By on August 25, 2015


J.D. Power and Associates on Tuesday released its study of in-car technology that showed many new car buyers either don’t use features available on their car or aren’t aware they exist.

According to the study, at least 20 percent of buyers haven’t used 16 of 33 features targeted by the study, including in-vehicle concierge services such as OnStar (43 percent); mobile Internet connectivity (38 percent); automatic parking aids (35 percent); heads-up displays (33 percent); and apps (32 percent).

Owners said their smartphones probably do all those things better, and who has time to learn systems when you have to text and drive anyway?

“While dealers are expected to play a key role in explaining the technology to consumers, the onus should be on automakers to design the technology to be intuitive for consumers,” said Kristin Kolodge, who is the executive director of driver interaction & HMI research at J.D. Power. “Automakers also need to explain the technology to dealership staff and train them on how to demonstrate it to owners.”

Ongoing cost could be a concern too. For example, Chevrolet’s mobile WiFi hotspot, which is equipped in all of its new cars, requires a subscription to OnStar in addition to monthly fees for data usage beyond the initial 3 GB of data. A monthly plan for data could range between $25 and $85 a month for 200 MB to 5 GB of data.

Beyond what the dealer doesn’t tell you about your new car, there’s no real resource for drivers to learn about their car, is there? (Answer: maybe.)

The study doesn’t directly ask the question, but many car manuals are disorganized encyclopedias of frustration that few people seem to use. For example, a current-generation Mini comes with seven booklets (the longest is 222 pages, the shortest is a fold-out brochure) one USB drive and three informational cards.

(Included in the instruction manual are gems such as: “Due to system limitations, warnings may not be issued at all, or may be issued late or improperly. Therefore, always be alert and ready to intervene …” Owner’s manuals are too much and not enough, all at the same time.)

More importantly than wasting your time, unused tech may be wasting money.

“In-vehicle connectivity technology that’s not used results in millions of dollars of lost value for both consumers and the manufacturers,” Kolodge said in a statement announcing the findings.

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42 Comments on “Who Reads The Instruction Manual? (Update: No One)...”

  • avatar
    Internet Commenter

    Surely an outlier, I like to find the owner’s manuals in PDF as part of new car research. They often contain interesting information in addition to service schedules, etc.

    For example, I was actually looking at the manual for the 2016 Miata today and discovered that lowering/raising the top below 41 degrees F “…will damage the convertible top material.” – p.3-35

    I suspect some people will find out the hard way.

    • 0 avatar

      I do this for just about every consumer electronics device I might purchase during the research phase because (as you noted) it often contains the REAL information. For example before buying a home theater stereo I wanted to know how easy it is to adjust the center channel volume (key for dialog in movies): do I push one button? or is there some sequence? or is it hidden in a menu? are my settings saved? Etc. This kind of info is only in the manual as the salesperson at the store (Best Buy, HH Greg) isn’t going to have a clue.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure you’re an outlier. I am sure that the article title draws a conclusion without basis.

      I read my car manuals. There are probably 16 of 33 features that I don’t use. One of these statements does not imply the others.

      • 0 avatar

        I am the same way. Just because it has the feature doesn’t mean I HAVE to use it. I don’t think I have ever used the inside (as in the glow in the dark in the trunk) trunk release on any car I have owned.

  • avatar

    From personal experience, there is no way even a motivated salesperson could relate all the features of new cars today within the attention span of today’s customer. I would always tell my customers to allow at least 90 minutes to complete the paperwork and delivery walk around, but even maximizing that time is not enough to truly explain everything, it is very overwhelming to intake all that information at once. Many customers demand the cliff notes version and leave without a real explanation of all the features.

    • 0 avatar

      Yep, I have customers who bring me gifts, hang out during service, and what not. But only had one customer pretty spend the time to go over the features. He actually asked me to come visit his home and his wife made me some rather good banana pancakes. Generally folks just want to go home.

      I think we would all be better off letting smart phones handle apps. It’s no fun having a car go obsolete in 6 months. I drive a Fiesta S, and with my smart phone by my side the only real difference between this and a loaded SE is color options, some bits of chrome, and heated seats. Why pay more for what I already have?

  • avatar

    While we all hate car ads this is the ONE area where they help. Often these features are put front and center during the ads. Now whether people actually learn how to use said features is a different story.

    Prime example: my parents just bought an Escape Titanium which has a ton of tricks up its sleeve. I told my father to find an Escape internet forum ASAP and start brushing up. He admitted that reading the manual was on a list of things they hadn’t gotten to yet. So this weekend I had to show them how to dim the dash because (like everything these days) its now a button and not the familiar little wheel/dial. Since the car has 2 LCD screens its stupid bright at night.

    While playing around I noticed the ambient lighting around the door handle changes color when the doors are opened, it goes from Ford Happy Blue (TM) to warning red. Just flipping thru the settings on the dash LCD (not the Sync/Nav/Audio one, that holds another zillion options/settings) there appears to be all kinds of personalization options regarding lighting, locking, FordMyKey (whatever that is) and various info screens (instant mileage, trip time, temperature, etc). Its gotten to the point where dealerships need to hold weeknight classes on all this stuff. Or some high end models have their manuals on an iPad so that gets people’s attention.

    Another example: on my Z you can release the hatch via a somewhat hidden button, its one of those things you either learn by accident (hey what does this do?), or learned because someone told you, almost nobody learned it from the manual…. because well nobody READS the manual!

    • 0 avatar

      “there appears to be all kinds of personalization options”

      All of which will be lost the first time someone disconnects the battery.

      • 0 avatar

        On my latest car you can export all the user settings to a USB key. Good thing too, as there are a ton of them, and they are all settable differently for each of the keys.

    • 0 avatar

      I just got my 2016 Escape Titanium a month ago. I just started reading the manual yesterday. That idea of joining a forum is great. I found that even though the parallel parking feature defaults to the right hand side, you can manually force it to the left side. Also make sure your parents connect their vehicle to their home WiFi so any important updates can be downloaded!

  • avatar
    Volt 230

    Of course not, too damn long and complicated just like modern day cars, I feel bad for technicians trying to work on these things, you gotta remove A thru M just to get to N. All engineers should work together with a mechanic so they can design these things to be easier to work on, less labor time and better off for both the OEM and the customer.

    • 0 avatar

      The engineers are perfectly capable of designing for serviceability, but all engineering is about making the best compromises to make the most effective product. With the reliability that modern cars generally have, and all the safety, emissions, performance, and technology that goes into their engineering it just doesn’t make sense to engineer for the one time per decade a part might need to be replaced.

    • 0 avatar

      This is one of the most worn-out tropes in automotive land. The idea that engineers just cram junk into the car that nobody wants with no thought for serviceability…

      To me, it’s amazing how maintain-able modern cars are given how much they do and the issues of safety and emissions that they must meet. I’m constantly amazed at the little touches I run into as I work on cars where someone clearly thought about making it easier, and even spending money at times to do so.

  • avatar

    I use it when I need it.

    Like, how do I get the spare tire out from under this dang Highlander anyway?

    What does that symbol mean on that button?

    What is that warning light for?

    (FYI I had never owned a Toyota before…)

    My owners manual for my 1967 Mustang OTOH is an entertaining read.

    I do however still the read the manuals for other devices like when I recently bought a new push mower and a weed eater.

  • avatar

    From the article:
    “While dealers are expected to play a key role in explaining the technology to consumers, the onus should be on automakers to design the technology to be intuitive for consumers,” said Kristin Kolodge

    I’ll take it one level deeper. Automakers should design technology that’s of benefit. It’s unrealistic to expect consumers to use a feature that offers them no benefit just because it was included.

    For example:
    in-vehicle concierge services – I’m sure that can be a nice service, but I don’t know what I’d do with it, and I sure as hell won’t pay for it.
    mobile Internet connectivity – No. Not only would I never waste money on that, I will not mix internet and vehicles. (And no, I don’t use my phone in my car. If it’s important, they’ll call back or leave a message.)
    automatic parking aids – Meh. If you can park, so what? If you park by feel, then I agree.
    heads-up displays – Meh. I like HUDs, but if someone finds them distracting, so what if they don’t use them? And I thought all HUDs were on by default, meaning if you don’t use it, you have to actively turn it off.
    apps – well, I guess it depends on the “app.” My car has a fuel efficiency tool, which I think they call an app. So, sure, I use that. But the national weather map that was in MFT? That’s just stupid. Pandora and other internet radio? Considering my opinions on internet in cars, no. Do they consider GPS or a compass an app?

    • 0 avatar

      Each of us has our own priorities. Personally, I find internet in the car to be incredibly useful for navigating NYC traffic and do allowing me access to my private music server. I do agree with you that Internet service tied to a car isn’t worth what they charge. I have a unified data plan, my phone is all I need.

    • 0 avatar
      SCE to AUX

      Agreed. I have no use for all that software bling.

      But I do read the owner’s manual cover to cover when I buy a car.

  • avatar
    S2k Chris

    “including in-vehicle concierge services such as OnStar (43 percent); mobile Internet connectivity (38 percent); …and apps (32 percent).”

    I think you hit it with the ongoing costs. That stuff is stupid expensive, and how often are you REALLY going to use it? What’s OnStar, $10-15/mo? How much am I going to use it, once every month or two MAYBE? That’s a terrible deal. Same with in-vehicle Wifi; I have a $50 Mifi from VZW that costs me $15/mo using data I already pay for, I’m not paying $25-$85 for 200MB to 5GB ($85 for 5GB is a criminal ripoff!)

    And on salesmen training me, I usually push that off as much as I can; I realize I’m more tech saavy than average, but I’d much rather figure it out in the driveway of my house at my leisure than spend one more second with the sleazy sales guy I’m sure I’m sick of dealing with at that point.

  • avatar

    ” For example, Chevrolet’s mobile WiFi hotspot, which is equipped in all of its new cars”

    should read ” Chevrolet’s mobile WiFi hotspot with which all its new cars are equipped”

    Who writes this stuff? Has he no knowledge of the language? This is not the first time I’ve seen this sort of gobbledegook, and I’m not the only reader to comment on it either.

  • avatar

    What does it say about me that I view the owner’s manual for my car as a sort of leisure reading, usually when I’m sitting in the car waiting for somebody and have nothing else to do? I’ve been doing this since I was a pretty young kid…

    The only feature I’ve discovered by accident was how to turn on the foglights in my 2007 Fit. I was replacing my headlights, and I figured the fogs needed replacing as well because they didn’t turn on with the headlights like I assumed they would. As soon as I’d replaced one bulb, I discovered the extra position on the indicator stalk, and found they’d been working all along. Chalk that one up to operator idiocy as opposed to excessive complexity.

  • avatar


    • 0 avatar

      No joke: I had a conversation with a Ford engineer who adamantly claimed that all the problems being reported about MyFord Touch were because users were too stupid to understand it. When I pointed out valid criticisms from CNET & CR who demonstrated how it use it and what specifically didn’t work well (as well as what would improve it), the response was that those people have no business commenting on such things because they don’t know how hard it is to make stuff.

      That said, it’s only a special type of engineer who thinks like that. Like the above comments about serviceability, the problem comes from poorly defined requirements. With infotainment, they are told to add more features, not make it simple/faster to use. For wrenching, they’re told to design out cost and minimize packaging, not maximize access for service. They hit the design targets, but the target isn’t always in the right place.

      The trick to a good product is knowing what a good product is: the features it has (and doesn’t have). It’s an art, and if lousy requirements are defined, that’s exactly what engineers will deliver.

      • 0 avatar

        I used to supervise some software/hardware engineers developing a custom control product. After a while I realized that one of these guys arrives at your desk and tells you the product is finished, its good, and its simple, you send him (almost always a him) to go and redesign it. Because if he thinks its simple, that means it is complicated for everyone else. You tell him to go away and make it so his grandmother can use it.

  • avatar

    I like to read them I find it entertaining when I;m sitting in the car waiting to pick someone up etc. And sometimes you do learn strange things. like how to install the European hitch on an XC70.

  • avatar

    I do. Cover to cover, every car I’ve ever owned.

  • avatar

    It’s a reference book, not a novel. I’ve never sat down and read it, but I’ve looked up how to use a specific feature in it every now and then. I’ve also used the jump-start instructions to remind me of the order to hook/unhook.

  • avatar

    There is some stuff in the manual that I do not look at. Door locks and other universal features tend to be self explanatory. I looked at infotainment stuff and how to synchronize phone to Bluetooth etc. Safety stuff like tire inflation, how the Tire pressure system works, stability /traction control etc. gets a close look just like fluid levels and types of fluids.

    I have to agree with some of the other posters. Mobile hotspots, OnStar etc. isn’t going to see a dime of my money. I used to subscribe to Sirius but I found that an IPOD with a few thousand songs is much cheaper in the long run.

  • avatar

    Heh. I’ve had my current dd for 60k, and I only just found out the stereo only has right channel. I guarantee I would never use anything beyond ac and defrost because 95% of the vehicles I’ve ever owned are 1973 and older and it would just never even occur to me. Hell, work bought me a Nexus 4 a couple years ago and I still haven’t installed a single app or done anything beyond text and talk. People pick up my phone to scroll my photos and are appalled when there isn’t even one. So we are definitely out there.

  • avatar

    Here’s a story:

    Many years ago, when automatic transmissions first came out, manufacturers put in whatever sort of shifter they wanted, with the gears in any order they wanted. This was in the days before the government meddled much in the car business.

    In order to force carmakers in to standardizing the shift pattern, the GSA came out and said, “If you don’t do PRNDL, the government will not buy your cars for fleet use.” This was in the early 1960’s and led to, among other things, the end of the pushbutton TorqueFlite.

    From then until about 10-15 years ago,operating a car was pretty obvious and intuitive. You could get in a strange car and know immediately how to operate it.

    Then came electronics. Manufacturers went back to doing whatever the heck they wanted, because they could. Today’s automatic shifter could be a stalk, or a knob, or a lever.

    Last summer I rented a MINI Cooper. Before I could leave the lot, I had to ask one of the attendants how to start the darn thing!

    Hey you rotten kids! Get off my lawn!

  • avatar

    Reading it is one thing. Making heads or tails of it is another. Instructions are sometimes so vague and misleading. If I’m assembling something and don’t have a few parts left over, I almost feel like I haven’t done something right.

  • avatar

    Generally, the owner’s manual is used as a reference book.

    Since the last car I’ve owned was a 2005 model and I now own a 2014 car, things changed in the interior so I referenced many newer features by reading the manual.

    You’d think the manual writers could actually write. The references and the diagrams, if any, are relatively bad.
    Part of the problem is that the manual contains information that is included on ALL trims of a particular model. If you happen to buy a more basic trim, you’ll get info on stuff that’s available on the higher end trims making many sections of the manual longer and somewhat repetitive and thicker.

    Regarding comments on design engineering…
    It’s too bad that many of the engineers were told to basically cram more stuff into the car without considering how things will be used by the average driver. Calling the drivers “stupid” is an insult and tells you something about the engineers (arrogance/ignorance) itself!

    Can’t those engineers:
    1. Design it so replacing a simple light bulb (i.e. the frond head lights) be replaced Without removing other parts of the engine surrounding the lamp?

    2. Make a radio with simpler features like:
    a) Having dials instead of [thin sliver] push buttons [looking at you, Nissan!]?
    b) On a display screen, have the Entire song/title instead of having it cut off about 2 inches on the right side?
    – What’s the point of a display screen if it’s not used properly?
    c) Put in a touchscreen if it’s a display screen!
    d) Put in a display screen radio, instead of a basic radio, WITH HD RADIO channels!
    – Not everyone wants to subscribe to SiriusXM and like listening to local radio stations esp. the HD ones!
    e) REMOVE the internet apps as NOT everyone has Unlimited data plans (i.e. Stream music from Pandora, iHeart radio or whatever (which NOT everyone has or cares to use))
    f) Better integration of smartphone to radio
    – Many of the functionality is lacking!
    – NO USB port in many cars and you may to BUY an options package to get it, if available?!

    3. Does it really cost that much more to put in LED light bulbs in the cabin’s rear passenger lights and in the trunk when it’s already available in the front cabin lights?

    4. Why aren’t cold weather packages available for all models and trims, esp. those cars sold in the colder areas of the country?

    Too much focus is done on the engineering of the chassis and engine and never really any attention paid to anything else, as is the case over the years. Part of the blame goes to the auto makers for not designing a vehicle on how consumers actually uses the vehicles and not just for racing/driving fast!

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m the exception. I always read the owners manual and sometimes look at it for research before I even buy the car. I also browse the forums which usually add clarity to any questions.

    When I bought my last new BMW, the dealer rep spent 30 minutes going over features of the car with me and was willing to spend even more time if I needed it. It was a good effort, but I already knew most everything. I suspect that is the exception rather than the norm. When I bought my Porsche, I already had downloaded the manual on my iPad before the car even arrived.

    I’m always amazed when people tell me that they didn’t even know they had that feature, or something to that effect. The manual is usually not the best document, but it does explain most everything and the forums answer the rest.

  • avatar

    Maybe I’m at the other extreme. When I got my latest car I not only read the manual, but signed up on an online Acura forum to learn more. I googled its specific make, model and year to know what quirks to look for and what to avoid.

  • avatar

    I think this is another difference between car geeks and everyone else. I read the manual. I always learn about features I didn’t know the car had, even on simple cars.

  • avatar

    This assumes, of course, that you believe you can trust the information in the manual.

    The one we got with our 2011 Hyundai Elantra Touring included a bulb list for the regular Elantra which pretty much only shares badges with its wagon sibling.

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