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Starting an auto repair shop on a tight budget2 Automotive advice on how to succeed where others fail.

Updated on June 16, 2011

In my previous hub, "starting your auto repair shop on a tight budget1," I covered a broad range of innovative factors that you can use to gain the advantage over your competition, but I have not yet explained the way to fast success in an auto repair business that is trying to get started on a tight budget. With the combined information from these hubs you can totally bullet proof your business, and get started quickly even if you have very little money to begin with.

This will seem outrageous to the many who believe the money is in how much work you can get through in a day, and how to get jobs through the shop quicker.

High initial throughput is not the object of the lesson when starting up, it is reputation.

You need a good one!

Profitability is scalable. If you start out small, your costs are small and so are demands on your time. This allows you to sell your time in creative ways, one of which is to do that bit extra to increase your loyal customer list, and improve the quantity and quality of that list, and importantly their opinion of your auto shop. By going that extra yard, you can set yourself apart from all the other auto repair shops.

Use your labor to add perceived and real value for your customers. If you, the receptionist and your mechanic (When you start you may have all three jobs yourself.) look for little things you can do that will show the customer clearly that they are highly valued. Even if it's just cleaning the tires, always do something the others are not.

My advice is to spend time doing all that is in your power to win business one job at a time.

The car above is in need of a hose down at least!

Look around.

You may be replacing a  handbrake cable, but while you're there look for any little job you can do while the car off the ground.
You may be replacing a handbrake cable, but while you're there look for any little job you can do while the car off the ground.

Check suspension components.

Badly worn tire

No matter what the car is booked in for, the front suspension must be fixed. Personally I would pass this car off to another repairer. The owner just doesn't care, and any other repairs will be overdue and a nightmare. Pass!
No matter what the car is booked in for, the front suspension must be fixed. Personally I would pass this car off to another repairer. The owner just doesn't care, and any other repairs will be overdue and a nightmare. Pass!

Avoid horror jobs.

Try to avoid jobs that entail removing the dashboard, like replacing the interior heater core. You will lose money on them unless you find an easy one, which is rare.
Try to avoid jobs that entail removing the dashboard, like replacing the interior heater core. You will lose money on them unless you find an easy one, which is rare.

Here are some ideas I have used.

There are many things that you can do that will not take much time, but make a big difference to the appearance or even performance of your customer's car.

  • Washing the dust off the body under the hood/bonnet area.
  • Putting some armoural on faded plastic to renew and protect it.
  • Cleaning the windscreen.
  • Adjusting a door latch.
  • Do a simple electrical repair.
  • putting some rust converter on a rust spot.
  • Cleaning insects out of the air-conditioner radiator core.
  • Adjusting the handbrake.
  • Lubricating the electric aerial.
  • Oiling a hinge.
  • Putting silicon or other suitable friction reduction products on a sticky window runner.
  • Topping up the windscreen washers.

When you begin to think from the customers point of view you will see many others opportunities to make your business shine alongside the competition by being generous with your time. Obviously you're mechanical work need to be outstanding to gain and keep customers.

If you still can't see the many benefits gained by investing your time this way, you need to consider a few other factors.

You have the vehicle in your possession to examine from all points, even underneath where your customer never gets to see. If you can see problems developing, or things that need to be adjusted or lubricated, or even blocked water release passages in body panels, minute wear on front end components, engine mounts that have been degraded by past oil leaks, muffler surface rust, broken exhaust support mounts and any other quick fixes that will prevent further problems later on. Do one of these jobs while you are there and don't charge for it.

Instead, add it to your very detailed service or repair job sheet noting that it has been repaired free with your compliments.

It's true that if you spend heaps of time doing free repairs, you will lose time to work on other vehicles and therefore lose some of your profit, but you need to do the rest of the math. All you need is long term customers to survive, and the best way to get them is by over delivering, being unique and offering exceptional value. Earn each customer, one at a time. Begin by listening carefully, being empathetic, and then informing your client.

My counter always had a large scribble pad on it. I used it constantly to illustrate a mechanical failure, where a part fitted, how a component worked or any other information my customer wanted to know.

I remember getting a female owner with a Ford GT that needed a new crown-wheel and pinion in the differential. It cost a packet for the parts and she wanted to know what the differential was, what the parts were and why did they need to be replaced. I did my usual rough drawing on the scribble pad. Long story short, she became a loyal customer and recommended my auto shop to her friends as well. All of them were intelligent women who were fed up with being spoken to as if their car was beyond their understanding! A wide open market. 

You may have to work all night sometimes to over deliver, but nothing will return a long term profit better than an auto repair shop that bases itself on what the customer wants then delivers it.

Learning how to handle people is best left to a strong heart full of love. Be one!

Karen runs the front end of a 3 bay workshop with her husband Jim,  and Len another mechanic in one of the outer suburbs. It's a good enough location with a lot of young families like them.

Jim chose Len because he is a top mechanic who has expertise that offsets his own, Karen is the receptionist.

Her people skills are the best you can get. She is so friendly and nice, but Karen is also as sharp as a whip! She chats with the moms and dads, discovering their values, fears and aspirations in minutes with her charming optimistic personality. She never wastes a second of the customers time if they are in a hurry, and stands behind her business ethics fiercely. Once I was repairing the brake lathe in their workshop when a part for a customer's car did not arrive in time.Karen picked up the customers kids for her in her own car, even remembering to get some extra milk in case it was needed! The customer was in need of their car, so when they could not deliver on time, the customer lost nothing, not even time.

I know her secret to making this one of the most profitable small workshops I have ever seen. She has a big heart like many moms, and that is what your customer wants. Someone with the skills that develop readily as a mom and wife, the most under-rated job in the world.

Karen does the same thing with every new customer. She welcomes them when she takes the booking details. When they pick the car up, there is a red rose, (one from her garden usually) and a chocolate on the front seat with a welcome note and a 10% discount voucher for the next service, along with some useful information, often about a subject she knows they are interested in!

OK, so this is the biggest winner of all. If you care about others, can't do enough for them and want to be the better, cheaper, smarter solution for auto repairs, put yourself in your customers shoes. Why in hell would they even want to go elsewhere?

Karen Jim and Len are all on the same page. It is all about impressing the customer every time they come in. I volunteered an extra 20 minutes of my time to tuning their brake lathe to perfection while I was there. I learned the value of a good customer 40 years ago and still want to over deliver today.


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    • profile image

      Oprecio Web 

      3 years ago from Spain

      I dont kno wabout cars ..

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      they are ex's and move on but she is not in a relationship with annyoe and I have a daughter with her and I really love her and miss her. We may be divorced but if she hasn't moved on and we are still friends and get along great I still feel like fighting for her. What are some ways I can gain trust back with her and have her fall in love with me all over again. I am trying to have patience and give her some space. We have only been divorced a couple of months. Neither cheated on each other when we were married.Divorced because of financial problems, trust issues, her wanting to be independent. It was 99 percent my fault and I have apologized a lotI haven't watched fireproof and she didn't want to see it with or without me. She is the one who initiated the divorce and the trust issues were with her not with me. I wanted to do whatever it took to stay married even if it meant to stay seperated longer to get things straightened. We weren't even seperated a year before the divorce. It was a very quick divorce and no lawyers

    • profile image


      5 years ago

      Translated into Spanish please?!?i need this tnaaslrted into spanish please i went on holiday to northeast spain last summer to have fun with my family. While i was there i sunbathed and swam in the swimming pool. i thought it was fantastic while we were over there i had so much fun that i lost track of time. While i was there, we went to some shops, my little sister learn't how to go horse riding and my other sister went to dance classes. I took photos of them to take back and treasure of our first holiday. I visited many places of interests like monument shops and clothes shops. While we were away i sent lots of text messages to my friends telling them about what it was like each day over there. They asked how it was and each time they asked i replied saying it was wonderful. The weather was good over there at times, any other time it was hot and i also met many people. While we were away, we stayed in a five star hotel that had waiters that were English. It was located next to a beach just off the coast, it was very welcoming and helpful with the luggage. The furniture was very comfortable and apparently the hotel was new, that was why it was a five star hotel. It wasn't expensive at all nor was it cheap, the hotel had a lovely bar, restaurant, cafe9 and an indoor heated pool. The best thing about the holiday was that i got to sunbathe and go shopping in the centre of the city. I spent 2 weeks in Spain and we got there by plane, the flight lasted four hours. Luckily when we got to the hotel it was very modern, and the waiters wore uniform. Some clients were English, and the waiters were also English. While i was there i met a lot of young people, they were very nice and i improved on my spanish while i was there to. It was sunny for the 2 weeks, you could do all sorts over there. My parents reserved a double room with a double bed, and a single room with a single bed for me. My two little sisters had one of the rooms in the double bedroom and they shared a double bed and my parents had the other room. We stayed for thirteen nights and fourteen days, the hotel room had a bath and a balcony, so i was very pleased about that. The total cost including room service, lunch, breakfast and tea was three thousand euros for the whole two weeks. We got internet access, and the reception closed at 10pm and opened at 6am. There is no animals allowed in the hotel incase customers had allergies to them. I am hoping to go back next year as at the moment i am already bored (and losing my loovely brown tan).

    • ttravis5446 profile image


      5 years ago from U.S.

      Very well written hub. I appreciate your advice.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      My husband and I are wanting to open a shop when we graduate in May. I am not sure it will happen because of money. I am thinking of letting him start the business but out of the home we get after we graduate and then let it expand from there. I am willing to take advice. Customer Service is the key which both of us have years of.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      I haven't worked as a mechanic in many years as I owned the businesses I worked in and hired mechanics to do the work.

      I am now retired from the motor industry but stay up to date through my workshop owner buddies and trade contacts built over 35 years in the motor trade.

    • Pollyannalana profile image


      8 years ago from US

      Well a mechanic at hubpages, I have seen it all! Looks like you do ok! I do the mushyee when I don't feel like a cushyee. lol

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you pylos, that is one of the nicest compliments I have had for my hubs.

    • pylos26 profile image


      8 years ago from America

      Your hubs run out too fast Earnest...I wind up looking for more print when reaching the end. Please take this as a compliment. Thanks

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you katrinasui, my plan is to be as helpful as I can, and give advice that will hopefully work for those brave souls who have the gumption to go it alone.

      I get an enormous buzz from seeing people succeed in small business. Small business carries the economy in most countries.

    • katrinasui profile image


      8 years ago

      A very well written hub with great tips. Very helpful for people who want to start business of auto repair shop.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you SweetiePie. some new cars should be driven straight to the scrap metal Merchants as well! Yes, some old cars do become too expensive or antiquated to repair.

      I have a friend who insisted on keeping his old GM Holden forever! It was a rust bucket that should have been condemned.

      Fortunately his wife in exasperation purchased a brand new car for him this year, and sent his old one to the scrap yard. He is a nice bloke, but had not considered how much of a nuisance the old Holden had become. Whenever he visited in the past, I had to lay cardboard under his car so that dripping oil did not puddle our driveway.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thank you Hello, hello. I am pleased you found it helpful, I love to see young people succeed. I am be very happy if I can assist in some way.

    • SweetiePie profile image


      8 years ago from Southern California, USA

      Very good tips in your article Ernest, but seriously, some of those cars little pretty far gone. I almost think the owners should drive these vehicles to a scrap metal salvaging shop and buy new ones.

    • Hello, hello, profile image

      Hello, hello, 

      8 years ago from London, UK

      A very well written hub and so helpful. Thank you.

    • earnestshub profile imageAUTHOR


      8 years ago from Melbourne Australia

      Thanks Steve, I reckon there will be many people who would prefer to hear they had just saved spending $500 dollars. Good preventative maintenance will often do that, save you money by seeing problems before they develop. That's partly experience, but caring is a big part of it too. My tip is that if your mechanic has been servicing your car for a while, there should not be many 500 dollar problems if he has done his job of preventative maintenance properly.

    • SteveoMc profile image


      8 years ago from Pacific NorthWest

      Great suggestions, I wish my mechanic would do some of these things, instead of finding another $500 job to do.


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