Run into car trouble? Bent on fixing it yourself? Before you pop the hood and start takings things apart, here're a few places you can turn to for advice (outside of Autofocus' Car Care, of course—the first place you should turn to).
Start with the fundamentals
Did you check the manual?
Troubleshooting for dummies
Join the club! No, seriously
Brush up on your buff books
Hit the boards—you won't be bored
You bring the know-how, I'll bring the beers
Now did you check the other manual?
If you haven’t handled a wrench since high school shop class, you might want to brush up on the fundamentals of automobile design, mechanics and construction. There are a number of textbooks or guides you can turn to, or you can try to glean some of the basics via Google. Though it’s a little out-of-date, Stockel and Stockel’s Auto Mechanics Fundamentals can break you in easy — the hundreds of illustrations they provide help.
Your car’s owner’s manual can offer you some troubleshooting tips and advice for the problems most common to the car. However, most cars also have a shop manual published by the manufacturer for dealer technicians and the like. You still don’t need to go anywhere near a garage to find one: you can often get your hands on a copy via eBay or other automotive literature outlets.
If you’re looking for a troubleshooting checklist or methodology, there are plenty of “for dummies”-style books and websites on car repair troubleshooting out there. Petersen’s Basic Automotive Troubleshooting is a classic (I mean classic—published in 1974) that covers a lot of gremlins; Canadian parts chain PartSource has a pretty thorough DIY section if you’re looking for more recent info, though.
No matter what sort of vehicle you drive, there’s almost definitely an enthusiast or owner’s club out there for it, often with a Canadian chapter. Join it: there are all sorts of benefits if you do, one of which is that the other members have most likely heard of or encountered the problem you’re trying to troubleshoot, and’ll be willing to help you out. They can often help you track down hard-to-find parts or tools, too.
Enthusiast magazines are a resource you’d be silly to ignore. Just like there’re car clubs for every sort of car, there’s a regular publication for most, too. Don’t dismiss a magazine just because it doesn’t focus specifically on your vehicle, though. General DIY-er magazines or even catalogues like Canadian Tire’s Driver can be plenty helpful.
Think of an internet forum like a virtual car club: like a club, it’s filled with people who own or are enthusiastic about your make and model of car. Unlike some clubs, it’s free to join. Not everyone on a forum or message board knows what they’re talking about, though, so be wary, and keep an eye out for “trolls,” forum members who get a kick out of giving bad advice just to mess with you.
There’s a good chance you or someone you know has got a mechanically inclined friend, a buddy who already knows his or her way around a car’s mechanicals. It can’t hurt to ask him or her for some advice, or even invite him or her over to take a look at it with you. It helps if you promise them there’ll be some refreshments for afterward — and if you deliver on that promise, of course.
Aside from the shop manual mentioned earlier, you can often find a model-specific repair manual published by a third party for your car, too. These can be helpful sometimes, but beware: some of them try to cover several different trims from several decades at once, forcing them to condense information and gloss over some details. Some enthusiasts will tell you – part-jokingly, mostly seriously – that some of those books are better used as a doorstop.