YouTube vs. the manual: Filtering DIY gospel from drivel in the digital age

For some folks, car repair by the book is the only way to go. Others insist on burning the instructions and going it alone. The rest of us sit somewhere in the middle, wondering how to separate that damned ball joint from the knuckle without the special service tools that the factory service manual calls for.

Before the internet, you might rely upon a seasoned hand showing you how a well-aimed whack with a four-pound hammer can do the job. Today, any flummoxed DIY wrench can type a few words into Google and find a video that reveals everything from the hammer method to wrapping the ball joint and knuckle in salt-cured bacon and letting it sit overnight—because you won’t believe what happens next!

Such is the conundrum of the information age: Books and manuals don’t always offer the answer to real-world mechanical problems, but at the same time you can’t trust everything you find online.

In the beginning, it was good. The skill set required to publish on the internet acted as a BS filter.

2004 Dodge Viper hood up repari
Don Rutt

It wasn’t always this way, of course. Back in the early days of the internet, when we all used dial-up and got giddy when our computers told us “You’ve got mail,” the skills and equipment required to publish stuff online acted as a filter. You could largely trust the info you found, because posting it was such a hassle. The internet delivered knowledge that books alone could not, and online forums provided access to things like service manuals and long threads detailing specific repairs and modifications.

Over time, Geocities pages and postage stamp-sized videos (buffering…buffering…) gave way to expansive forums with subforums dedicated to the most esoteric of topics, websites dedicated to every conceivable car, and channels packed with high-def videos. Moderators provided some semblance of quality control, and the DIY community thrived. Once-dead engines roared to life. Shadetree mechanics learned arcane tricks like using a cassette tape to align the shifter in an old VW Golf. Everyone knew you could swap the disc brakes from a 1976 Dodge Dart onto a drum brake 1967 Plymouth Barracuda.

Unstuck engines roared to life. Wheels stopped wobbling. Everyone knew which late model had the right swap for a brake upgrade. Until the filter broke.

Old repair manual
Carol Gould

The abundance of online resources means useful information is often overwhelmed by useless information. Endless arguments about motor oil are an enduring example. A simple fact like what viscosity motor oil the owner’s or service manual states to use during the winter months inexplicably results in gigabytes-long arguments about how pouring pulverized nickels, automatic transmission fluid, and kerosene into the crankcase is better because someone said it worked awesomely and the secret oil company cabal wants to stop us from discovering the world is actually made of Muenster cheese. Solid recommendations for 10W-30 in winter that would normally take a few seconds to look up in a Ford, Saab, or Humber manual are buried under an avalanche of misinformation and emojis.

Analog and digital technology can work together. There’s no denying the convenience and instant access of internet resources, especially when something unexpected happens with your project and you don’t have time to pop over to the local district library. Other DIYers on forums who are familiar with your issue can often help, too. At the same time, the simplicity of a book or manual can help filter treacherous internet information from useful real-world experience.

1967 camaro hood up repairs
Sunnie Schwartz

Recent personal experience trying to fix a vexing high idle in my fuel-injected Mitsubishi Montero is an example. By-the-book TPS and timing adjustments helped, but the high idle persisted. Thanks to a forum post from a fellow enthusiast I discovered that ’80s electronic fuel injection still used analog technology. Inside the throttle body was a fast idle air valve that used, wait for it, a wax pellet to open and close with coolant temperature. Who knew? A greasy old book written for technicians that could call the parts department for a new throttle body led to a real-world fix from a driveway enthusiast 30 years later.

The printed book and internet video information alliance might be the way forward in this weird world in which we live. Cross-checking questionable information against the factory service manual or similar might just prevent engine destruction or the utter defeat of putting a piece of tape over a lit dash light. Besides. Watching a video inside and then taking a greasy old book out to the garage can help prevent brake cleaner or bucket of acetone from melting an expensive tablet or smartphone. Spend the savings on a four-pound short-handled sledgehammer and save the bacon for a hearty breakfast ahead of a day out in the garage.

mitsubishi float switch fuel tank
Mike Bumbeck
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