Paper or Digital? How Do You Want Your Owner’s Manual?

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Pacifica Infotainment

Owner’s manuals don’t often see the light of day. They get pulled out when the car is new for a good once-over, but then they sit unused in the glovebox.

The move is on to digitize manuals and make paper versions a thing of the past.

Many automakers have been offering online versions of their owner’s manuals for years, but they still include backup hard copies in their vehicles. This makes a certain amount of sense, since there’s always the chance you won’t be connected on the road, but need access to that manual.

Likewise, integrating the owner’s manual into the infotainment system seems like a great idea, until you have a maintenance issue and can’t turn on the car. The hard copy serves a purpose.

The new Chrysler Pacifica includes an electronic version of the manual as a part of its Uconnect infotainment system, but still keeps the trusty hard copy in the glove box. Owner’s manuals are big, bulky things that take up room that could be used for important stuff like extra straws, napkins, and packets of ketchup.

According to Automotive News, FCA, BMW, Kia, and MINI are all offering access to their manuals through their infotainment systems. This also has the potential for providing an extra level of information that can’t be given with a simple piece of paper.

Turning the manual into a digital entity means automakers can include how-to videos that demonstrate features and answer questions. Concepts that are difficult to convey in words can be far easier to communicate in the digital domain.

Although it may sound like a great idea, there are plenty of folks who won’t be happy with the move to digitize manuals. Older adults who aren’t as tech-savvy are intimidated by this technology.

Think about how frustrating it can be to operate some infotainment systems. The good ones are wonderful, but the bad ones are distracting, difficult to navigate, and often have features that go unused because they’re too tough to figure out.

Imagine the level of frustration you’d feel if you had to deal with a difficult infotainment system just to access your car manual during a breakdown. The same goes for a manual downloaded to your phone. Not finding what you want could make people long for the good old days of big, paper manuals.

There’s also the question of what’s legal. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration has no requirement for printed owner’s manuals, but they do require information be provided in that manual.

If there’s no printed manual, then you could be looking at a glove box full of random bits of required NHTSA paperwork shoved in there instead.

Nicole Wakelin

Nicole Wakelin