What’s this with the manuals?

It’s not often I get a truly frantic message from an MOA member, but it happens. Occasionally they’ll be stuck in a small town somewhere—invariably on a Sunday, knowing they can’t even call a BMW dealership until Tuesday—trying to get help with an immobilized motorcycle. Between the Anonymous app and me, we’re usually able to at least find them someplace to stay until the shop opens.

“WHAT’S THIS WITH THE MANUALS?” was how this message started, and I read on to discover a member had recently contacted BMW customer service about obtaining a service manual for his 2021 BMW motorcycle. The message they received back from the customer service rep met with their disapproval:

“Due to the increasing technical complexity of our new vehicles, we have decided, in order to maintain a flawless technical condition and to ensure compliance with legal requirements, that in the future we as a manufacturer will only support repairs by trained staff in specialist motorcycle workshops (for example, at authorized BMW Motorrad dealers and in BMW Motorrad service workshops). Operating instructions and installation instructions for our original BMW Motorrad accessories for the individualization of our vehicles will of course remain available on our homepage for download by end customers.”

The member was upset and looking to me for information and a solution to his problem. For many of us, this simply isn’t an issue, as we trust our dealers and their service departments to take care of our bikes. For others like me, as well as independent shops, having the manual before tearing into a bike is a good idea, if for no other reason than to have access to the proper torque values when it’s time to start putting everything back together.

I contacted John Gamel, the MOA’s Consumer Liaison, because that’s what I would do in a situation like this where more information is needed and people are on the verge of rage. John discovered BMW has expensive DVD-based service manuals available on their parts lists, but as of November 2021, it wasn’t possible to actually order the “DVD, Repair Manuals” for a variety of models. Or rather, according to anecdotes related in the MOA Forums, riders were able to order the manuals, but were later informed by their dealers the manuals weren’t available.

Both in the forums and on social media, the discussion got heated, with more than a few people taking a “How can BMW do this to us, their loyal customers?” position, deeming this an affront to their riderhood and vowing to never buy another BMW motorcycle as long as they live. “But we have the right to repair!” others said, including handy links to web pages related to the Right to Repair movement currently growing in the U.S. and Europe. Still others declared BMW’s position as a violation of the Magnuson-Moss Act, which I’ve written about in this column in the past.

We’re still working on getting clarification on this issue, but let’s take a look at all of this as it applies to the average BMW rider.

First and foremost, there is no federal right to repair law. The only state with one is Massachusetts, which passed “An Act Relative to Automotive Repair” in 2013. This law—which only applies to Massachusetts, mind you—states that manufacturers “shall make available for purchase by owners and independent repair facilities all diagnostic repair tools” which are available to its dealer network; there is no wording limiting the cost of these items. We can debate all day long whether or not service manuals are diagnostic repair tools, but the law does not specifically mention technical documents or service manuals at all. Even if it did, it would only apply to Massachusetts; while other states have had bills proposed addressing the right to repair, no other laws have gone into effect anywhere in the country.

Further, Massachusetts’ right to repair law specifically excludes motorcycles. In other words, BMW is under no legal obligation to tell you how to repair your motorcycle in any state.

As for the Magnuson-Moss Act, it addresses warranties, not the right to repair as it is being discussed in relation to the availability of service manuals. Its basic tenets are that as long as the vehicle owner uses a functionally equivalent part to repair or service their vehicle, the manufacturer cannot void the vehicle’s entire warranty. It is, however, up to the owner of the vehicle to prove the equivalence of the aftermarket part—such as an oil or air filter—to the OEM part if a dispute arises between the owner and the manufacturer. The key aspect of the MMA is that if your engine fails because you used a cheap oil filter, the existing warranty would still apply to the rest of the motorcycle not affected by the engine failure.

Based on this information, we can assume BMW is not breaking any state or federal laws by refusing to make available a service manual for their late-model motorcycles. Their statement about the increasing complexity of their motorcycles requiring trained attention from certified techs may seem condescending to some folks, but that doesn’t mean they’re wrong. One thing BMW cannot be accused of is building poor-quality motorcycles. They have always striven to put the best, most technologically-advanced motorcycles on the road, and one function of their efforts is that their motorcycles have become increasingly more difficult to diagnose and repair by shade-tree mechanics. It may well have been a lot easier to repair your own Beemer in your driveway or on the side of the road in 1982, but now it’s 2022 and a lot has changed in 40 years, both in your favor and not so much in your favor.

There is one major resource riders can take advantage of to get the technical information they want. Haynes Publishing Group, a company out of the UK, publishes popular technical manuals under the Haynes and Clymer monikers. It takes them a bit of time to get one published, however; as of this writing, the most recent manuals they have available are for a few 2020 Ducati and Honda models. The newest BMW motorcycle you can get a Haynes/Clymer manual for is the 2018 R nineT variants. Manuals are available for the 2017 S 1000 R/RR/XR, 2016 F 700/800 models and 2016 R 1200s. Clymer’s manuals deal with older model BMW motorcycles, including K bikes up to the first generation of 1200s and R bikes going way back to the old days. The most recent R bike covered by a Clymer is the 2009 air/oil-cooled 1200 generation.

The downside is you’ll have to wait until Haynes Publishing can secure a technician-cum-author, buy a few R 1250s and start tearing them apart to record all the steps and info along the way. This may take several years, which might be frustrating, but you can always contact them and let them know you’d love it if they published a manual sooner rather than later. Visit haynes.com/en-us/contact on the web for more information.

You can also contact BMW Customer Service to let them know you’d like to obtain a factory-published service manual. They might not sell you one, but they might start to reconsider their position if they hear from enough riders. Remember you catch more flies with honey than vinegar, and be polite in your interactions.

Another thing you can do is keep an eye on right to repair laws in the US and the EU as well. As laws change in this country and in others, you may find yourself in the position to purchase a service manual sooner than you expect. Consider joining The Repair Association as a way to commune with other R2R advocates.

From my perspective, it’s probably best not to get your hopes up. Develop a good relationship with your nearest certified BMW Motorrad service department and you’ll undoubtedly be able to keep your BMW motorcycle in tip-top condition.