Here's a couple of other things you might look into. At my community college we had All-Data and Mitchell On Demand which I THINK was Shop Key. I didn't really pay attention because I hated them all. After "growing up" in the tv repair world starting in 1973, I went through paper service manuals to microfiche to cd-roms to internet-based service manuals. Every change benefited the manufacturer but made life worse for the technician.
Microfiche cards are like tearing up a road map into 50 pieces and picking them out of a box one at a time as you need them. And it's rather hard to write notes to yourself on them.
By the time you wind up a rarely-used computer and get a cd going, you could have found the problem with a paper service manual and had the tv fixed. Can't put post-it notes on a cd-rom either.
With internet-based service manuals the manufacturers have found another way to bleed money from the independent repair shops, (tvs and cars). They no longer have the high cost of printing the huge service manuals but they haven't lowered the cost to the shops.
While working at a very nice Chrysler dealership, we had a shelf full of just over 300 books that covered every service manual and every specialty diagnostic manual for every Chrysler product over a five year period. It was very rare that any two of the 49 people needed the same book at the same time. With the first "improvement" in technology, we were told that putting everything onto a computer would "save paper". First you have to stand in line with everyone else to wait your turn on the computer. Next you had to search for whatever you were looking for. If the guy ahead of you wanted to take a quick peek to refresh his memory, too bad; his page was gone. You can set a paper manual on the seat of the car while you work under the dash. Management frowns on you tearing the monitor off the wall and hauling it to your work station! We were told this would save paper. You will do that by printing off what you need, using it, throwing it away, then printing it off again the next time someone else needs the same pages. We were told to save what we printed so the next person could use them. Can you imagine standing in front of a computer, looking at a wiring diagram, deciding you needed to take the printout to the car, so you're going to stand there thumbing through a 15" high stack of printouts for everything from transmission pressure tests to how to align a sun roof in the tiny hope of finding the diagram you need? If we are supposed to save what we print so it's there for the next guy, someone already did that. It's called a book!
Once the dealership realized productivity was down by just over 20 percent because of the wasted time, they added a second computer work station, but there was still all the wasted time of running back and forth across the shop to peek at the computer. And there was still no way to write notes.
As I sit here in my sad little office, I have shelves full of paper service manuals with paper book marks, labels, and piles of post-it notes. I can find anything in them within 30 seconds. It takes longer than that to find the right Ford cd, pop it in the computer, and navigate the menus to find what I need. The new problem now is I might be having ongoing conversations with five people and I have to keep switching cds to research a problem. Gee, with paper service manuals I can just let them lay open on the table.
If that isn't insulting enough to my intelligence, at least I can buy the books and cds. With All-Data, you can only rent it at a cost much higher than I pay for Ford cds that I own. Who ever heard of renting a book? My attitude is if that's how a company is going to treat me, I'll do business with someone else. It is actually a lot less expensive to buy paper service manuals when a dealership goes out of business and has an auction. Here again you might have a friend you can share resources with.
I haven't looked into buying new manuals through Chrysler recently but when they still had paper manuals available, they cost $90.00 for a set of books that covered one model or series of models, and they cost $53.00 if they were more than five model years old. Most shops build a little into their labor charges to cover the cost of service information. The big advantage, besides being able to write notes and find stuff quickly, is you own it and can use the information for the rest of your life. The advantage to renting from All-Data is if you will get enough use out of it to cover the reoccurring cost every year. You'll be constantly buying the same information over and over along with the new updates.
Now that I'm done whining and sniveling, we had an All-Data site license for five computers. At first we had the dvds that could be used on two computers as long as both students didn't need the same dvd. Later the company switched to internet-based resources instead of dvds. That's when we switched to the five-user site license. That means the company makes more money so we can have five people using the system at once vs. Four people standing in line waiting for the first person to get done. Four of those computers were in the Auto Shop, but the fifth one was in the school library. We felt that because we were supported by taxpayer dollars, we would make the resources available to the community. Going internet-based greatly slowed the system down but that wasn't a concern for students because they were still learning how to find stuff. You might look into that as a possible resource or you might have a nearby shop that you can share with. You buy All-Data and he buys Shop Key, then you can trot back and forth and use each other's computers if necessary. I know that sounds like a nightmare, but my Chrysler dealership swapped service manuals with the Pontiac dealer down the road and the Ford dealer across town all the time. The service advisers were also real good about photocopying stuff and faxing it to the independent shops. They did that with the owner's blessings and instructions to take care of our competitors because they were also our customers. You might look into forging a relationship with the dealers in your area.
Running to the library to use All-Data can be a hassle, but it beats the cost of renting the information if you're only going to use it a few times per year. I think they also have daily or weekly packages if you only need access once in a while. I'm not sure of the cost but I would definitely charge the customer. That is part of the cost of buying and owning these complicated cars and you can be sure that cost is factored in when the dealer hands you a bill. If someone is too lazy to reach over and press the lock button when THEY want the doors to lock, or they can't be bothered to pull a lift gate down, or better yet, they buy a car so she can be two degrees warmer over there than he is over here, they deserve to pay for your time and service manual costs when the stuff breaks down.
As for keeping up with current stuff, look into the Carquest Training Institute, (CTI). These are real high-level classes that were often over my head but they were filled with good information and good workbooks and cd-roms. For many years the independent shop owners in my area had the attitude that they knew all this stuff already so there was no point in spending $1200.00 per year for the 12 2-night classes, but eventually they figured out they were being left behind by their competitors. We even had one fellow drive eight hours and stay overnight to attend the classes.
Admittedly, once the basics of the subject is covered, the diagnosis delves into the one car out of a hundred that no one can seem to diagnose. Our instructor traveled from Jolliet, IL where he owns a shop that specializes in those cars. His customers are mainly other shops. These guys have contact with people at all the manufacturers and other instructors all over the country. If you plan on making your living diagnosing and repairing these insanely complicated toy and gimmick wagons, these classes are a real good investment. The cost covers five people from one business. I think it is a lot less for one person. As an example of some of the stuff they come up with, they have a method of using a scope to view the oxygen sensor waveform to determine if a misfire is caused by a fuel, spark, or a compression problem. Most of what they cover is computer / electrical in nature. They don't really get into transmission and engine repair. Most of these instructors come from areas that have emissions testing and they run into cars that run fine but don't pass the tests.
I also have former students working at the local dealerships. You may have friends too who work there. You would be surprised at how much information a bag of chocolate chip cookies will get you, but it's best to catch them on their break or during lunch.
Wrenchtech mentioned Identifix too. I've heard of that but never used it. Isn't it funny that that in the '70s, with a little training, you could diagnose any tv or any car once you knew how they worked, but the engineers made everything so stupidly complicated that symptom / cure books became necessary for both products? No one can keep up with everything anymore. In the '60s, you could repair any car in the world if you could memorize 5,000 pages of service manuals. Today 5,000 pages will get you most of the topics of one model of one brand from one year! Little independent guys like you have to either specialize in one area, such as electrical or engine repair, or you can cover every part of every car but not nearly to the level as the specialist at the dealership. Even at the dealership, the guy who gets cross-trained in two different areas is the uncommonly valuable employee.
As to your question about which is better, All-Data does seem to be what most people use. Mitchell has colored lines that match the wire colors and they grow bigger when you mouse-over them. Nice feature, I guess, if you're color-blind. You might visit a community college with an Automotive program. They should be happy to let you try whatever they use. Otherwise I would defer to Wrenchtech and the other guys to hear what they like. I suspect you wouldn't need both products.
Tuesday, April 19th, 2011 AT 10:32 PM