jobs. You’ll also have the satisfaction of helping car owners to get their much-needed vehicles back on the road. With time, you can grow that shop into a profitable business, and with a base of returning customers, you can enjoy stable work that puts your talents to use.
Car repair shops offer a variety of vehicle repair services to the public. Some of these repair shops specialize in particular services, like muffler repair, collision repair, brake work, or tire service. Others become more generalized and may offer brake work, engine repair, inspections, AC/heating services, and more. Some shops also specialize in working on certain types of vehicles, like sports cars or luxury vehicles. It’s common for a shop to not only work on cars and trucks but also on trailers and small engines like lawnmowers and golf carts.
There’s a great deal of variety in the car repair shops in business today. Small, one-person shops offer a personalized experience, while larger shops provide efficiency and a capacity that allows them to repair dozens of vehicles each day.
According to IBIS World, the auto mechanic industry has undergone a steady 1.4 percent annual growth from 2014 to 2019 and is expected to bring in $69 billion in revenue in 2019. During that time, the number of small businesses in the industry increased to 271,068, and the industry now employs 577,172 people.
That growth is largely due to an increase in disposable income and corporate profit, allowing consumers to choose professional repair services over do-it-yourself repair options. As businesses enjoy increased profits, they also expand their operations, which further contributes to the number of vehicles on the road – and the number of vehicles that need to be repaired.
The auto repair industry benefits from the fact that people are increasingly keeping their used cars longer, states Christian Brothers Automotive. Given the high cost of purchasing a new vehicle, consumers are increasingly buying used vehicles instead. Brands known for their reliability, such as Toyota and Honda, have become more popular. With drivers requiring that their used vehicles last, there’s an increased need for repair shops to keep these vehicles running well.
Electric cars also continue to grow in popularity. Tax credits, electric car improvements, and a reduction in electric vehicles’ cost mean there are more of them on the road now. Auto repair shops that can learn and work on this new technology can increase their customer base and potentially increase their profits, too.
Most car repair shops target vehicle owners, though some shops specialize and market toward more niche audiences. A shop might specialize in a particular service, like muffler repair, and market solely toward vehicle owners looking for this particular service. Other shops might work on certain types of vehicles, like luxury or foreign vehicles, and would market only to the owners of those types of vehicles.
Checklist for Starting an Auto Repair Shop
If you’re thinking about starting your own auto repair shop, there are a few things you should keep in mind. Here is a checklist of the essentials to get started.
Step 1: Write a Business Plan
After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan. A business plan helps organize the important aspects of the business such as; what will set the shop apart from competitors (customer service, price, location, etc.), what is the total cost of startup costs, where are funds going to come from, what marketing channels will be the best, along with many others.
Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.
Related: How to write a business plan
Step 2: Form a Business Entity
A business entity (also referred to as a business structure) refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business structures to choose from, which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation, and Limited Liability Company (LLC). Each type of entity has its own pros and cons, such as liability exposure, costs, and administrative requirements.
When deciding on which business entity is best for an auto repair shop, it normally comes down to the sole proprietorship and Limited Liability Company.
A partnership opens the owners up to unnecessary personal liability because if a partner does something to get the business sued, or runs off with cash from the business, the other partners are personally liable to repay.
The corporation can be a good choice to minimize liability risk because it separates the business assets from the owner’s assets. If the corporation is sued or certain business debts can’t be paid back, the owners aren’t personally responsible to repay them. The downside to the corporation is that it is more complicated than all the other entities and requires more administration than the LLC. If you plan on raising a lot of investment though, the corporation is usually the better choice.
That leaves the sole proprietorship and LLC.
The sole proprietorship is the least expensive and easiest entity to start which is appealing. The downside is that the owner is personally liable should anything happen to the business, which is an important consideration. The LLC offers the ability to operate as a sole proprietorship with the liability protection of a corporation. Depending on the state, the cost to form an LLC runs from $40 – $500, which is pretty inexpensive for protecting the owners from business-related lawsuits and certain debts.
Related: Guide to forming your LLC
Forming an LLC sounds complicated and expensive, but using an entity formation service guides you through the process so you know it was done right.
Some popular LLC formation services include:
IncFile - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
IncAuthority - $0 plus state fees & free registered agent the first year!
ZenBusiness - $49 plus state fees & free registered agent for 1 year!
Step 3: Name the Business
Finding the perfect name for a business can be challenging. Not only does the name have to resonate with your customers, but it also has to be available to use.
Related: Tips for naming an auto repair shop
Step 4: Select your Location
While an automotive repair shop doesn’t necessarily require a prime, high-traffic location, it can provide visibility and potentially more customers. These locations, however, come with a higher price tag or rent cost.
Some auto repair businesses operate on a small scale out of the owner’s garage. Before going down this path, be sure to check neighborhood covenants and city restrictions from running a business from your home.
Related: Choosing a business location
Step 5: Apply for Business Licenses and Permits
There are no licenses required specifically for auto repair shops; however, there are some general local, state, and federal business registrations such as a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit, among others.
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) does have some oversight over repair businesses with disposing of vehicle waste like old motor oil.
While you’re not required to hold an Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Certification, the Advanced Technology Institute states that it may be difficult to find financing and liability insurance for your shop without that certification. To earn the ASE Certification, you’ll need to have at least two years of work and educational experience before you can take the certification test.
Step 6: Find Financing
Opening a car repair shop requires a significant financial investment, especially if you don’t have much of the equipment you need. Diagnostic equipment alone can cost many thousands of dollars, and if you have to modify the shop that you’re renting, you’ll be looking at even larger expenses.
Funding to start an auto repair shop can be difficult, whether working with an investor or lender to go after a convention or Small Business Administration (SBA) loan. To get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs.
Step 7: Open a Business Bank Account
Keeping your small business and personal finances in separate bank accounts is important to track the income and expenses of your business and identify trends.
Many banks offer free business checking accounts, so be sure to find a cost-effective option for your business.
Step 8: Get your Marketing Plan in Place
While many repair shop customers will become recurring customers, shops need to market to establish that initial customer base. Marketing options vary, but a strong marketing plan will help your business stand out from your competitors. Some common advertising channels for repair shops include print advertising, radio advertising, social media, review sites such as Google, Facebook, and Yelp, customer loyalty discounts, and even sponsoring local events and networking within the community.
Another way to market is through word of mouth. If your shop can become a trusted source for towing companies and insurance agents, they can be a profitable source of customers as they are often the first people contacted when a vehicle breaks down and needs repair.
Step 10: Get Business Insurance
There are several types of insurance to consider when starting an auto repair shop. A few of these include:
– Commercial property insurance covers the cost of lost or damaged equipment or if the building itself is damaged by a fire or other event. If you choose to operate on your personal property, be sure to check your homeowner’s policy as it may not cover your home if there is damage resulting from the business activities.
– Workers’ compensation insurance covers expenses like lost wages or medical bills if an employee is ever injured while on the job.
– Garage keepers insurance protects a car repair shop in case of accidental damage to a customer’s car during a repair.
The costs to insure an auto repair shop vary based on a repair shop’s location, property value, and the value of the shop’s equipment. To get an accurate idea of what insurance will cost, request quotes from multiple providers. Compare those quotes while considering factors like premiums, deductibles, and coverage limits and exclusions.
Step 10: Hiring Employees
Some repair shops operate with just the owner, but it can be not easy to juggle the repairs and the tasks of running the business. According to Glassdoor, auto mechanics make an average salary of $51,410 per year. It’s important to budget not only for employee salaries but also for the additional expenses of having employees, such as workers comp insurance, payroll taxes, health insurance contributions, unemployment insurance expenses, and paid time off.
Related: Hiring your first employee
Step 12: Set up an Accounting System
Setting up an accounting system for your auto repair shop is critical to your business’s long-term success.
Staying on top of taxes not only keeps the business in compliance with tax reporting, but the numbers can also be used to track and monitor trends and cash flow in the business and maximize profits.
The thought of accounting can be intimidating for a lot of new entrepreneurs. There are a number of ways of handling bookkeeping, from DIY to hiring a bookkeeper. These include:
- Pen and paper - Low expense, but difficult to track.
- Spreadsheet - Low expense, but easy to make errors.
- Accounting software - Medium expense, but owner typically inputs expenses. Some great accounting software programs include Freshbooks or Wave Accounting.
- Hire a bookkeeper - Higher expense, though very affordable at $100-$200 per month in most cases. A dedicated bookkeeper will probably save money because, in addition to handling all of the bookkeeping (so you can focus on the business), they also provide personalized tax advice and ensure the business is in compliance.
Find bookkeepers in your local area or use a service like 800Accountant.
How much does it cost to start an auto repair shop?
The cost to open a car repair shop will largely depend on the shop’s size and the amount of tools and equipment already owned. A one-bay shop with a vehicle lift stocked with basic equipment will cost at least $50,000 to get started. Larger shops with more extensive equipment and multiple lifts can cost as much as $75,000 or more to open.
Some common startup costs include:
– Vehicle lift – $3,000-$4,000
– Diagnostic machine – $5,000 – $10,000
– Specialty tools – $10,000 – $15,000
– Initial inventory – $2,000
– Signage – $2,000
– Initial insurance – $3,000 – $5,000
– Working capital for building rent, payroll, and other operating expenses – $??
– Shop renovations and modifications – $??
To minimize startup expenses and make the transition into owning your own shop easier, some repair shops start out of the owner’s personal garage. Doing some work out of your home’s garage (with the proper insurance) can help gradually build up some customers while also getting a feel for what running a shop full-time would be like. This experience can leave you better prepared when you ultimately decide to start up your own car repair shop.
Another way to minimize costs, starting with a specialty service like brake work or tire alignments, adjustments, and installation can help keep startup expenses minimal. These fields don’t require extensive diagnostic equipment, and the inventory is more minimal when compared with that you’d need to start a more generalized repair business.
How much can an auto repair shop owner make?
Many factors affect a car repair shop’s potential earnings, including the shop’s size, the number of employees, the types of services it offers, and even its location – shops in urban areas will probably bring in more business than shops in more rural areas. A shop’s profit margins also affect its income.
Independent shops will likely charge between $70 and $100 per hour, whereas a car dealership typically charges between $80 and $160 per hour. Many shops also have flat rates for certain routine services, like tune-ups and oil changes.
Hard data on the average income of repair shops aren’t available, but we can assume that shop owners make more than the average automotive service technician salary. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reports that the top 10 percent of automotive service technicians make an average of $66,950, which can give us a rough idea of the earning potential for a car repair shop owner.
What skills are needed to run an auto repair shop?
While starting an auto shop doesn’t require a business degree, certain skills and experiences are valuable when going into the auto repair business.
Automotive knowledge. A detailed knowledge of cars is a must for any car repair shop owner. The better you know cars, the more trust customers will have in you – and the more they’ll keep coming back.
Vehicle repair experience. No formal vehicle repair education is required to become a mechanic, but when opening a car repair shop, however, you should have plenty of vehicle repair experience. Earning a degree in an automotive-related field can leave you well-prepared for the challenges of working as a mechanic, but it isn’t required.
Interpersonal skills. Car repair shop owners will need to work with customers daily, and customers can be stressed or upset when their vehicles are broken. Strong interpersonal skills are valuable when running a repair shop.
Management experience. If a repair shop employs staff, then management experience is a valuable trait to have. From interviewing and hiring staff to maintaining schedules and training staff, management is an ongoing task when owning a repair shop.
Organizational skills. With multiple vehicles on the schedule, each needing different repairs and different parts, good organization becomes important to keeping a shop running smoothly. Organizing the shop itself is also vital so that mechanics can quickly find the tools and supplies they need to maximize their productivity.
Physical stamina. Repairing cars is a physically demanding job, and mechanics spend most of the day on their feet. Physical stamina is important when working in this industry full-time.
Are there grants to start an auto repair shop?
It’s extremely rare to find a grant to start an auto repair shop. If you search for business grants, you will come across a lot of scams and misinformation. Occasionally an organization will offer grants to start a business, however, be skeptical and don’t provide any sensitive personal information or pay money to get more information.
Legitimate federal grants can be found at Grants.gov, and you can check on your state’s economic development office to see if they have any grants available.
What is the NAICS code for an auto repair shop?
The NAICS code for an auto repair shop is 811111.
The NAICS code (North American Industry Classification System) is a federal system to classify different types of businesses for the collection and reporting of statistical data.
Related: What is a NAICS code?