Car repairer legal issues

Car mechanic and customer stood next to car

All vehicle number plate suppliers in England and Wales are required by law to register with the DVLA. You can find out more about registering on the website.

If you are starting a new business, rather than taking over an existing one, you may need to obtain planning permission from the local planning authority if you're changing the current use of the premises. In addition there is a wide range of legislation that applies. The following is an outline of some of the key pieces of legislation that are likely to apply to a car repairer. The list is not intended to be exhaustive.

What licences does a car repairer need?

Under pollution control legislation, businesses that engage in car refinishing activities are required to obtain a permit from their environment regulator. Permits will only be issued if equipment and procedures are found to meet the requirements of the legislation, and there will be certain conditions attached to the permit. There is further guidance on pollution prevention permits on the website.

A similar permit system applies to businesses that use waste oil burners in England and Wales (burning waste oil in Scotland and Northern Ireland is banned). Contact your local authority environmental health department for more information and the relevant application forms.

Note that any business which produces 500kg or more of hazardous waste at a premises in Wales within a 12 month period must register with Natural Resources Wales as a hazardous waste producer. You can find out more about hazardous waste producer registration on the website.

MOT testing

MOT testing is strictly regulated and if you wish to carry out MOT testing you will require authorisation from the DVSA.

Authorisation is only granted to businesses with a qualified MOT tester and with premises and equipment that meet the required standards. An application form from the DVSA must be returned and their officers will visit the site to check the test equipment is functional and correctly calibrated.

The MOT tester must attend and pass a three day course, and then be seen carrying out a test to the satisfaction of a DVSA officer. In Northern Ireland, MOT testing is carried out at government run testing stations and not by private businesses.

Waste carrier registration for mobile mechanics

You must register as a lower tier waste carrier (England, Wales and Northern Ireland) or a professional collector or transporter of waste (Scotland) if you operate as a mobile mechanic and carry away waste that you generate in the course of a repair. Registration is free of charge and lasts indefinitely.

Waste carrier registration is carried out by:

  • the Environment Agency in England
  • Natural Resources Wales
  • the Scottish Environment Protection Agency
  • the Northern Ireland Environment Agency

Repair work

Legislation covers the sale and supply of goods and services - including the supply of car parts, repairs and servicing. You are responsible for ensuring that the correct parts are used and fitted safely and that all work is carried out in a way that will ensure the safety of any future driver of the car. There's detailed guidance on the consumer law covering motor vehicle servicing and repairs available from the Trading Standards Business Companion website.

Under regulations which cover customer disputes and resolution, you'll need to be able to give your customers details of a certified 'alternative dispute resolution' provider for your industry sector. And you'll need to inform them about whether or not you intend to use that provider in the event of a dispute.

Hazardous substances

Many hazardous substances are used in a garage and specific regulations cover their use, storage and disposal. Ensure that your and any employees' exposure to potentially harmful substances is minimised. This might involve precautions such as using dust masks when changing brake pads/shoes or sanding body filler, and using gloves or barrier cream to limit exposure to contaminated engine oil. Hazardous substances must be stored correctly. Additional planning permission may be required if any paint spraying work is to be carried out and the appropriate breathing and ventilation equipment will be needed.

Waste disposal and the environment

All waste must be disposed of properly. In particular, hazardous waste such as old oil, lead acid batteries, brake fluid, paint and other chemicals must only be taken away and disposed of by registered, authorised waste carriers. Legislation also covers the emission of fumes and dust from paint spraying and bodywork repairs, which may be of relevance if you carry out this kind of work. Contact your local environmental health department for guidance. More information about pollution control and environmental protection matters is available from the website.

Workplace smoking bans

Smoking is not permitted in any enclosed public places like workplaces and work vehicles and you must display appropriate 'No Smoking' signs. The legislation varies slightly in different parts of the UK so contact your local authority for details of how the ban affects you. You can also find out more on the HSE website.

Health & safety, fire

You must also make sure that you comply with workplace health and safety and fire safety legislation.

Employment legislation

Anyone employing staff must comply with employment legislation. Important areas of legislation include recruitment, employment contracts, pay, working hours, holidays, employment policies, sickness, maternity, paternity, discrimination, discipline, grievances, dismissals, redundancies and employment tribunals.

Insurance for a car repairer

Contact an insurer and explain exactly how your business will operate - they will then explain what insurance cover you must have by law, and other cover you should consider. This might include:

  • premises, premises contents and stock
  • cash
  • business interruption
  • employer's liability
  • public liability
  • product liability
  • professional indemnity and negligence cover
  • motor insurance (for parts collecting vehicles, breakdown recovery vehicle)
  • insurance to cover customers' vehicles

You're likely to have quite a large number of vehicles passing through your business on a regular basis, for example customers' vehicles in for repairs and restoration and possibly courtesy cars. You'll need to take certain steps to make sure that they stay legal while they're in your care, whether you drive them on the road or not.


You'll need a motor trade insurance policy to cover you when you're driving different vehicles on the road. By uploading vehicle details to the Motor Insurance Database (MID) whenever necessary you'll be able to comply with the 'continuous insurance enforcement' rules for vehicles (it's often a good idea to upload details even in situations when it's not a legal requirement). You can find out more about the MID on the askMID website.

Specialist insurance packages for businesses in the motor trade are available from some commercial insurers. It's worth noting that some trade associations offer their members special insurance packages.

When comparing insurance quotes, uncover the differences between policies by using an insurance comparison form.

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