Do you need an LLC for an auto repair shop?

If you’re considering opening an auto repair shop, you might be wondering whether forming a limited liability company (LLC) is necessary or beneficial for your business. In this guide, we’ll explore the key considerations and advantages of forming an auto repair LLC.

Forming an LLC for your auto repair shop can offer several benefits that provide protection and structure to your business operations. One of the primary advantages of forming an LLC is the limited liability protection it provides. By establishing your auto repair shop as an LLC, you can separate your personal assets from the liabilities of your business. Another perk is that an LLC helps enhance your professional image. Last but not least, an LLC gives you flexibility to choose the tax structure that best suits your business’s unique financial situation.

Throughout this guide, we’ll provide you with step-by-step instructions and valuable insights on how to form an LLC for your auto repair shop. Whether you’ve got a team of experienced auto repair specialists or considering entering the auto repair services industry for the first time, forming an LLC can be a crucial step toward building a successful and sustainable auto repair business.

Why Starting an LLC for a Car Repair and Customization Shop is Important

Personal Asset Protection

One of the most popular advantages of forming an LLC is the personal asset protection provided by this business structure. Whether you operate a small repair shop on your own or partner with several other professionals to start a full-service customization garage, you need the limited liability protections that an LLC can provide.

As an example, let’s say that you insufficiently repair a customer’s vehicle. That customer drives away from the shop, and the car breaks down in traffic and causes an accident. If you operate your repair shop as a sole proprietorship or general partnership, your personal assets — like your house, car, or personal bank accounts — would be at risk if that customer decides to sue your business.

On the other hand, if you form an LLC for your repair and customization shop, and you operate and maintain that LLC in a compliant fashion, the scope of your customer’s lawsuit will be limited to your business assets. In other words, your personal assets will usually be protected by the business structure you’ve chosen.

Taxation

However, there are other advantages to consider when starting an LLC for an auto repair shop.  Another important aspect is taxation. The LLC actually provides its owners with a selection of options regarding how they want the business to be taxed, which can save you a considerable amount of money compared to simply operating as an informal business entity.

Sole Proprietorship/General Partnership

Your repair and customization shop’s LLC can be taxed as a sole proprietorship (for ingle-member LLCs) or general partnership (formulti-member LLCs), which is the default option. With this tax structure, your shop itself doesn’t pay taxes, but rather the profits are passed through the business entity and your owners pay taxes on that money when they file their own personal taxes.

C Corporation

You can also choose to tax your repair shop as a C corporation, although this option isn’t very popular because it subjects your business to double taxation—meaning that your profits are taxed first on the corporate level and again on the personal level when they’re distributed to your owners.

S Corporation

The other option is S corporation taxation. There are quite a few limitations to electing S corp taxation, but most U.S.-based car repair and customization shops have no trouble meeting these requirements — your business cannot have more than 100 owners, they all must be either residents or citizens of the United States, and so on.

S corp taxation can help your automotive repair shop save money by reducing your self-employment tax burden. Instead of paying self-employment taxes (a 15.3% tax that includes the employer and employee portions of Medicare and Social Security) on all of your business income, you can pay yourself and your co-owners a reasonable salary for your roles and only pay self-employment tax on that portion of your income, while you can reinvest the rest of it into your business without paying this tax.

Compared to operating a sole proprietorship or general partnership as a car repair business, the S corp taxation model can potentially save you quite a bit of cash that you can use to buy more equipment and expand your garage rather than writing a big check to Uncle Sam.

Enhanced Credibility and Name Uniqueness

Finally, an LLC structure can enhance the credibility of your car repair business venture. Informal business entities don’t have exclusive assumed business names and typically operate under the personal name(s) of their owner(s). For instance, if your name is Johnny Smith and you operate a sole proprietorship for your repair shop, your company’s name is also “Johnny Smith,” which obviously isn’t a great name for a car repair and customization shop.

In this scenario, you could register a DBA (doing business as) name to give your business the ability to operate under an assumed business name, but DBAs have no exclusivity regarding their naming rights in many states. This means that if another mechanic wants to use your DBA name as their own, they’re not only allowed to do so, but they can actually register a formal business entity with that name, preventing you from continuing to use your own assumed name.

With an LLC, you not only have the rights to exclusive use of a business name in your state, but you’ll also have either the phrase “limited liability company” or the letters “LLC” in that business name. This provides your business with a jolt of respectability because customers respect the professionalism displayed by an LLC. Also, they typically feel more comfortable writing checks to a business entity rather than to an individual.

What is an LLC?

LLCs are formal legal entities that are typically taxed similarly to sole proprietorships and general partnerships, in that the owners include any company profits or losses into their personal returns — the LLC itself doesn’t owe income taxes. An LLC may also elect to be taxed like a corporation, although this is not a very common option.

There are similarities to corporations, too, especially when it comes to financial responsibilities. In an LLC, the owners or members are not usually personally accountable for the financial status of the business. This means that if someone sues your LLC, your personal assets are usually not at risk.

How to Start a Car Repair and Customization LLC

The formation process for LLCs varies depending on which state you’re forming one in, but in general, the process has some universal steps that need to be taken no matter what state your business is located in. If you want a thorough overview of all the steps required to form an LLC, check out our complete LLC guide. The basic steps in the LLC formation process in any state are as follows:

1. Choose an LLC name

Coming up with the perfect name for your new LLC is an important step. You’ll need to choose a name that represents your company and describes what you do, and you’ll also have to make sure it isn’t already in use by checking your state’s business database.

2. Designate a registered agent

Your LLC’s registered agent (which can be an individual or a professional service) is responsible for receiving important document deliveries from the state — like service of process or annual report reminders — and forwarding them to you. The registered agent ensures that the state always has a reliable point of contact for your business.

3. File your formation documents with the state

The form used to create an LLC is usually called the Articles of Organization, although the name can vary (some states call it the Certificate of Formation or something similar). You’ll need to provide the state with some basic information about your business and its owners. In exchange, the state will formally create your LLC.

4. Acquire an EIN

The Employer Identification Number (EIN) is a federal tax ID number that essentially functions as a Social Security number for a business. The EIN allows your company to hire employees, pay taxes, apply for bank loans, and more. You can obtain an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service free of charge.

5. File a BOI report

As of 2024, LLCs are required to file a beneficial ownership information report, or BOI report with the Financial Crimes Enforcement Network (FinCEN). It’s free to file this report, and when you file you’ll be asked to provide information about each beneficial owner: each person who gets substantial economic benefit from the LLC or exerts substantial control over it. 

It’s essential to file this report on time; failing to file can have severe civil and criminal penalties. 

6. Create an LLC operating agreement

Most states don’t require operating agreements but every LLC should have one regardless. This is an internal document that outlines several key operational aspects of your LLC. The value of the operating agreement is how it can help prevent ownership disputes down the line by clearly explaining how the LLC will be run.

7. Create a financial infrastructure

You will need a business bank account for your LLC, and you’ll probably want a business credit card for work-related expenses, as well. It’s also a good idea to use accounting software like QuickBooks or even hire an accountant to handle your bookkeeping for you.

8. Handle taxes, licenses, and permits

Depending on your state, you may need a general business license to operate your LLC in compliance with state requirements. There isn’t a federal license for auto repair businesses, but your state will likely have some licensing requirements and may also require that all of your mechanics are properly certified for the work they perform. Don’t forget to check with your state to see if there are franchise or privilege taxes assessed on LLCs, and also see if your municipal or county government entities have any further licensing requirements.

8. Understand maintenance requirements (annual reports, franchise taxes, etc.)

Again, these requirements can vary by state, but most states require some sort of regular report to ensure that your LLC’s info is up to date in the state’s business database. Some states require reports each year, while others only require them biennially or not at all. No matter what your state requires, you’ll need to stay on top of it to keep your LLC in good standing.

Additional Resources for Starting a Car Repair and Customization Shop

1. The Mechanic Doctor

Since 2015, The Mechanic Doctor has provided advice for car repair professionals of every skill and experience level. They offer a wealth of tutorials and video lessons, as well as a variety of repair manuals, general resources for auto repairs, and helpful blog posts. If you need information about how to become a better mechanic, look no further than The Mechanic Doctor.

2. In the Garage

In the Garage is the blog for carparts.com, and it’s an excellent resource for new and experienced mechanics alike. Their “Best Online Resources to Help You Learn How to Fix Cars” article is an exhaustive resource that examines car repair and customization from every angle.

3. Workshop Manuals

Workshop Manuals is exactly what it sounds like: this resource provides free online workshop repair manuals for all makes and models. Instead of keeping a bunch of paper manuals (which get outdated quickly) in a filing cabinet at your shop, you can simply access Workshop Manuals whenever you need to check a car’s official factory manual.

4. Trade School Future’s Best Auto Mechanic Books

A great way to learn the ins and outs of the car repair trade is to study the best books available for this profession. With Trade School Future’s list of the best books for auto mechanics, you have the inside scoop on which books you should be reading to sharpen your skills as a mechanic.

5. Openbay

Openbay allows owners of car repair and customization shops to “connect with and convert online consumers looking for automotive service with our digital tools.” This automotive service platform connects car owners with reputable repair shops in their area, which can dramatically increase the amount of business flowing through your shop.

Try ZenBusiness for Forming Your Auto Repair LLC

Starting your own business as a car repair shop can feel like an overwhelming prospect, but it doesn’t have to be a solo endeavor. ZenBusiness has your back; we specialize in the “red tape” side of business. Whether you need help starting your LLC, managing your finances with ZenBusiness Money, staying compliant, or anything in between, we can help. Let us handle the paperwork so you can focus on what you love: repairing and customizing cars.

Auto Repair LLC FAQs

  • There are quite a few liability issues for car repair services that make it highly inadvisable to operate your shop with an informal business entity. Your customers could sue you or take other legal action if you perform any repairs they didn’t authorize, if you mislead them regarding billing issues, for breach of warranty, and more. In short, the legal protection provided by the LLC business entity is necessary for an auto repair shop (even if you have business insurance).

  • Everyone’s situation is different, and we’re not here to provide legal advice. That said, the limited liability company has some concrete advantages over the corporation that make it the preferred option for most small businesses, including car repair shops.

    Corporations tend to have more complex formation and maintenance requirements, and they don’t have the taxation advantages of an LLC. The corporation has some advantages of its own (for example, it’s easier to attract investors to a corporation) that make it worth a look, but the LLC is a simpler and more flexible business structure for the typical small business owner.

  • Yes. Every state allows entrepreneurs to serve as their own registered agents. However, while the role of the registered agent can seem like that of an unnecessary middleman, there is more complexity to this position than some people realize. For instance, you would need to be present and available at your auto mechanic shop during all standard business hours.

  • The do-it-yourself route is always an option for LLC formation. However, LLC services are so affordable that there’s really no good reason not to use one these days. In addition, some of these companies often throw in free bonus features that make them an even better bargain.

  • Some people like to form their LLCs in states with favorable legal settings. For instance, Delaware is often seen as the most business-friendly state, as it has an entire court system that’s dedicated solely to business matters. As for Wyoming, this state has some of the most generous anonymity laws for LLC ownership.

    However, for most people, the best option is to form their business in their home state. Forming in a different state can be a tremendous hassle and can also add unnecessary complexity to tax issues.

  • The costs of LLC formation can vary quite a bit depending on which state you’re forming one in. For in-depth information about LLC formation costs in your specific state, take a look at our guide to state-by-state expenses.

Disclaimer: The content on this page is for information purposes only and does not constitute legal, tax, or accounting advice. If you have specific questions about any of these topics, seek the counsel of a licensed professional.

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Written by Team ZenBusiness

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