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.

This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://www.hagerty.com/articles-videos/articles/2019/04/05/youtube-vs-shop-manual-for-diy-fixes

Yes the Internet is helpful for research to fix things. I still buy the proper manual to compare and supplement the information found on the web. Plus having fixed stuff for decades helps filter the random crap that folks put out there.


I’ll admit I mix the two. My '65 Corvair factory service manual is dog-eared and dirty, and I have asked plenty of questions of the online forums.


A manual is absolutely vital, postings that can reference it are usually the best for me. YouTube videos are generally more reliable than many of the remarks found on forums where enthusiasm many times exceeds knowledge.


I once tried to do a reset of the oil life on my wife’s using the written instructions and never could. Youtube to the rescue. The old saying, a picture is worth a thousand words.


I’ve been a professional mechanic for almost 50 years and have owned my own 1 man shop for almost 20. I have Mitchell Manuals online (which I am losing faith in) but often cannot find procedures for the repairs I want clarity on so have looked online for those who have actually done the repair. I sometimes get good information but more often than not I get opinionated comments about the brand of car being repaired because the star of the video doesn’t like that particular brand, more foul language than even a potty mouth like me uses or just plain wrong procedures. One example was rear crank seal on an LS engine. Even though the seal was Teflon the “star” who owned a Corvette repair shop took it out of the included installation sleeve and put oil on it. WRONG! Safe work practices had been drilled into me when I once worked for a major electric company so I am appalled when seeing no eye protection while grinding or using torches among other unsafe practices. Bottom line for me is to take advantage of others’ experience online but be savvy enough to separate good advice from bad.

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I too use both manuals and the internet for useful info. to work on my '73 Corvette. I have both the GM service and assembly manual for the Corvette and make good use of the Corvette Forum. What I’ve found is I profit from doing the ‘research’ before I begin. Some of the input from the internet will be bogus, but I’ve gotten a lot of good tips on innovative ways to solve problems or access components without extensive disassembly. The more planning of the job I do upfront usually pays off in a better and less aggravating project.


Your local library may have online access to Mitchell on line or something similar. So be sure to ask. Kind of the best or both worlds if you have it. Can save time, and 24 hour availability too.

UTube can be helpful at times, but the quality can vary greatly.

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I borrowed the Chilton manual from the library to get information on how to change the plugs on my kid’s 2006 Nissan Frontier (6 cylinder). The instructions said to remove plenum with no information as to how to do that. Found 2 very detail videos on YouTube, each with about 10 steps to do in order to remove the plenum. Generally, I’ll use a combination of both (if I can get access to a manual) and read/view several times before starting the job.


I have used both over the years. I have the factory service manual for my 1988 Toyota Supra and am a member of several online user groups. The online groups can sometimes offer valuable tips and tricks which the manual may not address. For my 2004 Buick Le Sabre which had a faulty fuel gauge, I found exactly what I needed online with a simple google search. I found out this is a common problem with most early 2000 GM cars, and found several very helpful videos on how to remove the instrument cluster and repair the faulty stepper motors which I bought on Amazon. Bottom line I was able to repair the instrument cluster with an investment of $25 and about 4-hours of my time.


So, what type of oil should I use for my air breather?

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Both. My dog eared, out of print first-gen Camaro Chilton’s manual has notes from decades of use, but I also use a pdf file of the schematics that I’ve loaded on my tablet, which is much easier to see under the dash, and specific forums, as well as another out of print Chilton’s, a big book, American cars 69-76. YouTube can be helpful, but I watch several different videos on each project so as to compare the information. The forums that are well moderated have less chaff to glean through, and often one can get that specific answer from someone who has in-depth knowledge.
As always, the best tool for research is common sense; that Vauxhall tie rod end isn’t going to fit the shifter on your Supra, no matter what the internet says.


I definitely use both print and on-line media for repairs. Like others, I separate the chaff from the good stuff and take all of it with a grain of salt. Usually I can dive right in, but the proper short cuts and procedures are helpful before ripping and tearing so I do my research. Owning a 27 year old Mercedes R129, I don’t attack unless it’s something obvious or simple. The cool thing I’ve found is factory video’s by Mercedes technicians taking apart all sorts of stuff and that is a major time saver. Not all makes have that luxury and the forums are a terrific place to get in-depth information on specific repairs. There are a lot of talented people out there willing to help you and most of them have "been there, done that " so nothing is new to them on specific models. Conversely. there are a lot of dopes out there making videos of things that they know nothing about or using dangerous techniques. If it looks unsafe on the video, it probably is. Do your homework, take your time and be safe while doing it. Doing is learning and eventually you can contribute when others ask the same question.


When I bought my first E46 330Xi for my son, I was told the Bentley Manual was a must have - $100 spent. Soon after I bought a second E46 for the other son, then a 3rd BMW for me. Between them all over the past 4 years - I’ve rebuilt an entire cooling system, CCV replacement (no treat), rebuilt an entire front end, replaced or repaired 4 axles, brakes, coil springs, stereos, interior trim, shift handles, sun roof, power rear window motor, fuel pump, gauge cluster, and more. Lots of complex stuff I had no prior experience doing.

I’ve opened the manual once. Youtube wins.


As stated earlier, sometimes the manual lacks informational steps on HOW to get to the removal/etc. of components; on the other hand, sometimes the (low quality) Youtube video starts AFTER the informational steps have already been done!


I’ve spent my entire career (nearly 40 years) as an automotive technical writer. For the most part, you can always trust a manual as being accurate. YouTube has a lot of good how-to videos – and a LOT of videos that are that are full of incorrect information and downright dangerous or stupid information!

If a manual does not have good illustrations and you want to see how something comes apart or goes together, then look at some videos on YouTube. If you need adjustment procedures or specifications, use (1) a factory service manual or go to the OEM technical information website for the specifics, or (2) a good aftermarket manual (Chilton, Motor or Mitchell) or an online information resource such as AlldataDIY.com or Michell1.com. The online resources do charge an access fee, but it is well worth the minimal expense to get the correct information.

There are also a number of free online automotive technical resources including AA1Car.com.

A lot of people also search online forums (including this one) for how-to and tech info. Forums can be an excellent resource, but they also contain a lot of misleading or totally incorrect information too. Sometime you are more confused than informed after researching a topic and finding dozens of conflicting answers!


Here is a link to all of the Vehicle Manufacturer Tech Information websites and the access fees they charge: