The best mechanic I ever knew told me that he never drove a new car off the lot until he had read the Owner’s Manual from cover to cover. To say the least, I was surprised because he was an automotive genius. He could rebuild an engine, diagnose a complex electrical problem and do just about anything else a car could ever need. I will admit that back when he told me about his Owner’s manual thoughts, cars were much simpler. I think the Owner’s manual in my 1965 VW Beetle was barely a pamphlet, but it contained pearls of wisdom that helped me properly operate that car for over a decade. It lived in the glove compartment and I would refer to it to confirm spark plug type, ignition timing and oil viscosity and capacity. Alas, those days are gone. Cars now are complex machines with manuals that run hundreds of pages. Unless you can speed read, you probably can’t read a modern Owner’s manual before leaving the dealer’s lot. However, you should bring it in the house and give the key systems a good read to get the most value from your new vehicle. It could also make your driving safer.
Here are a few examples from my personal experience that bring the point of reading the manual home.
- Oil Viscosity – I spoke to the service manager at my dealer and asked what type or brand oil he recommended for my car. He knew I ALWAYS do my own oil changes so he recommended Mobil 1 and told me to use 0W-20 viscosity. What? I told him I use 5W-30 and thought it was the recommended weight. The service manager was adamant and said to swap out the oil I was using ASAP to avoid doing engine damage. I sat in the parking lot before leaving and, there it was in my Owner’s manual, 5W-30 was not only recommended, it was REQUIRED!
- Hill Holder – We always buy manual transmission cars and trucks so starting on a hill can be a minor adventure (especially since some folks like to creep close to our bumper). My wife’s new Subaru was advertised as having a “hill holder” feature that prevented the car from rolling backwards. I asked the salesman the day of delivery if he could explain how the hill holding feature worked. He was positive that our car did not come with that feature. “Only on the more expensive models” he explained. Ha! I checked the Owner’s manual and, there it was. It also had a simple explanation on how to employ it.
- Break-in Period – I asked the same salesman, just before we drove off the lot, if there were any speed cautions or break-in rules to be observed when driving our new car. “Drive it to California” was his boast – no break-in period. That did not make sense to me since every other new car we ever purchased had a 1,000 mile to 1.500 mile “go slowly” period. My wife checked the manual and, in plain English, the manual said “To ensure a longer service life and more reliability – avoid high engine speeds (over 4,000 RPM) and refrain from driving at constant engine RPMs for the first 1,000 miles (like when you use cruise control). You would think the sales rep would have a better handle on this kind of thing since doing it wrong could adversely affect the service life of the engine. However, the Owner’s Manual was there to double check him and we are happy we did.
- Oil Change Intervals – Most modern cars have extended oil change intervals – 10,000 miles and higher. Gray beards, such as your author, grew up on 3,000 mile changes so being told that you can go 3 times longer (or more) makes no sense. Reading the Owner’s manual for my friend’s BMW recommended 10,000 mile changes but in a separate paragraph it warned that if you intend to keep the car for an extended period of time, shorter oil change intervals are recommended.
That’s just the tip of the Owner’s manual ice berg. If you have Bluetooth phone connectivity, Satellite radio, Heated seats / Heated steering wheel, Memory seat positioning and any number of high tech options, you absolutely have to read your Owner’s manual. When I bought my first BMW, it came with a cassette tape that, when played, gave you owning a BMW 101 lessons. I learned a lot and I’m a car nut! But… I still read the Owner’s Manual and it lives in the glove compartment to this day.
Why not go out to your car and bring the Owner’s manual into your house right now? Then, put it on your nightstand and thumb through the pages before you go to sleep – I bet you’ll learn something interesting you didn’t know.