Last Updated on March 10, 2021
One of the most valuable resources you can have in a home or commercial garage is a good repair manual. Automotive DIYers make good use of these manuals to save money and get that sense of accomplishment. Meanwhile, commercial mechanics find the manuals essential due to the wide range of makes and models which pass through their garages daily.
However, these manuals aren’t cheap, so you want to get the best for your buck. Do you go with the legendary Chilton, the European-born Haynes, or invest in a digital manual? Read on to learn the perks, problems, and general quirks of each option to help you determine which auto repair manual is the best.
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Introducing Our Competitors
Before we pit these manuals against each other, let’s take a moment to discuss the history of our two main competitors. While they have the same goal of making car repair easier, they have very different approaches.
“I’m the King of Manuals!” Says Chilton
Originating way back in 1904, Chilton was the undeniable king of repair manuals for generations of mechanics. It has perhaps the most extensive library of any automotive repair manual publication. On top of this, the books get into high detail for every repair needed on a model-specific level, making them extremely useful for pros and amateurs alike.
Surprisingly enough, ownership of the Chilton name has passed through a few very prominent hands, such as the Walt Disney company and none other than Haynes Publishing (as of 2001). Despite being owned by its only major competitor, Chilton’s style has set it apart and ensured these amazing guides continue to be made.
“Hold My Oil,” Replies Haynes
Designed more for beginners, the first ever Haynes manual was for the Austin 7 Special. Despite the company being founded in 1960, its straightforward and simplified instructions gave it fast popularity in both Europe and America.
The current Haynes library includes manuals for not only cars, but also ATVs and motorcycles. All told, over 1,000 different Haynes manuals have been printed over the years.
Chilton vs Haynes – Which is Better?
This debate has been going on since Haynes made its debut. This battle is exacerbated by the fact that these two giants have very different methods of handling material. Let’s take a moment to examine the two side by side.
Chilton gets into extreme detail, providing written instructions covering every facet of your repair. There are plenty of illustrations, but these are usually meant as a companion to the text instead of being the main focus.
Every volume is model specific, making it easier to work with onboard sensors, trouble codes, and parts replacement.
For the DIYer, this makes them a one-stop reference for their vehicle, but a little more complicated for commercial garages that prefer a printed reference.
Haynes handles their information a little differently. Their manuals have more illustrations than Chilton while still providing ample written instructions. The focus in a Haynes manual is on following a specific procedure and explaining why that method is important.
Unlike Chilton, Haynes manuals are less model-specific, with some information on multiple versions of a car.
Repetitive instructions may be referenced in a single section of the book, requiring the user to flip through. This can prove a little confusing to some people, based upon their level of experience on those procedures.
Chilton has been around almost as long as there have been cars, and the manuals cover just about every make and model of car, van, station wagon/SUV, and pickup truck out there. They also cover older motorcycles, although Chilton has since ceased publishing for two-wheeled vehicles.
Haynes has a much smaller library due to its younger age, but still includes most lines since its founding. This doesn’t include some of the more limited runs. However, Haynes does have an active line of motorcycle and ATV manuals, as well as several off-the-wall practical guides for impractical things, such as surviving a zombie apocalypse.
As Chilton and Haynes are both comprehensive but in very different ways, there can be no clear winner. That said, both fit their own target audience, making each superior in their own ways. Here’s the verdict, based upon the strengths of each collection.
Use a Haynes Repair Manual When:
You’re new to auto repair and need a helping hand. These guides are chock full of important info on proper procedures. Best of all, it explains why you should do things a certain way. It’s almost like having a pro instructor by your side.
You’re a visual leaner. The use of extra illustrations make the manuals easier to understand for many.
You will also want to stick with Haynes for your motorcycle or ATV repairs, as they have an extensive collection available.
Use a Chilton Repair Manual When:
You have some auto repair experience under your belt and want the most comprehensive descriptions. Chilton’s heavier reliance on text can make it tough for beginners, but once you’ve cracked an engine or two, these more verbose instructions can put you on the level of a professional for a wide range of repairs. This is also why many commercial garages have relied upon Chilton for generations.
You’re working on pre-1960 vehicles. Because Chilton started off soon after automobiles became accessible to the general public, these manuals are an absolute must for older antiques. Do you need to fix your old Buick Roadmaster? Or possibly restoring a ’55 Thunderbird?
Chilton is the only place you’re likely to find a comprehensive guide to these older treasures, which are too old to fit into the Haynes library (which only covers 1960 and up).
Best Online Auto Repair Manuals
So far, we’ve only talked about printed manuals, but let’s be honest. A busy garage would require an entire room to hold manuals for every make and model that passes through their doors.
In addition, online repair manuals have the ability to be updated for any important technical service bulletins or part number changes (not so with printed manuals). This is why an online presence has become so important.
In the online world, both Chilton and Haynes have a presence, but they’re met by three worthy competitors. Let’s take a quick look at these five digital options.
While Chilton is the go-to for professionals in its printed form, ALLDATA rules the digital world. Their library covers over 30,000 vehicles from the 1980s to present.
The step-by-step instructions are easy to follow and include all the diagrams, parts numbers, and information you need to do an efficient repair every time.
Owners of older vehicles aren’t left entirely in the dark, as the database has a selection of older vehicles as well. The guides for these are far less detailed, and you may need to call in to an expert to get some of the information.
ALLDATA Pro has become the standard for most professionals since you gain access to their entire library of cars, but the pricing ($200+ per month) is way beyond what home mechanics want to pay.
Fortunately, home mechanics can purchase a 1-year subscription to ALLDATA DIY for $29.95 for their vehicle (additional vehicles are discounted).
You get the exact same diagrams, maintenance and repair instructions as most car dealerships or auto repair shops. The online manuals are constantly updated to reflect any TSBs or recalls and even show current prices of OEM parts.
While navigating an online manual takes a bit getting used to, ALLDATA has probably the best interface out there and the convenience factor is huge.
Just as Chilton and Haynes fight on par for the printed kingship, Mitchell1DIY vs. ALLDATAdiy is often the online version of the battle. While similar in many ways, the user interface and amount of data is the difference.
Mitchell1 tends to lose out to ALLDATA simply because the database format is a bit harder to navigate. You may have to dig around a little to get the exact information you want, whereas ALLDATA has it all in one place.
Where Mitchell1 shines is in the wiring diagrams. These are set up to be interactive, allowing you to highlight a specific circuit, making it easier to follow complex wiring patterns.
Pricing for 1-year access is $29.95 making it identical to ALLDATA at this time. The option of a 1-month subscription is nice, but at $19.95 it’s not a huge difference in price.
For those that prefer a one-time cost (vs a subscription model), eManualOnline.com is a good option. Simply click on a vehicle make and model and you’ll get a list of all available manuals for that vehicle by year. Service & repair manuals make up the majority of their products but you can also find parts catalogs, wiring diagrams, and other manuals.
eManualOnline specializes in vehicles at least 5-10 years old. You’re not going to find many manuals for newer vehicles but for older cars and trucks, the selection is excellent. Simply select the manual you’re interested in, add it to your cart, pay via credit card or Paypal, and instantly download your manual.
Most manuals are in the $15 to $25 range but it’s nice that you pay once and have access to it forever. At times, they have a coupon available on their site so you may pay even less.
One downside is that there is no set format that all manuals are in. It may be available in PDF format or various other computer files. Fortunately, eManualOnline.com provides instructions on how to use each. It’s a little extra hassle in some cases but worth it since you own the manual and don’t need to worry about monthly subscription fees.
As with Chilton, the Haynes database isn’t as comprehensive as the printed version. However, there are plenty of tips and tricks, as well as guides on how to fix most common issues such as tuning, engine repair, and a bunch of other repairs.
The regular yearly price of $29.99 per vehicle is right up there with Chilton. It’s still a good value when you think of it but ALLDATA is simply preferred by most mechanics so there’s no incentive unless you get this at a sales price. But the manuals frequently go on sale at Haynes.com so it’s worth checking out.
Chilton’s online guides are far less comprehensive than their printed counterparts, but that doesn’t mean the database is useless. In fact, Chilton’s online guides include plenty of diagrams, instructions, videos, recall information, and a whole slew of other features.
A year’s worth of access will cost you the same as the top two competitors ($29.95) and it includes full access to an online community of enthusiasts and pros who openly share tips and information the site might be missing.
A Few Honorable Mentions
While we don’t use any of these other options, it’s worth noting that there are a few others out there for those who aren’t happy with the top picks or need something specific:
AutoMD – This diagnostics site offers general diagnostic and repair information to help heal your car of what ails it. The lack of any vehicle specific info makes this free guide more limited in its scope than the Big Four.
AutoZone – This famous company offers a variety of free diagnostic guides on their website (although you’ll need to create a free MyZone account for access). These will help you narrow down a problem based upon your own sensory information so you can get it fixed quick.
iFixit – Apple’s official troubleshooting site includes free troubleshooting manuals for select cars from the 1960s to 2011. Each guide gives detailed information on what you’ll need and how to fix problems for the specific vehicle, including crisp photo references.
Workshop Manuals – Another site with a limited selection of guides, this free site offers very comprehensive information for those models it covers. This includes parts numbers and easy-to-follow instructions.