Auto Repair Shop Invoice Software: A Free Guide
Posted on Feb 23rd 2020 in Best Practices
When you think of the must-have tools that make an automotive business successful, auto repair shop invoice software may not be the first thing that comes to mind.
But all successful automotive repair businesses understand one thing:
If you can’t get paid, your repair business can’t grow.
That’s why having a rock solid invoicing process in place is so important.
What is Auto Repair Shop Invoice Software?
Auto repair shop invoice software is any computer program designed to provide pricing estimates, generate work orders, and deliver invoices to customers of the auto repair industry.
If your repair business has any revenue or customers at all, having a rock solid invoicing strategy is a must. Invoicing software is a crucial part of this strategy.
A Quick History Lesson
Paper and carbon copy invoices were the previous automotive industry standard. However, today the majority of auto repair shops have moved to a paperless system.
If you are currently using paper invoices, don’t worry! We won’t spend time today trying to convince you to go paperless.
If you want more info before making the switch, you can review these posts we’ve published in the past:
- Why use auto repair shop management software to build my invoice instead of paper invoices?
- Does paperless invoicing and auto repair shop invoice software really save my garage time and money?
If you’re already using or are committed to learning more about paperless invoicing systems, read on!
What is the Difference between Invoicing Software and Auto Shop Management Software?
Automotive invoicing software can often be found bundled within a larger suite of tools. For example, you may have heard of the following types of software:
- Auto repair shop management software
- Automotive workshop management software
- Auto repair shop software
All of these are different names for the same thing:
Software that helps auto repair shops run their business.
Shop management software usually (but not always) bundles invoicing software with other features, for example:
- Customer relationship management (CRM) software
- Marketing capabilities
- Time keeping for shop employees
It’s not unusual to see different shop management software offer different combinations of similar software features.
For the purpose of keeping this post short, we’ll just focus on invoicing software.
If you're interested in learning more about auto repair shop management software, check out our Ultimate Guide.
How do I Find the Best Automotive Invoice Software for my Garage?
At this point, perhaps you’re wondering: so what’s the best automotive invoicing software available today?
Out of all the available automotive software vendors on the market, which one should my garage choose?
The reality is this: there’s no one invoicing software that works for everyone. Every software vendor has different strengths and features to meet different needs.
If you do a quick online search for automotive invoicing software, you’ll find many different software solutions come up in the results. Dig into each one, and you’ll see that each software vendor has a list of features.
With so many vendors and features to choose from, how should you go about choosing just one solution? Which features should you prioritize? How can you cut through all the noise to avoid being overwhelmed by choices?
Instead of relying exclusively on online reviews or recommendations from blog posts, here’s the 3-step process we’d recommend for shopping software vendors:
- Assess your auto repair shop’s specific invoicing needs.
- Gather a list of software features that meet those needs.
- Use a free trial to confirm functionality.
Let’s talk through each step in more detail.
Assess your auto repair shop’s specific invoicing needs.
What are your shops current pain points when it comes to invoicing? For example, is it currently taking too long to build an invoice? Are you tired of wasting paper using carbon copy invoices? Are you sick of re-typing the same customer data into invoices for regular and repeat customers?
Think through a list of these pain points. Also, make the distinction between true pain points and minor annoyances. After you have your list, move on to the next step.
Gather a list of software vendors and features
Now it’s time to gather a list of potential software features. You can do this with a quick online search. Most auto shop invoicing software vendors have websites with a specific section dedicated to features. Go through these websites and make a list of features that sound relevant to your business’s needs.
An example list of possible features:
- Ability to create PDF and email invoices
- Parts integration with invoices
- CRM customer integration
- Multiple user seats
- Quick invoice builder
So let’s summarize. By the end of this process you’ll have two lists:
- A comprehensive list of pain points in your current invoicing process.
- A list of potential invoicing features among software vendors.
After you have these two lists, put them next to each other. Match up the list of features to the pain points from step one. Ideally, all pain points will have a feature next to them. Why? Because this will give you a rough idea of the specific features you need to look for when shopping software vendors.
Ultimately, you want to find a software solution that solves your pain points. The last thing in the world you want to happen is to invest your hard-earned money in a flashy software solution that doesn’t meet your needs. Similarly, what good is paying for a software with nice-to-have fluff features that you never use?
So by now, you have a list of features matched to a list of pain points. For any remaining features that aren’t matched to pain points, you can label them as nice-to-haves and extra benefits.
The end result should look something like this:
Use a free trial to confirm functionality.
By now you have a list of the mission critical features to shop for, the features that will solve your pain points. Now it’s a matter of testing out your potential software vendors to make sure your features are accounted for.
Most software vendors today offer a free trial in order to test out their software before committing payments. If you’re researching a specific invoicing software that does not offer a free trial, we’d strongly recommend looking elsewhere.
At the end of the day there’s no substitute for testing out software features for yourself.
Once you’ve tried free trials of your list of potential software vendors, you’ll be able to confirm which software vendors meet your list of must haves and solve the necessary pain points.
If you have multiple software vendors that meet your needs, then you’re in luck; you can review the nice-to-haves and added benefits for additional criteria before selecting the best option for your garage.
Obviously there are other factors besides features to consider as well, such as pricing, ease-of-use, and quality of support and customer service. You’ll need to assess the importance of these other factors for your own specific auto shop. But hopefully the above steps offer a starting point to systematically shop for a solution that meets your auto shop’s needs.
Should I Try a Free Trial of Software Before Buying?
Absolutely, 100%! (See above).
If a potential software vendor doesn’t offer a free trial, beware. Move on to the next option. At the very least, ensure that your software vendor offers a money-back guarantee.
Whether it be Youtube videos, customer testimonials, or snazzy websites, software vendors can use many different types of marketing methods to advertise and promote their features. At the end of the day, these are simply not a replacement for putting your hands on the actual software product and taking it for a test drive.
To Download Software, use Cloud Software, or use Open Source Software?
When assessing auto shop invoice software, one big decision you’ll need to make is on how your software is deployed. Software has traditionally come in many forms and sizes.
Downloaded software (On-premise software)
Beginning in the 1980’s, using invoicing software required that you insert a physical cartridge into your computer for download. After downloading, the software was then hosted on your personal computer.
Eventually the physical cartridges were replaced by cassette tapes and floppy disks. By the 1990’s physical CD’s became more common for software installation, with flash drives later replacing CD’s. With faster internet speeds today, software can be downloaded via the internet without the need for physical storage devices.
With the rise of the internet and cloud computing, software can be deployed over the internet without requiring any download or installation at all. This is the power of cloud software. With cloud software, software can be used in a web browser and accessed via an internet connection. This means that no data or software is hosted on your personal computer. Instead, data is hosted on remote servers and made accessible through the power of the internet.
Open Source Software
For garages and auto shops willing to hire developers or technical help, another option is to build a custom software solution. While this generally more labor intensive and expensive than the two options presented above, there are numerous online resources such as boilerplate code and open source software that make this a viable option.
Depending on your desired amount of customization, budget, and ease of installation and use, you’ll want to assess the best option for your auto shop’s circumstances.
Who Benefits from Auto Shop Invoice Software?
Once software has been implemented, invoicing software is a gamechanger for everyone that interacts with your automotive repair business:
Any owners or managers at your auto shop will have an electronic tool with which to keep track of the health of the business. Many software services provide basic reporting and invoice metrics which show the amount of money generated for total repairs in a time period.
Mechanics, Service Writers, Auto Repair Technicians
Everyday employees at the auto shop can leverage the power of software to do their jobs quickly and efficiently. Many invoicing tasks that were previously done by hand can be automated with software. This means a streamlined invoicing process for any employees that use the software on a daily basis.
Customers benefit from receiving invoices in an electronic, email or PDF format, meaning one less piece of paper to keep track of. The same time savings experienced by mechanics and auto techs are also passed on to customers, who have less wait times.
Next Steps and Resources
Our intent is for this guide to provide a helpful resource for your next conversations with your employees on your automotive shop’s invoicing software. Here is some additional reading that readers may find interesting too:
Key Terms [Glossary]
- Auto shop management software - Software designed to allow auto repair shops to run the operations of their automotive business.
- Cloud Software - On-demand software delivered via the internet. In the case of invoicing software, cloud software is hosted on remote servers and is traditionally accessible across a bevy of devices and operating systems, i.e. Mac, PC, mobile, etc.
- Customer Relationship Management (CRM) - Software that helps businesses manage customer data and interactions with their customers.
- Diagnostic Fee - A payment made in exchange for a mechanic’s time and labor in troubleshooting a car or vehicle’s issue.
- Downloaded Software (On-premise software) - Software installed on your auto repair business’s computer or device.
- Estimate - An approximate bill created by an automotive business for their customers prior to any payments being made.
- Free Trial - Temporary access to a product or service before purchase.
- Invoice Builder - Software designed for businesses to construct and design billing invoices to provide to their customers.
- Invoice Processing or Invoice Process - The complete series of steps that a business takes to bill their customers. Also known as an Invoice System.
- Immediate Payment - Prompt payment in exchange for a good or service.
- Line of Credit Pay - For automotive businesses, an option for auto repair shops to allow customers to provide periodic payments for an auto repair or service.
- Open Source software - Software for which the source code is made accessible by the creator in order to allow others to modify and build upon the existing code.
- Outstanding invoice - An invoice that has not been paid by the customer. Note that this does not necessarily mean an invoice is past due. If the customer has received an unpaid invoice that is not past its due date, then the invoice is outstanding but not overdue.
- Overdue invoice - An invoice that is past its due date.
- Payment in Advance - Payment in exchange for a good or service that has not yet been received by the customer.
- Portable Document Format file (PDF) - A standard that allows you to view documents consistently across different devices and operating systems. With PDFs, the same file should look the same regardless of whether the person viewing is on Mac, PC, etc.
- Quote - A fixed-price proposal for a good or service.
- Service Writer - In the automotive industry, a customer-facing employee that assists in managing repairs and communicating customer needs to mechanics and automotive technicians.
- Software - A scripted set of instructions that tells your computer what to do and how to do it. In the case of automotive invoicing software, the software directs your computer on how to create invoices for your auto repair business’s customers.
- Software vendor - A software business that offers their product or services for sale.
- Terms of Sale - The details of a formal agreement between buyer and seller.