For skilled mechanics, opening a small engine repair shop is one of the most dependable ways to make money.
Special licenses or certifications are rarely necessary for this line of work–and startup costs are low–meaning that a budding mechanic can scale the operation as they see fit: opening a commercial repair shop or simply operating part-time out of a garage are both realistic options.
In this post, we’ll explain what it takes to kickstart a small engine repair business and then walk through each key step of getting a repair shop up-and-running. Now, let’s get our hands dirty.
Are you cut out for the small engine repair business?
Compared to the work of an auto mechanic, tinkering with lawnmowers, chainsaws, dirt bike engines, and leaf blowers is relatively low-stakes. However, that doesn’t mean that anyone who has fixed a power tool in their spare time is fit to run a commercial small engine repair shop.
Repairing small engines in a professional capacity takes skill and experience that not every budding entrepreneur has. If the following traits apply to you, starting your own repair shop may be a viable option.
You have years of hands-on mechanical experience and are familiar with different engine varieties.
Plenty of folks who have successfully repaired a lawnmower or leaf blower in their home garage may fancy themselves a mechanic, but going pro takes serious skill beyond the level of a mere novice. There’s a big difference between the motor on a circular saw and a Honda jet ski’s four-cylinder four-stroke engine, and as a professional small engine mechanic, you’ll be expected to be able to fix both types. Nobody wants to pay you to learn on the job.
However, it’s not that a big deal if you aren’t familiar with every type of engine out there or haven’t repaired any snowblowers before: you can take a small engine repair course at a local vocational school or study a detailed repair manual to fill the gaps in your knowledge before starting a repair shop.
You enjoy investigating and solving complex problems.
When tasked with fixing a two-stroke or four-stroke engine, the issue may not be immediately apparent: figuring out the problem may require dismantling the engine into its component parts, which can be time-consuming.
If you don’t shy from this type of investigatory work, then opening a small engine repair shop might be the right business for you.
You have realistic financial goals.
Small engine repair work isn’t exactly one of the most lucrative lines of work: the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics puts the median hourly rate for a small engine mechanic at $18.19. This is just a fraction of a licensed electrician’s hourly wage and slightly less than that of a plumber.
While it’s possible to make more as a small business owner once you develop a customer base and earn a reputation around town, small engine repair probably won’t make you rich, so it’s important to have realistic expectations.
Small engine repair industry facts and figures
- In the United States, small engine mechanics make $37,840 per year, on average.
- There are around 76,300 small engine repair jobs in the U.S.
- The small engine repair industry is expected to grow by 6% between 2018 and 2028, which is about the average rate for the American industry.
- Small engine repair mechanics usually possess a high school diploma or GED and learn the trade through on-the-job training.
Sources: U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics
Starting a small engine repair business step-by-step
1. Determine the scope of your business
Before anything else, it’s best to draft a business plan to hammer out financial goals and figure out the level of ambition you have for your small engine repair shop. Ask yourself these questions:
- Do you plan to rent a commercial space and open a full-fledged storefront, or operate out of the home, giving tune-ups on nights and weekends for extra cash? Both options are completely viable, but it’s best to determine the scale of the operation from the outset.
- Will you specialize in repairing vehicles like ATVs and snowmobiles, handheld tools like chainsaws and weed eaters, or all of the above? Perhaps you’re more comfortable focusing solely on lawn mower repair. Make a list of the equipment your business is willing to take on and include it in your advertisements and signage.
2. Choose a location
Those running their small engine repair business out of a basement or home garage already have it figured out, but others that hope to open a commercial storefront will have to find a suitable commercial space.
A small engine repair mechanic doesn’t need too much space: a workshop area of 1500 square feet with a storage area of 4000 square feet should do. Try to find a spot in a central, well-trafficked location in your area and consider renting a facility near similar businesses.
3. Calculate your expenses and purchase equipment
After you find a spot for your small engine repair shop or decide to offer repair services from your home, it’s time to write out a list of necessary equipment and other expenses. Here are some of the key expenses to consider:
- A basic toolset – If you don’t have one already, buy one or more basic toolsets with the essentials like wrenches, screwdrivers, hammers, and other tools.
- Power tools – You’ll also need drills, a miter saw, nail guns, a compressor, and other power tools.
- Small engine repair tools – Depending on your specialization, your shop will also require advanced tools specifically designed for small engine repair, including feeler gauges, tillers, trimmers, tachometers, a grease gun, an oil extractor, and others. Check the ‘Resources” section below for a link to a comprehensive list.
- An engine repair table – Buy one or more sturdy engine repair tables large enough to handle a variety of engine types.
- A storage shed – Having a place to put customers’ equipment and vehicles will increase the number of jobs you can take on at any one time.
- Hire an employee – Those opening a full-fledged commercial repair shop should consider hiring one or more employees at the going rate of $15-20 an hour to increase productivity.
4. Acquire funding, choose a business entity, register your business, and obtain federal and state tax ID numbers
Refer to our How to Start a Business Guide for instructions on how to complete these essential steps.
5. Obtain the necessary licenses and permits
There isn’t too much bureaucratic yellow tape around small engine repair, and most pros won’t require any special certifications. However, it might be a good idea to acquire the following items:
- Business license – Certain municipalities require all commercial businesses to obtain a local business license. Check with local officials to see whether one is necessary for your area.
- Small engine repair certification – While likely not required to do business, many vocational and mechanic schools offer certification programs in small engine repair. Hanging a certificate on your wall may give prospective customers confidence in your abilities.
6. Buy insurance coverage
Insurance coverage is an essential means of protection for most businesses, including small engine repair shops. In fact, if your shop has one or more employees, you are required by the federal government to have two types of insurance, while other protections are strongly encouraged, or required at the state level.
Here are the forms of insurance you should consider:
Required forms of insurance for all business with employees:
- Workers’ compensation: Covers medical costs and disability benefits if an employee is injured or becomes ill on the job.
- Unemployment insurance: Provides benefits to workers after a loss of job through no personal fault.
Recommended forms of insurance for all businesses:
- Professional liability insurance: Covers losses as a result of property damage, medical expenses, libel, slander, and negligence claims.
- Commercial property insurance: Covers property damage to business-owned properties and possessions as a result of fire, theft, or storm.
- Disability insurance: Provides short-term benefits for employees suffering an illness or injury. Required in certain states such as California, New York, and Hawaii.
7. Market your small engine repair shop
Entrepreneurs can’t depend on word-of-mouth for everything: no business can truly thrive without local advertisements and a well-established online presence. Here are the key steps for promoting your small engine repair business:
- Create a website. Register a domain name for a company website (You can use domain.com, Bluehost, GoDaddy.com, or Namecheap.com). Hire a web designer to develop the website (or do it yourself). Be sure to include detailed contact information on the site.
- Open social media accounts. Register accounts on the popular social media services (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
- Register a Google profile. This will allow you to add pictures of your business, respond to positive customer reviews, and address customer concerns.
- Respond to online customer feedback. Register accounts on business review platforms such as Yelp and TripAdvisor. This will allow you to write thank-you notes in response to glowing reviews and address negative reviews.
- Take out ads on billboards and in local publications. It still pays to increase visibility by buying ads in local newspapers and on highway billboards.
Small engine repair business resources
- Lawnmower Pros: Ultimate Guide to Small Engine Repair Tools – A comprehensive guide featuring small engine repair tools for nearly every purpose. A useful resource for the small engine mechanic just starting out.
- Jacks Small Engines – An independent online business based out of Maryland selling a wide variety of small engine repair tools, replacement parts, and other components. The website gives the option of browsing by tool type or by major manufacturers like Briggs & Stratton, Honda, Kohler, and Generac.
- Penn Foster Career School: Small Engine Repair Course – Penn Foster offers a four-month class teaching prospective mechanics how to troubleshoot, disassemble, and repair all types of small engines.
- Amazon.com: Small Engines and Outdoor Power Equipment – One of the most popular small engine repair manuals available on Amazon.