Auto Repair Information – What Source is Best?

When looking for auto repair information, you will find that there are a lot of different sources you can use.  There is the old standby, the OE factory auto shop manual, but is it always the best resource for automotive repair information?  What about Chiltons auto repair manuals, Haynes auto repair manuals, or others?

Computers and the internet can provide online car repair manuals through subscriptions to ALLDATAdiy, Mitchell’s e-AutoRepair, and all those CDs and DVDs that are sold on Ebay. Online forums can offer car repair info that is very model-specific, where you rely on the expertise and experience of others with similar vehicles. There are also places like Yahoo! Answers and where you can turn for answers to specific car repair questions.

So where is the best place to go for auto repair information?  The answer to that is that there is no simple answer!  Each of these sources has advantages and disadvantages, and each has its own place.  The answer will depend on your knowledge, experience, and what type of auto repair information you are looking for.  It can actually be helpful to have access to two or three different sources at the same time when doing certain repairs (more on that later!).
The OE factory auto shop manual for the most part is written for the professional technician that has been formally trained in automotive repair, and a certain level of knowledge, experience, and access to special tools is assumed.  That is not to say that it is not useful for the average car owner that does his or her own repairs, because in certain cases there is no substitute.

I personally own factory automotive shop manuals for each of my family’s vehicles, but I also was trained as a technician years ago.  I still find the factory automotive shop manuals frustrating at times, because it can be difficult to find the specific information I am looking for.  But, an OE factory shop manual is usually the most complete, comprehensive, and detailed resource available.

Chiltons auto repair manuals and Haynes auto repair manuals are geared more towards the average car owner with a do-it-yourself mindset.  In most cases, they are perfectly adequate if you are doing mechanical repairs such as replacing a water pump, doing a brake job, or even rebuilding an engine.

Where I have found them lacking is in the electronics, computerized engine management, diagnostics, and automatic transmission areas.  Of course, these types of repairs many times require a higher level of understanding and some specialty tools to properly diagnose a problem, so your average do-it-yourself car owner may not be attempting them anyway.

These systems can also be very model-specific, and when the factory auto shop manual may have a thousand or more pages dedicated just to these areas for only one year/make/model of vehicle, a three hundred page aftermarket repair manual that covers everything for several years worth of a model line can’t be expected to go into the same depth as the factory automotive shop manuals.

One of the advantages to these aftermarket manuals is that they have lots of photos, which many other auto repair information resources (including the factory shop manuals) are lacking.  Personally, I prefer a Haynes auto repair manual to a Chiltons auto repair manual due to the abundance of photos in the Haynes manual.
ALLDATAdiy and Mitchell e-AutoRepair are online car repair manuals that provide you with the exact same auto repair information that many independent auto repair shops use.  Yes, it is geared towards the professional, but it is searchable and much easier to navigate through than a factory auto service manual.  If you have a little automotive experience and knowledge, these are probably the best all-around sources for car repair info.

They still leave out some things that are covered in the factory auto shop manuals, but go much more in-depth than the Haynes and Chilton’s books.  Many of the diagnostic procedures and diagrams are identical to what is found in the factory auto repair information.  My experience with them is that they have much more complete info for domestic cars than for imports, and if you have an imported vehicle you may still need the factory auto shop manual for some repairs.  NOTE: Mitchell eAutoRepair does not cover windows and window regulators, or certain other vehicle systems.
An auto repair forum or the enthusiast forums can be a very valuable resource for free auto repair advice when you have specific car repair questions or a problem you can’t solve.  Some forums are of course better than others, but several model-specific auto repair forums that I am active in have a ton of people with real-world experience with similar vehicles, and some of these folks will bend over backwards to help out a fellow car owner.

You do have to be careful, though, because you really don’t know the knowledge level of the person that may be answering your question, and he may be speaking only from his own experience and memory.  Sometimes it is possible to get incorrect car repair info from someone that really doesn’t know what they are talking about, or is mistaken about something but is honestly trying to help.

I recently saw a question about a specific transmission symptom, and one person answered that he had exactly the same problem, and his mechanic replaced a certain part.  I knew that the first person’s transmission did not have that part, and I checked a factory auto service manual just to make sure before I posted a reply.  I was then told that I didn’t know what I was talking about, and was accused of calling the mechanic a liar, when I was merely saying that someone was mistaken.  Bottom line:  Be careful about acting on the free auto repair advice of just one person on an auto repair forum!
I have to honestly say that I don’t have any personal experience with the online question-answer websites, or with the inexpensive CDs available on eBay.  Just poking around different times, I have run across some of the auto repair questions on Yahoo! Answers, and the answers that I have seen have been in-depth and correct, but I have not spent much time there.

As far as the eBay CDs go, I have to say that personally I question the quality of the information you will get on a six dollar auto repair manual CD , but it may be fine.  As of this writing, I actually just ordered an auto repair manual CD on eBay for $5.50 with free shipping.  Once I have received it and determined the source and quality of the information, I will post an update here.

UPDATE: I received the $5.50 eBay repair manual on CD, and it does appear to be the genuine factory OE service information.  The CD itself does not contain the service manual, but it gives you online access to a server that contains the auto repair information.  The downside to this is that you need internet access when you want the service information, or you have to print out pages ahead of time.  I don’t know if all of the other eBay CDs work in a similar fashion, but that would be a good question to ask the seller!
NEW Update 2013: The CD has stopped working after a couple of years. It appears the online service manual has been moved to a new location. Still, not bad for the price I paid. But at the moment, the only similar item I see on eBay costs $22, which would NOT be such a great deal if it also stopped working after a couple of years. You can often find used OE service manuals on eBay, AbeBooks, or even Amazon for $30 or less.
As I said earlier, sometimes it is helpful to have more than one source for certain repairs.  Case in point:  I recently decided to replace a convertible top myself rather than pay someone else $300 to do it.  When I was trying to get the new top installed, I had a factory auto service manual, a Haynes auto repair manual, an enthusiasts repair manual for the car, the instructions that came with the top, a DVD I had purchased, and a step-by-step tutorial with photos that I found online. I used every single one of them at one point or another!  All of them had slightly different illustrations, and each had little tidbits of information that the others did not.  Sometimes it pays to have multiple sources of automotive repair information!
Each of these auto repair information resources has value, and every one has a place.  If I could personally only have one resource, it would be the factory auto shop manual, but then again I am a certified ASE Master Technician.  For the dedicated do-it-yourselfer, I think one of the online car repair manuals through a subscription to ALLDATAdiy or Mitchell e-AutoRepair is the best all-around resource.

If all you want to do is replace a timing belt or do a brake job, and you take your car to the shop when that little orange light on your dash turns on, then a Haynes auto repair manual or a Chiltons auto repair manual may be your best bet.  The auto repair forums and websites where you can ask auto repair questions are great places to turn to when you get stuck.

When trying to diagnose and repair automobiles, there is no substitute for good auto repair information (and lots of it)!


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