Want to learn more about your car? Read the manual.

Posted on January 3rd, 2017 by Rob Marshall


It may not be as popular bedtime reading as Fifty Shades, nor would I recommend it for a book group discussion, but studying your car’s owners’ manual could save your life, enhance reliability and save you money.

I promise no exaggeration. With inbuilt safety systems being increasingly complex, ranging from distance cruise control, to emergency city braking, lane departure warning to steering assist, and more, a deep study of the handbook is more essential now than it ever has been.

The problem is that many handbooks tend not to offer the most scintillating of reads, the worst of which (in my experience) comes from cars made in the Orient, where the user manuals are not only painfully thick and use the most inexpensive paper bulk that even toilet roll makers would reject but they also feature small (and often, inaccurate) renderings, zero photography and clumsy phraseology, stemming from the translation into American English.

Yet, I have discovered that many people are not only unaware about how various safety functions of their car work but also have little idea about how to operate them. Resetting Tyre Pressure Monitoring Systems, for example, is one such common query, the answer to which tends to lie within a small publication that has, probably, never left the glovebox.

Another issue is that the amount of technical information within the handbook has diminished considerably. While old handbooks, until the 1980s, used to describe how a comprehensive maintenance could be carried-out on a typical driveway, today’s manuals tend to give details about how to top-up oil, water and brake fluid only – even certain light bulb changing operations are advised as being a “workshop-only” operation.

I think that, as a consequence, any technical advice remaining within the book tends to be treated less seriously. I recall, for example, being quizzed by a member of the public (not a GEM member, incidentally), who noticed a warning lamp that illuminated on the instrument panel and had the foresight to stop driving and consult the handbook. It advised strongly to cease driving the car and call a main dealer immediately. The advice was ignored and the owner continued on the 20 miles-long journey, which destroyed the engine. There is no helping some people…

(Picture provided with thanks from the SMMT)