Tips for Reading Vehicle Manuals

Vehicle Owner's Manual.

Certain aspects of vehicle manuals differentiate them from CR manuals. For instance, vehicle manuals must cover topics ranging far beyond CPS, and CPS-related topics appear in multiple sections of a vehicle manual. Therefore, when reading vehicle manuals—or instructing others to read them—it helps to understand the following:

  • It is usually possible to find the CPS section of a vehicle manual by flipping through the pages closest to the front, looking for CR images. This method can be a time saver compared to checking the index (offsetting the considerable amount of time that will be spent reading the text). Conveniently, the air bag and head restraint sections are usually near the CPS section.  Of course, use the index if you can’t readily find the CPS section; searching for “child” is usually the best approach.
  • Often, one manual serves multiple variations of the same vehicle model, so anticipate this. For example, the instructions for a crew cab pickup truck are typically intermingled with those for a regular cab or extended cab of the same model.  Likewise, cargo or transit options of vans or SUVs are included in the manual for models with typical rear seats, Canadian variations coexist in manuals for models sold in the U.S., and so on. These intermingled variations often have entirely different instructions for CR use, so it is very important to be sure that you are following the instructions for the correct vehicle.
  • Vehicle manual text tends to follow a serpentine path, often laid out in two or three columns per page. This means that topics often wind through the manual on multiple pages/columns, so it is essential to check the prior and upcoming pages in order to follow instructions accurately. (And, often, multiple warning boxes interrupt the flow and can make it tricky to keep track of this text thread.) Keeping track of the topic thread is also related to the prior bullet; whenever reading any particular point of instruction, it is important to flip to previous pages to confirm the topic heading. This is a very common stumbling block for both caregivers and CPSTs. They become frustrated by instructions that are incongruous with the actual vehicle, only to discover that the instructions relate only to a different variation of the vehicle, as clarified on a much earlier page. Worse yet, they follow the wrong instructions without realizing their error.
  • Terminology used in vehicle manuals often differs from terminology taught in the CPS curriculum, and there is no consensus among brands. While this is also true of CR manuals, vehicle manuals tend to be even more challenging to decipher. Some variations in terminology seem to be the result of the translation. (It’s almost charming that BMW says tethers are “restraining straps” that must be attached to the proper “mounting eyelets,” but you can see how these terms could confuse some people.) Other terminology comes from the auto industry as a whole, such as instructions that refer to the left and right side of the vehicle. Those in the auto industry know the left refers to the driver side and the right is the passenger side (so the side-references are relative to a seated occupant). But do lay people know which is which? Using myself as a data point, I know that not all do!
  • These days, there are multiple formats for vehicle instructions. In addition to the hard copy version of instructions, most also post instructions online. This has been very helpful for caregivers and CPSTs alike, since hard copy instructions are sometimes missing or lost. Also, when manufacturers want to update information in printed manuals, they can do so in online versions (making it worthwhile to check both formats when instructions seem confusing). However, in recent years, many manufacturers have separate versions of instructions; one may be called an “owner’s manual” and the other a more abridged “user guide.” CPS information is usually found in both, but it is often possible to get slightly more detail (such as enhanced graphics) in the full owner’s manual, which may only be available online, unless a hard copy is requested by the owner. (Since there is no guarantee regarding what these documents are called, check the physical or file size to determine which has the more in-depth instructions.)