On Haynes manuals, DIY ethos, and right-to-repair
We're in danger of losing something really great here
If you've ever bought a used car from me, chances are it came with a bonus: a well-thumbed Haynes repair manual in the trunk.
It used to be part of the ritual of getting a new car: the first free weekend, I would wash it, change the oil, and buy a Haynes manual for it. It was as much a part of the transfer of ownership as taking the title to the DMV and calling the insurance agent. If I couldn't find a Haynes book for it, I'd go for Chilton, but they were never as good. At the other end of ownership, when it came time to sell the car, the Haynes book would stay with it, ready to help guide the next owner on their journey. That's just The Way It Was Done.
It's a ritual that died during the brief time when I was buying new (or newer) cars, because I didn't need to. When you have a warranty, and most of the odometer digits haven't gone around yet, you don't have to know how to replace the starter, or get the ball joints apart, or trace a wiring diagram back to find a short. It's not until a car matures that you really need to bust out the repair books.
But when you need them, you need them. In recent years, I've tried substituting internet searches for Haynes books, but it just isn't the same. Internet car forums can be a source of some wonderful tips and tricks, and are a great way of finding out whether the trouble you're having is common or characteristic to the model, or something new and exciting. But they can just as often be full of wrong or conflicting information, dead links, missing photos, and just plain stupid advice. Searching owner's forums can only get you so far. Sooner or later, you need to consult a repair manual.
Haynes manuals are a badge of honor among gearheads. Non-car-people won't understand it, but having that book on a shelf in your garage means you're serious; you know that car inside and out, and if there was something you don't know, it just means that you haven't broken anything in that chapter yet. It marks you as not only an owner of a car, but also a power-user and caretaker of it. It shows that you take pride, not only in the purchase of a machine, but the long-term care and maintenance of it. A Haynes book shows a level of commtiment to a car that no payment book ever could. Anybody can write a check and make a payment every month. Replacing a radiator or a U-joint or a head gasket makes a car "yours" in a different way. You and the machine have a deeper understanding, a bond formed in grease and dirt and metal shavings and sometimes even blood, because no relationship can be all give and no take.
The announcement that no new Haynes paper manuals will be published is a blow to anyone who has ever turned a wrench on their car. It is a shot across the bow of an entire class of automotive enthusiasts: the do-it-yourselfer. And it's not the first one. The creeping intrusion of computers into cars has had a chilling effect on the DIY repair world, and new assaults appear almost every day. Proprietary code scanners that give more information than a normal OBD-II scanner can, control modules that go into "limp mode" when you try to modify something, and subscription-based online repair manuals aall make it that much harder to keep a car going without taking it to an "authorized" repair shop. There have always been "specialty" tools, but you could usually find (or make) something that would do the trick. You can't do that with software. Some of our bulwarks, like Magnusson-Moss, are holding for now, but if the automotive industry is heading the same way that farm equipment has (and it is), the days of the shade-tree mechanic may be numbered.
And they shouldn't be. Cars are democratic; it doesn't matter what you drive as much as that you drive. The availability of parts and informaiton to service a car yourself is literally what makes it possible to own inexpensive cars; if every repair had to be done by an authorized mechanic, countless more old cars would end up scrapped, because their owners couldn't afford the repair bills. And this includes all four of the cars in my household.
Not only are cars democratic; they can't not be. Machinery, by its very nature, is open-source. You can always take it apart and figure out how it works. There are no firewalls (other than literal ones) in the mechanical world. Nothing prevents you from gaining the knowledge of how to fix an engine or a gearbox or a suspension system: disassemble it, reassemble it, and then you know. It's literally right there on the back of every Haynes manual: "All manuals based on a complete teardown and rebuild." To write the book, they "hack" the car. It's reverse-engineering for a higher purpose.
If the mechanical aspects of the car are so easily understood, why should the software not be? The only reason is simple greed on the part of automakers: they don't want to tell you how to fix it; they want to sell you a new one. It's capitalism in action, I suppose, but it's also just plain shitty. Making car systems standardized and open-source can only be good for everyone but car salesmen; it allows not only DIYers, but also independent repair shops, complete access and knowledge of the car's electronic systems, exactly like they already have to the mechanical systems. It takes away the monopoly of dealer repair as the only option, and as far too many consumers have discovered over the years, dealer repair departments aren't nearly as good as they want you to think. Free and open access to data from the car's systems is capitalism at work as well; it encourages competiton and makes the whole market better, even for those who go around the market and fix it themselves.
As for the online subscription-based manuals that will replace paper ones: I think it's a stupid idea. No one wants to have to come back in the house with greasy hands and load up something on the computer just to find out where that mysterious eighth bolt on the water pump housing is hiding. And it's death to a laptop of a phone to try to look it up in the garage that way.
Plus, you can't scribble notes in the margins. You can't jot down, "Remove the power steering belt first to make it easier," or "Use the yellow screwdriver because the blue one is too fat to fit in here," or whatever extra information isn't in the manual. And there is always something that isn't in the manual.
Not only that, but I take offense to the entire idea of subscription-based access to information online anyway. I own the car (at least, untilt hey figure out how to change that as well), so why can't I own the book? Monthly charges to use software instead of buying itin a box every couple of years? Why? Can't I just buy it, install it, use it, and not deal with the company who sold it anymore? I don't do streaming music services either, for the same reason: sure, the record or CD takes up room on a shelf, but it's mine, and they can't take it back or switch it off.
I don't know; maybe I'm just turning into a curmudgeon in my middle age. But owning a thing, taking pride in it, and taking care of it still means something to me, and I want all the access to all the information I need to take care of it, in a form that makes it easy to use. I guess in some ways this makes me a "bad consumer," but that's actually OK with me. I don't want to consume. I want to repair, restore, care for, steward, cherish. I want to own.
And I need to remember to order a Haynes book for my old truck. There are some things I haven't figured out how to take apart.