In our travels into automotive repair services and time spent with wrenches, there is often mention of consulting the service or repair manual to help with your car maintenance task. When it comes to a removal and replacement of something fairly straightforward and simple like an air filter or an oil and filter, the procedure is more or less universal. A service or repair manual is probably a good idea when it comes time to tackle a more esoteric task like finessing the SPICA fuel injection system on a 1973 Alfa Romeo Montreal into a steady idle.
While there is certainly a large part of the shade tree mechanic set who will generally throw directions to the wind no matter what the task, vehicle-specific instructions can be a good thing when it comes to things like brakes and wheels. Finding the auto service manuals can be half the battle. Locating a service or repair manual is much like finding a car. There are a few different kinds and more than one place to look for them, so read on for a few tips on how to do it.
Making the books
There are more or less two kinds of books when it comes to automobile repair information. The first and most expensive are the factory service manuals. These are the same books used at the dealership to help fix errant connecting rods or chase faulty electronics. Next in line is another kind of service manual. Companies like Haynes and Chiltons use factory service manuals along with cameras and writers to dismantle then reassemble automobiles to produce their own repair books. These are usually geared more toward the occasional mechanic.
The first and often most expensive option is to step up to the parts counter at the dealership. If the owner's manual in the glove box has the same year on the cover as that calendar on the wall, then forking over a pile of cash may be the only option until some time passes. On the other side of the time machine, the dealer is often the only option if the car has seen a few presidents. Stepping away from the parts counter with a genuine factory service manual is usually a fairly painful financial experience. A used manual will have more greasy fingerprints but can cost a lot less.
Brick and mortar
Call us crazy, but we cling to the antiquated idea that a bookstore is still a good place to find books. Bookstores that specialize in motorized interests are a good place to find a service manual new or used for that old SIMCA or Fiat 500 Abarth currently stored in several 5-gallon buckets in the backyard. There are even bookstores that specialize solely in automobile repair manuals! Not surprisingly, a number of these booksellers also have online stores to help unite repair manuals and interested car or truck owners.
That factory-issue service manual complete with fingerprints from the four people who tried to fix up a '71 Plymouth Fury before you is out there, somewhere. Don't just hit the automotive swaps. Branch out into flea markets and garage sales, and keep your eyes open for a dog-eared copy of the Chevy II twin-book factory service set. Warning! Sometimes a book can garner interest in potential car purchases. A sawbuck plunked down for a seemingly harmless service manual can result in countless thousands of dollars sunk into finding and restoring obscure project cars.
Forums, clubs and message boards
One of the best ways to gather information about a particular make and model of automobile is to join a community that already exists. If you're the proud owner of something worthy of having its own message board, then chances are good that someone truly dedicated (or similarly afflicted) has spent the time to either scan in the pages of the service manual or host a digital version for members. Another great feature of message boards devoted to a particular machine is that someone has likely had the same mechanical problem before and has outlined a way to fix it. Forum classifieds can also be a good place to pick up used manuals.
A quick scan of eBay or similar will reveal hundreds if not thousands of automotive service and repair manuals. Some of these are of the factory service manual variety. Others are of the Haynes or Chiltons sort. Personal and trouble-free experience has landed more than one manual on our own bookshelf. While there are many genuine factory service manuals from eBay and other fine online retailers, there also is a great deal of crummy bootleg CD-ROM-style deals floating around. Beware of the auctions for online auto repair manuals accompanied by a half page full of exclamation points or miracle claims. If it sounds too good to be true, it likely is.