Owner's manual…the most informative book never read


By Al Vinikour    

Whether you own a vehicle or are just using one, you often times come across a function you don’t know how to perform…or a button you haven’t a clue as to what it does.

If you’re like too many people in this world you just ignore it and figure if you don’t know how to use something it must not be needed in the first place. Or you can be anal and instinctively open the glove box door and pull out the owner’s manual. (Which leads to the next question…"What the hell is that book?”) Anal or not…most questions are answered by reading the information in that book.

I think most vehicle buyers have the best of intentions when buying a new vehicle of reading every line of the manual. After all, one doesn’t make a $20,000+ decision every day and because of such a hefty investment the least the owner can do is ensure he gets his money’s worth. Of course this same philosophy is uttered by people who buy expensive exercise equipment. All across America there are homes with Schwinn Airdyne tie racks or treadmills used as storage pallets. But I digress.

Automobile manufacturers spend millions of dollars to prepare, print and distribute owner manuals in every one of their vehicles. Theoretically, everything anybody would ever want to know about the operation and care of their precious vehicle is found in that tome. However, people spend more time reading the contents of a $2.50 box of Cheerios than they do a $50,000 Lincoln.

Luckily for me I can rationalize my own neglect of those “pesky” manuals by thinking because I get a different car every week to review there’s no need to waste my time reading somebody else’s words about it. That’s where the wisdom of my wife enters the picture. (Luckily for me she seldom reads what I write so I don’t have to worry much about her telling you, my readers, that she’s the smart one of the family.)

More than once I have been looking all over a vehicle to find something as mundane as a fuel filler door lever or a speedometer reset button. My sainted wife looks at the manual and…there’s the answer.

Now in defense of some people I’ll say that some owner manuals have become so huge and cumbersome that many might find them intimidating. However, the manufactures have tried to help by inserting more pictures and illustrations. That used to determine what computer manuals I’d buy — which ones had the most pictures and was the prettiest. The manual that came with the machine didn’t tell me much. I had to read it to try to find out something and even then my addled Hoosier brain couldn’t comprehend half of what I was reading.

Because of the mounting production costs and bulk of some manuals the manufacturers have been putting the book on a CD or DVD. I can understand the reasoning behind this…but I don’t agree with it. If people aren’t going to read a manual that’s a foot in front of them what makes anyone think the owners are going to spend the time to print out a manual themselves. Maybe they don’t have a printer.

There might be 1,000 pages in the total printed manual, which is probably more than most of them would print out during the entire lifetime of the machine. Forget the fact that most people don’t travel with a computer every time they get into an automobile. And if it’s a matter of trying to figure out how to adjust your dashboard lighting that would result in having to boot up a computer, insert a disk (or even a flash drive) and then surfing the info to try to find your answer then the hell with it…you’ll just navigate by the stars.

My suggestion to the manufacturers is this: people will read a “Quick Start” card or even a shortened multi-page directory. Put the most common information on these things and put the rest of the complexities on the disk or whatever format the majority of your information is contained in.

On second thought maybe the manufacturers already do this and they’re stocked in glove boxes as we speak. How am I supposed to know that? I don’t go in there to read them.