Auto body shops help motorists keep their vehicles well-maintained and fix issues, both minor and major, as they occur. In California, auto body shops need to be licensed before they can legally operate. Whether or not you plan to work on the vehicles yourself, the initial license you need deals with you running the shop, not working in the shop. To do this, you'll need to fill out forms based on the specific type of services you plan to offer. And since the review process takes four to six weeks, you'll need to get to get started soon if you want to open for business in the near future.

Contact the Bureau of Auto Repair in California by calling 1-800-952-5210, via its website or by visiting one of its offices (see Resources). The Bureau of Auto Repair issues Automotive Repair Dealer Registration (ARD), which is required in California before you can operate your shop. To complete the registration form, you'll need a Tax ID number, which you can get through the California State Board of Equalization (see Resources).

Obtain and submit the Smog Check station form when you submit your ARD form. This can be obtained from the Bureau of Auto Repair in California through the same channels in Step 1. This is necessary to license your auto body shop as a Smog Check station, which is common in California. When filling out the form, specify whether you are just performing smog tests or if you are also doing repairs. Pay a $100 fee to submit the form.

Submit the Brake Station and Lamp Station forms when you submit your ARD form. These can also be obtained from the Bureau of Auto Repair in California through the same channels you used in Step 1. In the forms, you will need to agree to having only licensed brake inspectors working on brakes in your shop. There is also a list of specific equipment you need to have (see Resources). Once the forms are submitted, your auto body shop will be licensed to test, inspect and repair lamps and related electrical systems in vehicles, as well as testing, inspecting, and repairing brakes and brake systems.