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DIY Auto Repair: Chilton Library to the Rescue

Bob Timmermann, Senior Librarian, Science, Technology & Patents Dept.,
Detail from a 1974 AMC Gremlin Advertisement
Detail from a 1974 AMC Gremlin Advertisement

It’s a rare cold Los Angeles morning, and when you go outside to fire up your 1974 AMC Gremlin, you discover that it’s not starting. While you consider the various life choices that have brought you to the realization that you own a 44-year old Gremlin, you still need to get the car to run, and you don’t want to take your favorite automobile to a repair shop.

So, you’ve decided to fix it on your own. But where do you get the information on such a special vehicle? Turns out the Los Angeles Public Library can help you with that. With your library card, you can access the Chilton Library for free.  It’s  easy to access from home with your library card and PIN, or from any of our libraries' computer stations, and you can get all the relevant repair information to find the actual gremlin that may be stranding your beloved Gremlin.

The Chilton Library database has repair information for cars, light trucks, and vans dating back to 1940. Yes, it even covers 1974 Gremlins! There is information about removing and reinstalling most of the parts of the car, and ASE Test quizzes available for free. Some vehicles contain videos showing the steps on how to perform certain tasks. There are also wiring diagrams and vacuum diagrams for people who actually can interpret them. You can even learn what the firing order of the spark plugs on your Gremlin should be. If it’s a V-6, it’s 1-5-3-6-2-4 and if you have a V-8 Gremlin, it’s 1-8-4-3-6-5-7-2. We don’t know what this really means, because we’re librarians, not mechanics.

While the Chilton Library is a fantastic resource and can cover about 98% of all car repair problems, there are still some matters that might require more in depth research. The Science Department has an enormous collection of factory shop manuals, the oldest one dating back to 1918-19 for Cadillacs (which is a reprint) and an original one for Buicks from 1926.

There are even older books dating back to the 19th Century that can help you get your horseless carriage up and running. The library also received an almost pristine copy of a 1914 book The Modern Gasoline Automobile: Its Design, Construction, Maintenance, and Repair by Victor Page. It’s an amazing book to look at it with incredible detail about automobiles which are over a century old. The cover describes it as the “Up to Date 1914 edition.” This book came as a donation from the estate of patron Michael Piehl.

The Science Department has countless other specialized guides for vehicles, as well as customizing guides, Hollander Interchange manuals, ASE Test Books, books that identify cars, and also reference sources that will even tell you how many Gremlins were made in 1974. 131,905, but you already knew that didn’t you. About the only car we can’t seem to find a manual for is for a time travelling DeLorean. For that, you’ll need to see Doc Brown and Marty McFly.

a moving image of Doc Brown getting out of the time traveling DeLorean in Back to the Future

A time-traveling DeLorean from the film, Back to the Future