How to choose repair information

Q: I can’t decide which repair database I want. Help!

A: Choosing between the several options out there such as Alldata, Autodata, Chilton, Identifix and Mitchell 1 is a common problem. All of these products provide the vast majority of what you need for the most vehicles. So how do you decide which one to get?

Now this might not apply to every single vehicle in any particular system, but the following facts generally apply. Mitchell 1’s ProDemand (Figs. 1 and 2) has color-coded wiring diagrams that can be manipulated to make them easier to read, while Alldata (Fig. 3) has OEM wiring diagrams because that information system emphasizes more complete OEM data. There might be situations where you need the 100-percent accuracy of OE information while other times it slows you down and it would be preferable to see a more complete, color-coded wiring diagram you can manipulate.

Oftentimes, Alldata will have something Mitchell 1 does not have on a certain vehicle and vice versa. Another important tidbit of information about these systems is that if you specialize in European vehicles, you will probably need to supplement either of these databases with OEM information.

Autodata's Quick-Reference Pro is an information system that combines easy-to-use wiring diagrams (like Mitchell 1) with OE information (like Alldata), but also includes a reference to relearning keys, batteries and more. The system also includes labor times, service schedules, TSBs seperated by topic, quick torque and fluid specification references and timing chain instructions, which can be handy (See Fig. 4, page 18).

ChiltonPRO also deserves mention because it works very much like Alldata, and because it employs the use of factory wiring diagrams and information. Repair information is modified and edited to make it simpler to read, and torque specs are inserted right into the repair procedures. Translating Nm to ft/lbs is a plus. It is also the least expensive of the mainstream repair databases (See Fig. 5).

Regardless of the respective strengths and weaknesses of each program, you are better off with a combination of these programs rather than just one. The more information you have to fix a car, the better.


Q: How should I use Identifix other than looking at pattern failures?

A: Identifix Direct-Hit has a lot of information. This includes short test procedures with specifications that are a replacement for test plans that a factory scan tool might have, OEM information for select manufacturers, and relatively up-to-date TSBs. The OEM information is searchable, as is everything else in Identifix. This is a useful feature of this system, as it helps increase the speed of your diagnosis.


Q: Sometimes we simply cannot look up everything we need to diagnose a car. Is there something we’re missing?

A: Yes, sometimes we need more than specifications and repair procedures. A database cannot teach you how to think.

This is where training comes in. Your local parts store might offer classes, or you might be aware of a national training event, vehicle-specific training or full seminars online. Whatever training you do get, it’s best that you get the training that is applicable to you.


Q: I already have an information system that I pay good money for. Do I really need to buy more information?

A: Yes, and for a couple of reasons. You might need specific information fast, or simply more information (See Fig. 6).

In the real world, you might need to look up information on everything from running monitors to relearns after replacing a battery. Oftentimes service information, reset information, battery coding, resetting TPMS systems and more are either very hard to get from or not in your repair database. In a business with small margins on batteries, oil changes and tires, the quicker you can get your hands on this information, the better.

"The more information, the better” applies as well. Sometimes we just need information from a lot of places. What Mitchell 1's ProDemand does not have, Alldata has; what Alldata does not have, Identifix Direct-Hit has; what Identifix lacks, Autodata might have, etc. If you are a shop that commands a good price for diagnostics, you will need as many information sources as possible.