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Essential Books for Building Your Automotive Technical Skills

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Have you ever asked yourself this question? Have you ever felt that you were ripped off when you had your car repaired? If so, then you need to read our guide, Auto Repair Shams and Scams! Written for the layperson who knows nothing about cars, a former mechanic offers advice on how to protect yourself from the shams and scams employed by shady mechanics leading to excessive and unnecessary repair costs.

Topics include:

You don’t need to be a mechanic...

…to understand this guide. You just need to be the one of the 220 million vehicle owners in the U.S. who are tired of spending an excess of $90 billion dollars a year for unnecessary parts and services. Don’t be a victim any longer! Now, on to the Auto Repair Shams and Scams! guide...

0. Introduction

1. Repair Facilities -- Choosing the Best One

2. The Mechanics -- Who Are These Guys and How Are They Trained

3. Getting Started -- Be Prepared and Don’t Sign the Order Just Yet

4. The Small Stuff -- L.O.F., Tires, Balance and Alignment

5. Exhaust Systems -- The Ins and Outs of Muffler Repair

6. Brakes -- Stop if You Can, Then Proceed with Caution

7. The Front End -- A Maze of Maniacal Mechanicca

8. Electrical System -- A Case of Bad Nerves

9. The Tune-Up -- Shattering the Myth

10. The Smog Check -- A Dreaded Enigma

11. Protect Thyself -- What to Do When You’ve Been; Ripped Off; Tips to Save Money


Auto Repair in Bad Economic Times

Four out of five American households own one or more motor vehicles, and except for those who are home mechanics, most people must pay to have their vehicles repaired by someone else to keep them on the road. During the average length of vehicle ownership, the price tag for repairs could run into the thousands of dollars. Unfortunately, most of that money is paid to a commercial sector not known for its honesty and competence. How to find an honest auto repair facility in your community, and how to spot a questionable repair service or part, are the main objectives of this guide.

Before using this guide, it's important to assess the need for its contents. A little effort devoted to understanding the following pages will save you time, money, irritation, anguish and the possible hazards of repair work not well done.

First the general problem. Just over 20 years ago, the U.S. Department of Transportation completed a study of the auto repair industry. Its main conclusion was:

“Approximately 60 percent of the costs associated with auto repair are unnecessary. This translates into an annual consumer loss of $50 billion.”

The Transportation Department study went on to list the major reasons for those losses as:

• Unneeded parts in package deals

• Unneeded repairs due to inadequate diagnosis

• Faulty repairs for which owners did not get their money back

• Unneeded repairs sold with possible fraudulent intent

• Unnecessary preventive maintenance

• Vehicle design requiring use of overly modularized parts

• Highly non-standard parts or excessively laborious repair techniques

• Accidents due to faulty repairs

• Wasted fuel

Today, the figure for these consumer losses has increased to approximately $60 billion a year. There is little evidence that the auto repair industry has cleaned up its act, or that consumers, the AAA or the insurance industry has organized to reduce auto repair fraud and incompetence during the last 10 years. To be sure, some state laws have been strengthened, most notably those in California. But the responsibility for curbing the rise in auto repair rip-offs is left to the consumer.

Back in the Seventies, another survey by the Department of Transportation concluded that almost one-half of the vehicle owners “lacked the rudimentary knowledge needed for correctly purchasing routine maintenance and repairs.” Additional studies in eight states during the same period concluded that “50 percent of the auto repair shops charged for unnecessary repairs and 18 percent of them charged for work not performed.” Unfortunately, despite these findings, little has been done to stop the fraud and deceit running rampant in the auto repair industry.

It would be useful to have more updated federal surveys, but due to the policies of the Reagan, Clinton, both Bush Administrations, and now Obama, the federal cop isn’t always on the business-fraud beat. De-regulation has allowed the industry to operate unchecked, and the lack of federal surveys prevents the general public from being informed of any fraudulent practices. Consumers should be demanding monitored diagnostic inspections, better vehicle engineering standards, repair facility ratings and enforcement, similar to California’s Bureau of Automotive Repair, on the state and local levels. Until that time comes, however, it's up to concerned consumers to minimize the risk of falling prey to auto repair rip-offs, and this is where this guide becomes invaluable.

This guide is written for the layperson who knows nothing about cars. It actually operates on two levels—as a reference manual to be used as needed, and as a tool to help you deal with a mechanic or service manager much more effectively. As we say, “with knowledge comes power, power that will make a mechanic or service manager think twice about pulling a scam.” By understanding what should and shouldn’t be done in the common areas of repair, and by understanding some of the technical jargon (see the glossary), you’ll be able to keep a mechanic or a shop on its toes. The guide’s format does well in this respect, with checklists, cautions and sections on “scare tactics” throughout. The guide’s description of repair managers and mechanics who “size up” their customers particularly motivating for motorists who see themselves as falling into a stereotype (i.e. family man, senior citizens, teenagers, women and single male professionals).

There is one subject I would like to elaborate on, and that's the use of the Flat Rate Service Manual. Though the guide does caution you to argue against these standard, pre-set rates and to question the length of time required for a certain type of repair, I don’t believe we do so strongly enough. In my opinion, these manuals are rigged by industrial publishers to sell to repair facilities, who in turn will profit from the inflated hours listed in the manual. It is well to cast a skeptical eye toward any auto repair facility that determines your bill with such a self-serving device.

Hopefully, after perusing the contents of this guide (see above), you’ll be indignant enough to organize or to join a corrective crusade with your local or state government officials and legislators in order to curb the fraudulent practices inherent in the auto repair industry. Wholesale justice is so much more effective than pursuing it on a one person, one repair facility basis.

At the very least, you’ll be arming yourself with information about what happens to your car in the most common areas of repair, and learning the common scare tactics employed by mechanics to get you to pay for additional services and parts. This information is a perfect antidote for the mental blocks or the “take me, I’m yours” attitude. Though you may not know anything about cars mechanically, you’ll soon develop reserves of self-confidence by using this guide when the need for repair arises. All you have to do is simply believe that an ounce of mental prevention is worth a pound of dollar cure.

Essential Books for Building Your Automotive Technical Skills:

Auto Fundamentals

Auto Fundamentals (A College/University-level Textbook)
by Martin W. Stockel, Martin T. Stockel, Chris Johanson

Introduces the design, construction, and operation of automotive systems. The textbook explains each system by starting with basic theory, then adding parts until the system is complete. The function of each system and its relationship to the complete vehicle is defined. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR
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An Amazon reviewer praised:

Readable, Intelligent, and Detailed

This is a fantastic book! It explains difficult concepts in easy-to-understand language, but it never patronizes the reader. The depth and breadth of the coverage are also very good - while reading it, I never found myself wanting information that I couldn't find somewhere within this book.

The most surprising feature is the book's readability. For starters, the grammar and spelling are great, with no typos or conflicting information, which is (sadly) exceptional for this sort of small-press technical book. The text flows nicely from one topic to the next, complemented by the ample diagrams and photos. It's rare that I find myself not wanting to put down a industrial textbook, but this one kept me turning pages.

The book deals primarily with the 'theoretical' side of auto mechanics, meaning that it answers questions like 'What is x?', 'What does y do?', and 'Why did they do z this way?' rather than 'How do I fix component x on a y model car built in year z?' But the text is plainly oriented toward working mechanics (unlike Bosch's Automotive Handbook), offering much practical info as well as many general rules and guidelines of interest to mechanics.

In short, if you want to learn how automobiles work with a view toward fixing them, you can't go wrong with this book. If you were born with a wrench in your hand, you probably won't learn a lot here, but anyone else from neophyte to advanced intermediate will get his money's worth.
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Another reviewer said:

This is a must for any real car enthusiast!

Reading 'Auto Fundamentals' is like taking a college Auto Tech class at your own leisure! Pretty much every question you have about the fundamental automotive systems WILL be answered by the time you finish this textbook. This is an absolute must-read for anyone looking to get into an automotive field, no matter what branch. Plenty of pictures (with their own accompanying explanations) are placed throughout the book to give you plenty of visual aides to go along with the text. Although this is an excellent read, there are a few parts of the book that can overwhelm you (eg. automatic transmissions/transaxles and power steering systems we're so over my head I had to skip those chapters). The author goes into extreme detail at the beginning of the book, but that detail kind of tapers off near the end. Not so much that you won't be able to comprehend what your reading, but enough that it may get a little frustrating to read. I'm still giving this 5 stars though, it more than deserves it for it's wide variety of content and (for the most part) clarity.
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Good Books:

Total Car Care CD-ROM: General Motors 1982-2000 Mid- and Full-Size Cars Jewel Case

Total Car Care CD-ROM: General Motors 1982-2000 Mid- and Full-Size Cars Jewel Case (Total Car Care)
by Chilton

Professional technicians count on Chilton and you can too! Includes coverage of Bonneville, Eighty-Eight, LeSabre, 1986-99, Celebrity/Century/Ciera/6000, 1982-96, Century/Lumina/Grand Prix/Intrigue, 1997-00, Grand Am, Achieva, Calais, Skylark, Somerset, 1985-98, Lumina, Grand Prix, Cutlass Supreme, Regal, 1988-96, and Malibu, Cutlass, 1997-2000. This new repair manual on CD contain authentic Chilton service and repair instructions, illustrations, and specifications for the vehicles worked on most by Do-It-Yourself enthusiasts today. Chilton Total Car Care CDs give you the confidence to service all the following systems of your own vehicle: General Information and Maintenance Engine Performance and Tune-Up Engine Mechanical and Overhaul Emission Controls Fuel System Chassis Electrical Drive Train Suspension and Steering Brakes Body and Trim Troubleshooting Additional vehicles, including European models, are available by visiting the Web site. Standard code, included with purchase, provides users access to information for one vehicle. top of page

Automotive Encyclopedia: Fundamental Principles, Operation, Construction, Service, and Repair

Automotive Encyclopedia: Fundamental Principles, Operation, Construction, Service, and Repair (Goodheart-Willcox Automotive Encyclopedia)
by William K. Toboldt, Larry Johnson, W. Scott Gauthier

A thorough reference/textbook emphasizing the principles of operation over the practice of repair. Clear two-color line drawings and photos that are about as clear as can be expected of notably unphotogenic objects (engines, clutches, brakes). The heart of the book is the text and drawings which provide lucid exposition.

Book Info
A complete automotive library all in one book. In addition to exploring the many sciences involved in vehicle operation, this text also details the design, construction, operation, troubleshooting, service, and repair of today's cars and light trucks. top of page

An ASE Master Auto/Truck Technician, Electrical Engineer and Amazon book reviewer noted:

"Goodheart and Willcox are, convincingly, experts in auto technology as well as excellent writers and illustrators. As a certified master auto and truck technician, I often refer my customers to this book for straightforward understandable explanations of the goings on under the hood. When my customer understands how a system operates, he or she is more willing to accept a diagnosis, because it makes sense and the black magic attitude is gone. The automotive encyclopedia has been available since the 70's and each addition is packed with the latest developments that the car manufactures employ to make cars more, fun, economical, and, necessarily, more complex. Goodheart and Willcox are to be congratulated on this and past editions of this wonderful reference guide. Just wonderful."
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The Traditional Bowyer's Bible, Volume 1
by Jim Hamm (Editor)

From Library Journal
Released in 1992, 1993, and 1994, respectively, this trio provides a remarkably in-depth analysis of the bow from its construction to its correct use. Numerous types of bows and arrows from all over the world are discussed by leading experts in the field. The emphasis here is on the history of these weapons and methods for building them from scratch, just as they were made before the advent of firearms. Though this might not find a huge audience, it's nonetheless an excellent series.
Description: The Traditional Bowyer's Bible series includes three essential volumes filled with history, humor, and practical advice. Invaluable information for anyone interested in the age-old lure of archery.
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