I read it on the Internet so it must be true.” How many times have you heard people say that when explaining something or sharing information?
The Internet is a wonderful source for instant information, but it is also a source for a lot of misinformation. The trouble with researching information on the Net, especially automotive service or technical information, is that much of the stuff that’s on the web is inaccurate, misleading, half true, completely wrong or from highly unreliable or questionable sources.
The underlying problem is the way the Internet works. Anybody can post anything. It doesn’t matter if the information they post is true or false, if it is opinion or fact, or if it is well-intentioned or malicious. Once it’s on the web, it’s up for grabs.
When anything is posted on the Internet, be it an article, a photo, an illustration, a personal blog entry, a reply to a forum question, even an e-mail forward, it becomes fair game for anybody to copy it, quote it, misquote it, plagiarize it, steal it, modify it or repost it. I see the same garbage repeated over and over.
If the original information is technically accurate and is from a reliable, authoritative source, and it gets recirculated, it probably serves the better good and does no harm (except maybe for copyright infringement issues). But if the original information is bogus, and it keeps getting repeated over and over, it does nobody any good.
Probably the worst offenders in this respect are online forums. There are zillions of automotive forums where people post questions or ask for help with their car problems. The typical forum post may receive no replies or dozens of replies, depending on the subject.
From what I’ve seen, the person posting the question or describing their problem has maybe a 50/50 chance of getting a valid answer. Some replies are good ones from people who know what they are talking about. Others are from Joe Knucklehead who doesn’t have a clue, or is quoting (or misquoting) something he read someplace else on the Internet. A lot of the forum replies are from the blind trying to lead the blind. It’s not the kind of information you can rely on.
What about a simple Google, Yahoo or MSN search? It’s hard to tell what kind of search results you’ll get. It depends on the key words or phrase you enter in the search box. You might get some helpful results, or you might get page after page of worthless junk.
A far better way for consumers to find automotive repair help is to find a website that allows you to ask a real live technician for advice. Many motorists do this before they make a repair appointment so they will have some idea of what might be wrong and what to expect.
One such website I would recommend for motorists or do-it-yourselfers seeking repair advice is JustAnswer.com. This website charges a reasonable fee ($9 to $15 depending on the difficulty of the question), and there is no charge if they cannot provide an acceptable answer. JustAnswer says their experts successfully answer about 80% of the questions that are posted.
Professional technicians, on the other hand, need professional advice when they encounter a diagnostic dead end. One of the best resources for this kind of help is the International Automotive Technicians Network (www.iATN.net). iATN currently has more than 65,000 members with a cumulative expertise of more than 1.5 million years! As a member, you can post your problem and receive suggestions from other technicians who may have run into the same thing. Since the information is peer to peer, it is usually reliable and helpful. I’ve used iATN a number of times to solve problems when I ran out of ideas. The cost is only $15 a month for an individual technician to join, or $30 a month for a repair shop with multiple users.
Manufacturer hotlines are another excellent source for up-to-date and accurate information. Unfortunately, in hard economic times, technical hotlines are one of the first things manufacturers cut because hotlines are expensive to staff and operate.
A good alternative if you can’t find a free hotline is to use a subscription repair hotline. One with an expert staff and comprehensive database can help you fix your customers’ vehicles. Fees can then be billed back to your customer.
Other resources for keeping up-to-date and finding technical information are professional trade magazines such as TechShop and its sister publications Brake & Front End, ImportCar and Underhood Service. Print media is still a great way to publish and package information. You can pick up a magazine, leaf through it and read it at your leisure without having to boot up a computer or go online.
But in the electronic age with so much information overload, it’s often hard to remember where you read something, what magazine or what issue it might have appeared in, or where that magazine might be now. Some of our readers dutifully file away each and every copy of their magazines for future reference. Others cut out and save articles that are especially informative or helpful. But all that is old school now. The trend today is electronic online publishing.
The fastest way to find something you read in one of our magazines is to go online and go directly to the magazine’s website. Use the search feature and enter a few key words or a short phrase to find any articles, reports or news features that relate to what you are looking for. The search results will find not only the article you want, but also any related information that you may useful. Such a deal, and it’s free!