Stuck? It’s all in the manual.

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For most cars, there is a manual that shows you how to keep them ticking. I’m speaking of a car repair manual, not an owner’s manual. The car repair manual shouldn’t be confused with the manual that comes from the manufacturer which is usually kept in the glove compartment, forgotten until you get a light on your dash. I’m speaking of a book to consult because you own that type of car—even before something has had a chance to go wrong.

The goal is to be thorough:

  • How to take the car apart and put it back right
  • How to figure out what might be wrong
  • Give you the information to decide if you can take it on yourself or should seek a professional

One of the big names in the car manual arena is Haynes, covering 300 different makes of car and 130 makes of motorcycle. While there are technical manuals aimed at professional and semi-pro mechanics, Haines targets the amateur, do it yourself, owner.

Haines manuals began with the humblest of starts—when he bought an Austin 7 for £15, the equivalent of $160 today and wrote his first article about it. In that first article, Haynes wrote more about building special parts for the car rather than maintenance as such. For his first actual guide, Haynes chose not to write about the Austin Healey Sprite; an open top sports car which ceased being made in 1971. Clearly, he was our type of car guy.

John Haynes wrote yet one more car book while doing National Service with the Royal Airforce. National Service was a common occurrence for people in their 20s during the early 1950s. He didn’t launch his publishing house, J. H. Haynes & Co. Limited, until 1960.

The books concerned themselves with covering the whole process of repair step by step. The original work was created using a steel duplicator, also known as a mimeograph, which is similar to what you might find in a teachers resource room at a local grade school. A useful bit of kit, but not created for manufacturing of books. As they became more commercially successful, more conventional means of printing were found.

The Haines manuals have been written in 15 different languages. If this seems quite small, think about trying to translate a technical manual, especially if techniques of service and maintenance differ in the countries involved. Another problem is that some components may be unavailable in specific areas. Haynes is now owned by the Chilton Company, who started their business writing cycling magazines and is now one of the largest publishing companies in the world.

You can find repair manuals on various items of automobile equipment such as battery chargers, GPS and even trailers. There are a number of websites you can search for the right manual, which kinds of begs the question why you shouldn’t just search for what is going wrong with your car. Still, people like manuals and many can be obtained for free, sometimes in the form of PDFs.

Due to the amount of litigation involved, car manuals have become larger and larger. This may be a problem if you want to find the information quickly.

It would be a shame if the manual, whether the manufacturer’s manual or one created by aficionados of the car were suddenly removed. The act of publishing a manual kind of shows that people are taking interest in the “technical feat” of building a car, much more than several pages on the internet.

If it weren’t adding something to the owner’s experience manufacturers would surely give up on producing their owner’s manual just to save the money. As for Haynes, the aficionado’s manual is like a nice set of tools. It says you care about your vehicle enough to be personally involved with it. Hopefully car lovers continue to buy them, and hopefully, guys like Haines keep making them.

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