Friday, March 16, 2012

Google Knows How to Fix Your Car

As I have gotten more experienced working on vehicles I have been tackling more difficult jobs. For a lot of these jobs something like the Chilton or Haynes manuals are great but frequently I find them to have poor images (why do they take black and white pictures of gray and black stuff in poor lighting instead) tiny diagrams, and sometimes are too general and don't cover the topic I am interested in. Also they don't have the best diagnostics section. When you start to run into these limitations you basically have 3 options:

  • Official Factory Service Manual
  • Random people on the internet
Factory Service manuals are great (I have the one for my MG Midget that I got from a friend) but they can be on the spendy side (start at about $100 and go up from there) but they will tell you everything you need to know to fix your problem. Problem is you either need to order them online or buy them from the dealership, online is cheaper but still don't expect to be paying less than $100 and you have to wait at least a day for it so show up.

For those of you who don't know ALLDATA is an online resource that covers all makes and models of vehicles and basically has all the info in the respective factory service manuals. This is a pay service but if you are lucky enough that your local library has access (I think most in Minnesota do, and I know the Dakota County ones all do) so you can go use it there. If you wanted access from home it gets pretty spendy (currently $26.95 per year for the first vehicle) but might be worth it if you have a car that needs lots of repairs. Typically this is the service that professional mechanics use.

This leaves the 3rd option of people on the internet. Now this may not sound like a very good option but it has worked really well for me in the past. Most of the time you are not the first person to try and do something and there are others like me who are really into their vehicles. As such these people tend to post DIYs online with some really good large color pictures and write-ups. Frequently there are entire sites designated towards a specificy vehicle that have lots of info on them. Add in message boards and there is probably more info online for free than there is in ALLDATA for your vehicle. The hard part is finding it and knowing what to put into Google. So how do you find the data:
  1. Go to a search engine like google, yahoo, ask, ...
  2. Enter some basic info but don't be too specific as maybe no one made reference to a green 2003 version of your vehicle. 
    1. make
    2. model
    3. problem or question
  3. check out the results, if you have a lot of results for different vintages of your vehicle you may want to try and trim them by being a bit more specific. With BMWs you can usually eliminate stuff not relevant to your vehicle by putting in the engine type (M62) or body type (e39). I haven't done it with my jeep yet but then I haven't had to search for much. If you don't know these values I might suggest checking out Wikipedia for your vehicle make and model as there you can probably find these values.
For example in the past I have used these sites for various vehicle info:
  • - Ford Ranger/Bronco II site. This page is the technical section for the site and has lots of detailed fixes and modifications
  • - BMW 3 series hatch back (my previous BMW)
  • - BMW 7series site that has a BMW e39 section since a lot of things are shared between those vehicles
  • - A BMW message board covering all models
  • - This specific page has a whole ton of e39 BMW DIYs linked from across the web in one spot. The site covers all BMW models.
  • - This page has details on replacing the valley pan on a BMW M62 engine.  The site covers all BMW models.
There are a number of additional sites I have gone to but those are just some of the gems I have found but searching the internet. The other nice thing is that if you want to do some vehicle modifications again you probably aren't the first one to want to do that so you can find all sorts of info and see where others have had issues or know what you are getting your self into. Sometimes you never find what you are looking for and have to settle for what info you can find. Personally I think I am the first person who want to have a supercharged alcohol burning MG Midget. I can find some info on converting a vehicle to run on alcohol but most of the info on doing that is from really goofy alternative energy people who basically just want to make moon shine and aren't doing it right (they don't even bother to adjust the fuel air ratio) but I have had some luck in poking around on the various sprint car, and midget racing (not the MG kind) as those cars are all alcohol burners and they actually know what they are doing. The supercharging part is easy as there is a kit for the A-series engine, as well as an optional high boost kit for the supercharger.

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