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Is offering services as a "Prius Handyman" a good idea?

Discussion in 'Gen II Prius Main Forum' started by SteamPowered, Mar 7, 2012.

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  1. SteamPowered

    SteamPowered Junior Member

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    Location:
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    Your Vehicle Year:
    2005 Prius
    Model:
    Two
    I'm no expert on cars, in fact I'm just getting started on my Prius.

    But I know alot of about the details to fix parts and problems on the Gen 2 prius, ie, water pump belt, spark plugs, headlights, other lights, changing oil etc. Not too long from now I might be able to change springs, tires, receivers, headlight assemblies etc.

    I actually enjoy this work and I'm thinking about offering my services on craigslist locally for a moderate fee, and maybe free to seniors and disabled.

    MY question: is this a bad idea for liability? Say if I ask $40 to change someone's spark plugs and something happens to their car next week that could be plausibly related to my spark plug change (but no real evidence), can they come back and take me? What if a really bad person does the same thing intentionally?

    I'm looking for informed opinions, preferably if you have some legal experience or experience as someone who provides somewhat similar services.
  2. andyprius

    andyprius Senior Member

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    Interesting question, from the degree of ignorance that is prevalent about the Prius and cars in general I think it is a good idea IF, you can round up a steady supply of customers. To find out if you are protected from liability then probably you would have to go the whole legal business liability route, with legal, tax advice, etc. However a small relationship might evolve with the Prius owners in your neighborhood, on a casual basis thru distributing advertising on the neighborhood parked Prii. I"m sure house calls would be most useful. Wish you luck. :cheer2:
  3. bisco

    bisco cookie crumbler

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    just don't charge them for replacing the waterpump belt, that sounds like a lawsuit waiting to happen!:D
  4. SteamPowered

    SteamPowered Junior Member

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    Good point. Actually it was one of my first repairs and I read a few reports saying it was super tricky without going underneath or taking the wheel off. I was pretty nervous espiecally since if I couldn't complete the repair the car would have to be towed!

    But I didn't find it hard at all, I just lasooed the drive wheel from above. It sounded like people thought they had to stick their hand 3 feet into the car, but it really just takes some finesse. There are tracks in the wheels for the belt and it seems like you would have to be egregiously incompetent to unknowingly misplace the belt. The only question was how much tension to put on it, I did a turn above finger tight.

    Going strong for 1000 miles now, knock on wood.
  5. RobH

    RobH Senior Member

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    There is a class of activity called "hobby". It's sort of a "below the radar" business that doesn't make much money, or may even lose money. Another class is "day laborer", which is generally ignored, and sometimes even supported. Day laborers work for cash, no benefits, and no reporting to anybody.

    And then of course there's a fully licensed, reported, insured, etc. business. You'll probably need a business license from the city. The city planning department will require that your business be located in a place that is zoned for business. The state sales tax people will want to know your projected taxable revenue, for which you may have to make a deposit. If your city/state requires a license for a car repair business, you'll have to satisfy them.

    One business model you may want to follow is the mobile locksmith. There must be some website where these guys gather to talk shop.

    If you want to have a business name other than your personal name, you'll have to get a "DBA" (Doing Business As) from the local county clerk's office. Once you've got one of those, you're committed to doing the next nine yards, as you've declared your existence to officialdom.

    My suggestion is to put up a notice on Craigslist and see if it flys. Something like "Prius Maintenance, Oil Changes, Tires Rotated, etc". You might get a prepay cell phone to use as the contact phone number. And a free email account from Yahoo or Google. Run the ad for a week, and then drop it or at least change it. If you get a flood of calls, maybe you should go formal. If it's just a nibble or nothing, you haven't wasted all the effort and money that it takes to go formal.
  6. SteamPowered

    SteamPowered Junior Member

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    Wow, thanks for the detailed tips. Definitely not going to go formal here and not going to get liability insurance.

    My motivation is that I just live in a place where I see ALOT of Prius, espiecally gen 2. I often find myself in front of or behind another gen 2 prius in my short commutes. I feel like there is alot of value lost by people going to the dealer to replace a bulb or spark plugs. I feel like I could help a few local people with some simple problems. Just telling people to buy the parts online before going to the dealer would save them alot of money.

    Thanks for the CL tip. I'm not sure a throw away phone and a gmail account is going to give me alot of protection but it's probably better than nothing.
  7. AllenZ

    AllenZ Active Member

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    If you are in Chicago area, I will definitely be one of your customers.
  8. seilerts

    seilerts Battery Curmudgeon

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    1. Form an LLC -- SteamPunk Prius Repair LLC
    2. Get a tax certificate so that you can buy parts at wholesale from the dealers and parts stores and not pay tax on them either.
  9. efusco

    efusco Troll Slayer Staff Member

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    Ah... his point was that the Prius does not have a water pump belt...might be a good idea to do some in depth research about the car to be sure you understand the unique characteristics of the HSD before jumping into a business venture.

    I can tell you first hand that little frightens or pisses me off more than taking my car to the Toyota service dept. and some idiot looking at a computer screen asks me if I want to change the fluid in the differential on my wife's Highlander Hybrid....
  10. SteamPowered

    SteamPowered Junior Member

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    http://priuschat.com/forums/knowledge-base-articles-discussion/87166-belt-change-how-photos.html

    I would like to say you are confused with a different part when talking you about the "water pump belt", but that is exactly what it is called on these forums and the name two Toyota mechanics and advisers use for it, although sometimes it is also called the "serpentine belt", but this name is less informative. A google search using either term finds dozens of threads and plenty of DIY info on the belt change on PC.
  11. qbee42

    qbee42 My other car is a boat

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    Depends on which model. The Gen II has a belt; the Gen III is beltless.

    Tom
  12. SteamPowered

    SteamPowered Junior Member

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    I don't think this person was debating whether or not the Gen III is beltless, his post clearly implies I do not know what is in my gen 2 car. My prius is 2005, and is this is clearly stated in this thread and on my profile.

    Also according to his profile, the person who says there is no water pump belt to change also has a gen 2. Also my original post explicitly states I am doing work on the gen 2. Finally, this whole thread is in a gen 2 subforum.

    By the way, great profile pic. I am a novice climber, getting up to 10A. Do you do any trad, alpine? What's climbing like in Michigan?
  13. fotomoto

    fotomoto Senior Member

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    Saw on this mornings news that a woman is suing Toyota because she didn't turn her car off and left it running in the garage, killing her SO from carbon monoxide poisoning.
  14. KK6PD

    KK6PD _ . _ . / _ _ . _

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    I would take the class and become A Certified Prius Technician. Also in this lawyer feeding frenzy lawsuit society I would not be so quick to blow off the insurance. All it would take is one lawsuit and you could be through before you get well established. There are many Prius owners that would prefer a properly trained mechanic over a dealer. Good Luck on this one, it could be a Goldmine !
  15. SteamPowered

    SteamPowered Junior Member

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    I really appreciate the advice and the support of this idea, but a serious, part-time job is not really what I had in mind.

    I really just think I might do one or two odd jobs a week at most, to a few people in my neighborhood, change bulbs, filters, diagnose codes, etc, minor stuff that the dealer would charge way too much for.
  16. SageBrush

    SageBrush Senior Member

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    I think it is a *great* idea, but definitely set up an LLC. You do not want your personal savings and home at risk from a lawsuit.

    Heck, you could offer vanilla Prius maintenance per Toyota reccs at a fraction of the cost of the dealership. Booya!
  17. qbee42

    qbee42 My other car is a boat

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    It's either a job or it isn't. If you take money for it, it's a job, and one screw-up could cost you everything you own and everything you will ever make. If you want to make money doing this, treat it as a real business and form an LLC, get insurance, and any license you might need. If that's too much bother, stay away from charging.

    Tom
  18. efusco

    efusco Troll Slayer Staff Member

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    my bad
  19. JimN

    JimN Let the games begin!

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    When it comes to the state & taxes you are either all the way in or all the way out.

    First, is there really a market for the service? Oil changes & air filters, wiper blades yes. How many light bulbs burn out? Part of the car's charm is low maintenance.

    Back in his younger days my brother built up quite a clientele for oil changes, brake jobs, etc. (things that didn't need a lift) by word of mouth mostly Mom's coworkers & relatives. All the work was done at home. He got discounts at the local auto parts store. He was not licensed or registered in any way & had no problems. He was an auto mechanic so he knew what he was doing.

    Second, if you apply for sales tax exemption the state is going to expect to see payments of sales tax collected from your customers. They will also expect to see income from your business since you are buying stuff for resale. This income is going to be reported on your tax return unless a separate entity is created.

    Now that you are collecting, paying & reporting sales tax your business is going to need a location & some sort of license or permit. I'll bet your home isn't zoned for commercial use so you'll need to rent some commercial property.

    What did you intend to do with the waste oil? How is that regulated in your state?

    My advice: stay low. Solicit the neighborhood, coworkers, parked Prius. If you can get some jobs lined up buy oil when on sale. Your services seem low risk so I wouldn't expect legal or insurance issues.

    Best wishes for doing some good in the community.
  20. RobH

    RobH Senior Member

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    Another quick thought... If you do it informal, don't charge any markup on parts/oil. That would be a sure sign of being in business. Going shopping for someone is in a different legal world than buying at one price and selling for more.
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