When looking for automotive repair information, you will find that there are numerous different sources you can use. There is the old standby, the OE factory service manual, but is it always the best resource for auto repair information? What about the aftermarket manuals from Haynes, Chilton, or others? Computers and the internet provide many more sources, such as subscriptions to AllDataDIY, Mitchell’s e-AutoRepair, and online forums.
So where is the best place to go for auto repair information? The answer 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 and experience, what type of information you are looking for, and sometimes it is actually helpful to have access to two or three different resources.
The OE factory service manual for the most part is written for the professional technician that has been trained in automotive repair. 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 find the factory service manuals frustrating at times, because it can be difficult to locate specific information. But, they usually have the most complete, comprehensive, and detailed automotive repair information that is available.
Aftermarket repair manuals such as those from Haynes or Chiltons 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. Where I have found them lacking is in the computer diagnostics and automatic transmission repair areas. Of course, your average do-it-yourself car owner my not be attempting these repairs anyway. One of the advantages to these manuals are that they have lots of photos, which many other resources (including the factory manuals) are lacking.
A subscription to AllDataDIY or Mitchell e-AutoRepair provides 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 service manual. These are probably the best all-around sources for general repairs. They still leave out some things that are covered in the factory service manuals, but go much more in-depth than the aftermarket repair books.
Online forums can be a very valuable tool when you have a specific car repair questions or a problem you can’t solve. Many have a ton of people with real-world experience with similar vehicles that 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. Sometimes it is possible to get bad advice from someone that really doesn’t know what they are talking about, or is mistaken about something but is honestly trying to help.
As I said earlier, sometimes it is helpful to have more than one auto repair info source for certain repairs. Case in point: I recently replaced a convertible top myself rather than pay someone else to do it. When I was trying to get the new top installed, I had a factory service manual, two aftermarket repair manuals, the instructions that came with the top, and a step-by-step tutorial with photos that I found online, and I used every one of them at one point or another!
Each of these auto repair information resources has value. If I could personally only have one source, it would be the factory service manual, but I am a certified ASE Master Technician. For the dedicated do-it-yourselfer, I think a subscription to AllDataDIY or Mitchell e-AutoRepair is the best all-around source. If all you want to do is replace a timing belt or do a brake job and you don’t mess with computer diagnostics, then an aftermarket repair manual may be your best bet. The online forums and question/answer services are great places to turn to when you get stuck.