Be Your Own Mechanic with THE CHILTON MANUAL: Kicking Back with Jersey Joe [BOOK WEEK] Jun24

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Be Your Own Mechanic with THE CHILTON MANUAL: Kicking Back with Jersey Joe [BOOK WEEK]

When I was a kid, my grandfather and uncle would always be out in the garage tinkering with their cheap as could be cars.  They would never change the oil when they were supposed to, never check the tires, and really not do much maintenance at all.  They would only pop the hood when it was time to fix a major problem.  No, they wouldn’t take the car to the garage – they would just open up The Chilton Manual.

The Chilton Manual was the Holy Grail for car owners.  Sold in both magazine and hardcover volumes like encyclopedias, all you had to do is find the book that went with your car’s model.  Inside, owners would find diagrams and instructions for fixing just about anything.  You could even rebuild the entire engine, just by flipping through a few pages.

The manuals were updated every year as car models were updated.  The slogan on the front read “The first step in repair,” and they were right.

Now, my grandfather and uncle weren’t the best at working on cars.  They would pretty much open up a six pack of Old Milwaukee, pop the hood, and take a look at the book.  Somehow, it worked.  No matter what the mechanical problem was, they would figure it out.

The Chilton Manual traces its roots back to 1896 when the first company president James Artman began publishing The Cycle Trade Journal.  In 1899, the magazine would become The Cycle & Automobile Trade Journal.

The next year the journal with the help of some of its advertising executives George Buzby and C.A. Mussleman began selling automotive catalogs, booklets, circulars, and posters.

After the merger, they chose the name Chilton, after going through a passenger manifest for the Mayflower.

In 1911, they would begin to publish the first Commercial Car Journal, a magazine dedicated to the new autos that were hitting the highways.  After being purchased by United Publishers Group in 1923, the company added other magazines to their lineup including Motor Age, Iron Age, Jewelers Circular, and Hardware Age.

In 1934, a complete reorganization of the company took place.  All of the company’s assets were merged into one major company and officially registered in Delaware as The Chilton Company.  The new head of the company, J. Howard Pew, refused to allow any outside funding and as a result they fell behind other major publishers such as McGraw Hill and drastically hurt their future growth.

As the decades rolled on and the cars became more advanced, the size of the magazines quickly ballooned into annual books, many selling with hard covers for extra cost.  The would be home mechanics could find them on sale, anywhere from department stores, to auto shops, to book stores.

The new hardcover books could be hundreds, if not thousands of pages.  Each book would be for a specific make or model of car.  The Chilton Manuals were known for their super-accurate and detailed information for repairs.

The company was eventually bought by ABC Television.  But, in the late 70’s its assets were split up into smaller companies.

As time rolls on and cars become more sophisticated it’s become nearly impossible, unless you are an auto repair professional, to use these manuals anymore at home.  The vast amount of electronics inside newer vehicles often requires special tools that can only be found at a certified auto shop.  It’s no longer just a case of popping open the tool box and grabbing a couple of sockets.

It used to be a simple task to run to the store and get the newest revision to the book.  (I think my grandmother would prop up the coffee table with the old volumes, or just burn them in the coal furnace.) I’ve flipped through their pages before and while I’m no car expert, the diagrams and instructions seemed to be fairly easy to follow.  But, I honestly never wanted to take the chance and put it to the test!

However, the books continued to balloon in size, while their demand fell.

The people running the Chilton Company were smart – they’ve allowed their vast database to be accessed online.  It’s available for both home and professional users.  While they may have cut back on publishing the books, the writing, knowledge, and legacy are still there, and still in paper form for those who want it.

While, the company was mostly dedicated to publishing the manuals, they were also able to snag the attention of some future big name authors along the way!

Starting in 1965, the company published the Dune series of novels by Frank Herbert and The Witches of Karres by James H. Schmitz in 1966.  They now also publish educational and instructional books.

So, if you have an old car issue and you’d like to try and solve the problem yourself, The Chilton Manual is still around to help!  Many of the volumes are for sale on Amazon and you can even download them into your Kindle.  Or, just swing by their website and look them up online.

THE 411

Name: The Chilton Manual

What: Large series of auto repair books

Headquarters: Radnor, Pennsylvania

JERSEY JOE RECOMMENDS: I’ve got to hand it to these guys.  They could have taken their books and folded up shop, but they really have seemed to be ready for the change in technology by putting their volumes online, while still having good old hardback books for sale.  So, if you’re a handyman, and are in need of an auto repair, why not let these guys help you give it a try!