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Simple Motoring is most definitely not a website for aspiring mechanics, but as I have said elsewhere, I firmly believe it is important for car drivers to have some clue about how their vehicles work – if only to save money, prevent avoidable breakdowns, and avoid getting ripped off so easily by garages.
It was with this point of view in mind that I sat down to review Auto Repair For Dummies. As its name suggests, it is one of the easily-recognisable, bright yellow ‘Dummies’ guides that first became popular in the 1980s (I think), with computer-related topics. It is also an American book, written for the American market – a point I will come back to later.
Know Nothing? This Book’s Aimed At You
If you “haven’t the vaguest idea of how a car works” but are “tired of being ripped off because of your own ignorance”, then Auto Repair For Dummies is for you, according to the book’s introduction. This book covers a wide range of topics and provides a lot of educational content that explains the main principles of how cars work. The content of the book falls into three main categories:
- Educational content – how cars work
- Car care topics – regular checks to monitor your car’s health
- Car repair and maintenance – replacing or repairing parts of your car
The educational content of the book is useful, and should help most people develop an understanding of the main principles of how cars work. The car care topics, which cover areas such as checking oil and fluids and looking after your tyres by spotting early signs of incorrect inflation or misalignment, are also useful.
The car repair topics are a bit harder to judge. Most basic maintenance tasks are covered, such as changing the oil and oil filter and replacing spark plugs. Some service and repair tasks are also covered, such as replacing your fuel filter. Although the procedures given seem accurate and easy to follow, I feel that many genuine beginners with no mechanical experience will still find it hard to complete many of these tasks without a little hands-on tuition to help them get started.
The author regularly mentions how her mechanical learning curve begun by attending night school classes in car maintenance. I suspect that this is the key to her success, mechanically speaking. I know from my own experience that being shown how to do things and having the opportunity to work with someone who knows what they are doing is priceless, and has enabled me to learn to do jobs I have failed to do just by working from a book. I think this is especially important when learning about something completely outside your comfort zone – precisely the target audience for this book.
Picture It – Or Not
Auto Repair For Dummies has lots of very good diagrams and illustrations, but no photographs. The illustrations are good and do make it easy to understand the ideas that are being explained. However, they do not necessarily provide enough contextual information to make a beginner (who does not recognise everything they see under the bonnet) feel comfortable getting started on an actual repair job.
Although the information in the book is not aimed at a specific model of car and so has to be generic, I think that photos could still be used to good effect to demystify some of the things you are likely to see below a bonnet or underneath a car.
It’s All American – Does It Matter?
The book is written by an American, about American cars and for the American market. To some extent, this does not matter – cars are broadly the same the world over. However, there are minor differences in language, terminology, measurements and organisation names that do give the feeling you are reading a slightly foreign book. This makes it all seem slightly less familiar than it would in British English and can occasionally be confusing. The tyres section is a particular example of this – tyres are named and marketed differently in the UK. Other examples are ‘low beam’ for dipped headlights and ‘directional signals’ for indicators.
Although they are very common in Europe, diesel-engined cars are rare in America, and this is reflected in the book, too. Diesel engines are dealt with in one chapter, with the rest of the book referring only to petrol engines (which are referred to as ‘gasoline’ or ‘conventional’ engines). Similarly, it is generally assumed that your car will be an automatic – whereas manual gearboxes are most common in the UK.
Simple Motoring Says
I was not completely convinced by Auto Repair For Dummies. Although the educational content is good and quite easy to understand, I think the book’s title promises more than it will deliver for most people. However, if you would just like to develop a general understanding of how the main systems in your car work, then this book is good.
If you would like to learn how to perform routine maintenance and repair tasks on your car, I would suggest buying a model-specific guide such as a Haynes Manual, instead. These are heavily illustrated with photos and specific to individual car models. They are also written for the British market.
Furthermore, unless you are quite practically-minded, I would suggest either working on your car with a more experienced friend, or doing as the author of this book did and enrolling in an evening class in car maintenance and repair. Once you have done this, you will be in a far better position to continue your mechanical learning with only a book to guide you.
Finally, if you only want to learn about the simple, regular car care tasks that you should carry out on your car between services (without needing any tools), then there are better, cheaper and simpler books available that are easier to follow.