Last Updated on July 31, 2020 by Tim
If you’ve spent time working on your own car or WANT to start working on your own car, the odds are high that you’ve run into the familiar dilemma: which repair manual should you choose?
Some people think that any manual is just as good as the next one, but you know better. A good repair manual can mean the difference between a quick and easy car repair, and a frustrating afternoon that makes you never want to see your car again.
How many times have you come across that one key step in the repair that might as well be written in an entirely different language? For the do-it-yourself mechanic, nothing is more important than a detailed, easy-to-follow service manual.
Both Chilton and Haynes service manuals offer step-by-step instructions and tips for a huge number of crucial car repairs, from basic oil changes to intensive engine repairs. But which one is truly the best option for your next project?
Interestingly enough, Chilton is actually owned by Haynes; the Chilton brand was sold to Haynes publishing in 2001. However, both brands have continued to publish manuals for a wide range of vehicles, each presenting detailed information, pictures and diagrams in their own unique style.
Is Chilton the Best Repair Manual?
Chilton Publishing has been in business since 1904, and over the course of its long history has amassed a huge library of manuals and training materials. Once owned by the Walt Disney Company, Chilton is now under the leadership of Cengage Learning, which continues to publish the well-known line of automotive repair manuals and use the latest technology to offer new service manual options for car repair enthusiasts.
What’s Included in a Chilton Manual?
Like many of the top manuals on the market, each Chilton manual includes detailed, step-by-step instructions for each repair and maintenance activity included in the text. All of the manuals are model specific, so you’re never left guessing whether the steps for a repair are the correct ones for your vehicle.
Every Chilton manual covers vital procedures, such as drivetrain repairs, electrical system guides, and engine maintenance and overhaul instructions. They also include model-specific guides to trouble codes, noting what the code means, what sensors are associated with the code, and what vehicle parts are related to the code.
A detailed list of the procedures included in each Chilton manual can be found on the company’s FAQ page.
While Chilton manuals do provide some detailed pictures, illustrations and diagrams, they tend to be more focused on the procedure specifications and procedure details. This offers mechanics an exhaustive overview of the repair process, but may be more difficult to follow if you prefer more visual instruction.
Who Should Use a Chilton Manual?
Chilton manuals are typically designed for mechanics with a basic working knowledge of vehicle maintenance and repair, so they may not be the best option for brand new mechanics.
While beginners should still be able to follow the step-by-step instructions, they may need a little more patience and attention when using Chilton manuals, compared to mechanics who are already familiar with industry terms, specialty tools, and general maintenance procedures.
Chilton’s also offers most of its service manuals in Spanish.
Which Car Models are Covered by Chilton Manuals?
Chilton manuals cover almost every automotive make and model, including cars, trucks, SUVs, and vans. While the company has published motorcycle service manuals in the past, they do not currently offer a line of manuals for modern motorcycles.
What Extras Are Offered by Chilton?
In addition to the print and online service manuals from Chilton, the company also provides on online community for both professional and DIY mechanics to connect and share questions, answers, and advice.
Or is Haynes the Best Repair Manual?
Haynes Publishing was founded in 1960 in England, but quickly became a popular resource for automotive and motorcycle enthusiasts in the U.S. The company started out with a single book on building an Austin 7 Special, and has since expanded to almost 1,000 manuals on automotive, motorcycle and ATV repair and maintenance.
Who Should Use a Haynes Manual?
With its simple and thorough instructions and easy-to-follow diagrams, Haynes manuals may be the best repair manual option for brand-new mechanics. Compared to Chilton manuals, Haynes tends to offer a lot more pictures and illustrations, however it can sometimes be more difficult to follow, as many standard procedures are referenced in other sections of the book.
Haynes manuals also tend to spend more time explaining how and why specific procedures should be done in a particular way, which can be very useful for the beginner mechanic or experienced mechanics looking to improve their skills.
Haynes also offers most of its service manuals in Spanish.
Which Car Models are Covered by Haynes Manuals?
Similar to Chilton, Haynes manuals also cover nearly every automotive make and model, with the exception of model ranges that only include a handful of vehicles. In addition, Haynes offers more than 200 service manuals for a range of motorcycles and ATVs.
For those operating a step or two outside of the mainstream, Haynes also offers a series of “Practical Lifestyle” manuals covering topics from bicycle repair to “How to Survive the Zombie Apocalypse”.
What Extras Are Offered by Haynes?
In addition to the print and online manuals from Haynes, the company also provides a huge number of “Tips and Tutorials” articles providing free, detailed advice on everything from vehicle history to troubleshooting tips.
So Which One Should You Choose?
The Chilton vs Haynes debate has been going on for years. Both offer outstanding automotive repair manuals for DIY mechanics, but each brand brings its own unique style to the table.
Chilton manuals are typically the best manual for mechanics who already have a basic understanding of automotive repair, and are looking for a detailed guide for their car, truck, SUV, or van. Chilton is also a great option for mechanics who want to join an online community of other mechanics and automotive enthusiasts.
Haynes manuals are typically the best manual for brand new mechanics, or those who prefer more illustrations and diagrams to guide their repair work. Haynes service manuals are also the better choice for those who need guidance for other vehicles, like motorcycles, ATVs or bicycles.
The Middle Ground
If neither of these two manuals really meets your needs, maybe they don’t have the problem you’re looking for, or the exact make and model of car that you’ll be working on. It can be handy to know a few credible online resources that address the same topic.
A digital version might not be as friendly to the workshop as the hard copy, but they are often more detailed and specific than the printed versions and likely include plenty of helpful advice or peer reviews on any given car.
Haynes and Chilton both sponsor their own online repair manuals, charging only a modest fee for a year long membership to whichever you choose to trust. Both websites have received high praise and a considerable following, and are in general taken as being just as reliable as the printed manuals.
If you can put out the month for extras of these memberships, chances are you won’t be disappointed. Those seeking specifically free advice need not fret, though, as several reputable digital resources are available to an aspiring mechanic free of charge.
First among these is doubtless AutoMD. A free reference for car repair searchable by multiple different criteria. There is a questions and answers page, an extensive library of the most common problems that car owners will face, and a diagnosis tool to help you determine what the problem is and where you can look to fix it.
If you happen to be a seasoned mechanic interested in helping others out, or see something incorrect on the site, AutoMD offers a number of ways to rectify erroneous instructions. Novices may find the shop locator of more interest, helping them get to a trusted service provider should their own attempts fall through.
If AutoMD proves either too general or too basic for the problem at hand, try turning to AutoZone’s repair page. As a supplier of parts and tools of all kinds, AutoZone prides itself on not only having the right item to get your car up and running but also on making sure it gets done correctly.
Their repair page is sorted by area of the car, skill level of the mechanic, and more. It includes both written guides and an extensive video library covering an impressive number of auto repair scenarios.
AutoZone also includes the same crowdsourcing features that may be familiar from other websites, allowing experienced users to share their favorite tips and tricks or new mechanics to ask the public for help with a particularly tricky procedure.
A shop finder is included, as well as a handy reference to other credible resources for every skill level. AutoZone also makes sure that no repair is beyond your capability by suggesting the right tools for the job. They offer purchase, loan, or rental services for all of them right on the front page.
Although these resources can be a lifesaver if your printed manual fails you, take extreme caution before following online advice from an unvetted source. No matter how confidently the comment section is speaking, they may be so categorically wrong that following their advice can cost you your car.
Stick to trusted articles, resources, and retailers, and cross-check suggested methods before employing them to make sure that what you are doing is improving your car and not making it worse.
Great comparison and I have to agree. Started with Haynes when I was just getting into cars and then switched over to Chilton as auto repair has now become a little side gig for me. I’m finding that many vehicles now have online versions of repair manuals. As cool as that may seem, you better have a dedicated computer in your garage that you don’t mind getting oil and grease all over the keyboard and mouse. For me, I’ll stick to my printed manual.
Steven Coach says
I have referred to a Chilton manual to make a repair to a BMW after two different BMW dealerships charged a combined total of $1,100.00, and still managed not to find the problem. Very fortunately, having no experience diagnosing BMW’s before, after consulting the Chilton manual, the repair ended up being the first tried, and the easiest one to test for.
That’s great to hear! I’m sure many of us had a similar experience with a “stealership” at one point or another. BTW, I really miss my E36 M3.
Alan Van Kirk says
I really appreciate the insight, I work on the simple stuff, and take the major stuff to the real mechanic. Needless to say I’ll stick with Chilton’s
I have been a shade tree mechanic for 30+ years and over those years both Haynes and Chilton brand have been in my hands. With that said, they have helped me and left me infuriated. Poor photography which surprisingly and quite often is not even a year of vehicle covered by the manual. Missing key steps and lack of key fastener location information only the manufacturer or YouTube tell you about. And not the one year weird stuff but bread and butter, made for years drivetrains and bodies that any brand mechanic would know in two years of car-brand-work. Too add , neither Chilton or Haynes are any good refining at keeping the manuals up to date. I have found manuals published 5 years apart that were identical and had no updates but just a reprint of the outdated, wrong information with worse pictures to boot. cheapest printer gets the job, right? If anyone reading this buys a Chilton or Haynes manual and in 24 hours it does not meet your needs, take it back to the store you got it from for a full refund and tell them it was not a good product, Hopefully these two rags will see all these returns from their distributors and get their acts together and really help DIYer’s as they tout and stop being on half helpful while taking peoples full money. Until then I have a computer, an internet connection and a $49.00 printer that work better than those two print rags.