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Automotive Repair Order Best Practices

Service teams use auto repair order forms or work orders for every vehicle that pulls into their service drive. This form directs each team member through all repair work processes. Therefore, service teams must use these standard business forms to their fullest capabilities to be as efficient and effective as possible.

automotive repair orders

Digital or Paper?

TVI MarketPro3’s Kurt Hankey says that automotive service departments use both digital and paper repair orders. “I would say the majority of stores still generate a paper invoice or a paper repair order. But in the shop, the technicians and the advisors, for example, may be operating only on the digital version of it. There are very few shops that do a digital-only, but some do,” says Kurt.

Develop a Standardized Process

Whether the repair order is paper or digital, service department leaders must develop a standardized process for handling repair orders. Everything – including intake procedures, documentation, repair tracking, and customer communication – must be performed consistently from one team member to another and from one customer to another.

Accuracy is Key

Though repair orders are standard, it is critical to remember that they are legal documents between the dealership and the customer. They are also legally binding between the dealership and the manufacturer. Kurt stresses that all team members must initiate and finalize repair orders consistently. Document all repairs and services performed on the vehicle, including details such as parts used, labor hours, and any special instructions.

The repair order is “one of the single most important documents for a service department,” says Kurt. Service advisors must make sure all notations and all timestamps are accurate. The manufacturer also uses this document and will periodically ask to see repair order records. In doing so, they will access the actual repair order, not the invoice.

Repair Orders Allow for Effective Communication

Service advisors should establish clear lines of communication with the customer throughout the repair process. In doing so, they should provide regular updates on the status of the repair and any changes to the original estimate.

The customer should receive an invoice reflecting all the same information that was on the repair order with all of the corrections and services that were performed, as well as pricing.

Turn to Technology

Technology helps streamline the repair order process, and digital systems are recommended for intake, tracking, and invoicing. After the repairs are complete and the order is closed, all applicable information is saved, which becomes part of a vehicle’s history.

The history provided by closed repair orders will generate timelines by the date of service. The dates tell the service manager when it’s time to remind a customer of upcoming services. Make sure your staff is trained on the repair order process, including the use of technology and customer service skills. It can be tempting to assume a system is self-explanatory, but this can be a costly mistake.

Keep the Information Up-to-Date

Busy service drives can make it challenging for service advisors to catch all the details, but one area that shouldn’t be overlooked is the verification of customer data. Every time customers arrive, advisors must double-check their personal contact information and vehicle information.

Questions that should be answered are:

  • * Do we have the right phone number?
  • * Do we have the current direct mailing address?
  • * Do we have the customer’s current, valid email address?
  • * Which vehicle are we servicing, and have we serviced this vehicle before?
  • * What’s the current mileage of the vehicle?

Every time a car comes in, you must accurately record the current mileage in order to best serve the customer’s specific vehicle needs. Errors in documentation can cause the creation of duplicate customer files on the same vehicle.

Making detailed notes will also prevent miscommunication with your customers. Service advisors should keep records to specify the underlying cause of the problem. Thorough notes prevent discrepancies when explaining repairs to the customer.

These mistakes can “create financial problems for the dealership,” says Kurt, “so service departments need to be consistent and precise when executing a repair order.”

Attention to Details

Finally, Kurt warns that dealerships should pay close attention to the physical filing of repair orders. The information on the computer screen is valid most of the time, but for legal reasons, “you’ve got to have access to the hard document” as well. An organized and structured system of filing these hard copies will make it easier to pull these documents should the need arise.


The repair order is one of the single most important documents for the service department. It touches every aspect of the customer’s relationship with the dealership.

The dealer protects itself from legal issues when it ensures these digital and paper documents are handled properly. It also creates a strong means of communication between the customer and the service team. 

A positive customer experience is the number one goal for any dealership. Therefore, an advisor should take the time to review proper procedures for these documents to make transactions smooth and seamless.

Check out more service department business resources at TVI MarketPro3.

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