I don’t go to salvage yards often, but when I do, there’s always one part of a vehicle that is in perfect condition: the owner’s manual. While this should be well-read, most car owners never take it out of its wrapper, or they remove it to free up room in the glove compartment. With today’s cars, the manual is often too big, or a digital version is built into the infotainment system.
Regardless of how the information is provided, most drivers use the manual to sync their phones or program the entertainment system, but that’s it. However, referring to the owner’s manual can save you time, aggravation, and — most importantly — money. It can provide solutions to problems that you can take care of yourself.
The most useful information in the manual surrounds vehicle maintenance. Although there is a table of contents in the front, I find the index in the back is the quickest way to find specific information.
The manual will provide time and mileage as to when specific service needs to be performed. Some cars will use automated maintenance reminders which display a message or service icon; however, the manual is still helpful since it explains what service needs to be performed when this icon appears. Other important information included in the manual includes the type and quantities of fluid required for your vehicle — oil in today’s engines is a critical component to proper operation. Using the wrong weight of oil can even cause the check engine light to come on, and using the wrong grade of oil can possibly shorten engine life or void a warranty.
The owner’s manual can also explain when additional service is required due to the type of driving performed. For example, if you are part of the gig economy and are using your car as a taxi or to make deliveries, it may be recommended to step up maintenance. The opposite is true as well. A mechanic may recommend additional services needed for your car, such as a transmission fluid flush or power steering fluid flush. You probably won’t find those items listed in the owner’s manual. While it won’t hurt to have these services performed (other than the pain to your wallet), they are probably unnecessary.
The owner’s manual is a great source of information about installing a child restraint. I’m a certified car passenger safety instructor and I won’t install a child’s car seat without looking in the car owner’s manual first. Other important safety information can be found here are well, such as how to adjust seat belts and head restraints, and how to change a spare tire. Sometimes the owner of a car finds out they don’t have a spare tire; they only figure out they have a spare tire repair kit when they actually get a flat. The owner’s manual will explain how to change a flat tire, remove the spare or how to use the repair kit.
All cars today have tire pressure warning lights but that is just one of many warning lights on a car’s dashboard. Some other lights include ABS brake warning, oil, temperature, check engine, battery and blind-spot collision avoidance lights, just to name a few. Unfortunately, these lights are not uniform and can vary from vehicle to vehicle — the owner’s manual will help you decode these lights.
Another piece of important information in the vehicle owner’s manual is the warranty information. Every new car comes with several different warranties. These include what is covered during the first 12 months or 12,000 miles, as well as the remainder of the bumper-to-bumper warranty. There is also a powertrain warranty (engine transmission and drivetrain). In addition, most vehicles have an additional warranty against rust-through and for the tires. But that isn’t all; there is an additional warranty on emissions components. In some cases, these warranties can cover parts for 8-10 years. The manual will contain contact information for the vehicle’s customer relations department if you need help sorting through all this information.
Don’t let the owner’s manual be the least-read book. Whether your car is new or used, take out the owner’s manual and give it a read, you might learn something. What you learn could save you money.
If you’d like more information, head to AAA Northeast.