Moby Dick in Your Glovebox

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The fact that a new car owner’s manual is novel length – some are longer than Moby Dick – says a lot about how out of hand things have become.manual 1

Is this degree of complexity necessary or even desirable?

More to the point, who has the time to deal with it? To actually read  730-plus pages (new Toyota RAV4 manual, just an example) of instructions, cautions and how-tos? How many 700-plus page novels do you suppose the average American has read this year?

Or ever?

It’s like the iconic (and predictive) ‘80s movie, Brazil – which depicted a dystopian future of prolixity and bafflement and dysfunction that absolutely no one could grok. Buttons, chimes, flashing lights. Pointless but impossible to avoid tasks that eat up time and suck the soul dry.

These thoughts occurred to me as I flipped through the seemingly endless “novel” that came with the ’16 Toyota RAV4 I am test driving this week. I am not singling out the RAV4 or Toyota, just using it as a case in point. The RAV4 is a nothing-special compact crossover SUV. Not a high-end or particularly high-tech model (like the BMW 7 Series I test-drove earlier this year). Nonetheless, this car’s manual ran to 740 pages.

The BMW’s was much longer.


Thomas Pynchon’s epic novel, Gravity’s Rainbow, is a mere 26 pages longer (776) than the RAV4’s manual. You may have read this novel (Pynchon’s I mean) in college. How long did it take? Not just to read the thing, but to understand it? 700-something pages covers a lot of ground. Probably too much ground for what is, after all, merely a How-to guide for an appliance.manual 4

More perspective:

I pulled out the owner’s manual for my ’76 Trans-Am. It is 60 pages long. It is a manual – not a novel.

The entire thing comes to fewer pages than the “For Safety and Security” section (74 pages’ worth) of the RAV4’s manual.

Maybe because the Trans Am’s manual has no “For Safety and Security” section.

The major (and lead) sections are devoted to “Starting and Operating” and “Minor Service.” The whole thing can be read – and understood – in 15 minutes or less.

Different times, you see.

Saner times… back then. manual 2

How long will it be before “Safety and Security” becomes the official state religion of the United States? This is no joke. It could at the very least become the new motto of the United States and for all practical purposes, already is.

“We” – the imperial plural used to agglutinize every one of us into a blob collective – are obsessed with Safety and Security to a neurotic, carpet-chewing degree; it’s only a matter of time before people start bald-spotting their scalps out of nervousness that X or Y is not “safe” or “secure” enough.

More gadgets will be needed. Which will require more pages. Perhaps we will spend more time in future learning about “Safety and Security” than actually driving. The safest thing of all, of course, would be to not drive at all. Ridiculous? Not to the High Priests of the Safety and Security cult.

The odious Mark Rosekind (a name right out of Atlas Shrugged, which is only slightly longer than a new BMW 7’s manual) who is administrator (another Atlas Shruggian appellation) of the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration – the busybody federal agency that is determined to parent us right into adult diapers and maybe air bag-equipped cribs, too – recently urged what he styled the “democratization of safety technologies” (every new car will be fitted with every Nanny Device the mind of man can gin up) and set a goal of – no joke – “zero” traffic fatalities.manual 3

Maybe NHTSA will pass a fatwa mandating eternal life. Why not? It would be in keeping with the religious mania  of Safety and Security uber alles. Nothing is beyond the capability of government.

Just make it so!

“We have a really big stick,” Rosekind says. “I know where it is and I know how to use it. “


Expect the manual for your 2018 or 2019 car to run to 1,000 pages at the very least.

Can’t be too safe.

Or too secure.

And if these manuals keep on getting longer, soon we won’t have time to drive anyhow. depends on you to keep the wheels turning! The control freaks (Clovers) hate us. Goo-guhl blackballed us.

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  1. Funny, but every time I look at used vehicle ads and see people listing all the needless, complex, and expensive to fix gadgetry, I always say “Who the hell has time to learn how to use all of these features?!” -especially if you have multiple vehicles! The not-very-fancy stereo in one of my trucks is ten years old, I still don’t know how to use 80% of it’s features. (Not that I’d need to use them, or want to use them…). The same goes for newer household appliances and electronics and all.

    “Press this button down and hold for more than 2 seconds but less than 6.5 seconds, then use the ipsofacto button to select from the menu, while pressing the lollipalooza button briefly and holding down the …..”

    I don’t want all of this crap, and I’m not paying for it.

    I want an on/off switch, and knobs and buttons that do one, or at most two things, and which are obvious or clearly marked, which you can figure out how to use just by looking at the damn thing, even if you’ve never seen it before, ya know, just like we did when we were 8.

    After a few days of not using my truck, I can’t even figure out how to turn the damn stereo on (to CD mode) and off. You have to hold down the button for so long…but not too long…or hit it once, or twice??? And the stereos in my other vehicles are different….

    I thought that the purpose of all of these wonderful gadgets was to make our lives better and easier, and free up more time for leisure? Instead, they’re enslaving us and wasting our precious time. (This is why I avoid most of ’em. And not to mention how many of them even rob us of our privacy)
    Life is better largely unplugged. Don’t need no stupid smart phone. Leave a message on my answering machine, I’ll call ya back when I come in.

    • A couple years ago I was looking for a very elusive vehicle, a Duramax with a long bed. The only ones I could find were loaded out, mainly GMC’s and their list of options was not only confusing but non-decipherable. I finally began calling the places and asking salesmen what they were. They didn’t know. They even said so. Sometimes they’d take a guess and the one time I thought a guy might be on the right track I did a lot of research and never did figure out WTF it was. They’d have about ten of these options per truck. To this day I still don’t have a clue.

      I thought I’d never need a smart phone but life got complicated and when I couldn’t read an MMS or have GPS for various things such as oil leases and be out in the middle of nowhere with bad weather coming but no clue how bad it might be or what it was I began to change my mind. It’s common for me to be somewhere a phone won’t work but texting does work. It’s expensive and I don’t like having to spend $500/yr minimum(after the cost of the phone) but it beats being lost all night or more on a Sunday when you have bad weather and can’t even see where it is you might need to go and a lot of vehicles that would normally be out there are not. I found out 45 years ago a compass will get you out of a lease eventually……or not. You may run out of fuel.

      If you think a two way radio will save you, think again. You’d need a HAM setup and need to know what frequencies are most likely being used. Back in the old days HAM’s didn’t have auto-locking scanners so you could hit or miss from now on.

  2. It reminds me of the legislation Congress passes. It’s thousands of pages long and requires a truck to move around. All it does is hand whatever off to the executive branch shadow government. Meanwhile, the Constitution and Declaration fit on a nice little pamphlet I can carry in my back pocket.

  3. Can’t wait for the day when in addition to the navigation system disclaimer that basically says you’re nuts if you actually use this and it’s a sainthood worthy miracle if this thing actually gives you proper directions, we’ll be presented with an EULA on the dash:

    “By pushing the start button, the driver of this vehicle (henceforth known as ‘the sucker’) agrees that anything that could happen that might possibly be related to the vehicle actually transporting the sucker and any contents, passengers or other approved* objects therein are purely coincidental. The sucker also agrees that GM (henceforth known as ‘The Company’) does’t owe you anything and the sucker should be thankful The Company agreed to sell the sucker a vehicle of such amazing technical prowess. The sucker also agrees that they are not worthy of such a wonderful gift from the company and as such will offer only positive and affirming reviews, critiques and undying devotion to the company (you Ford-vs-GM guys know what we’re talking about).

    The sucker agrees to only let certified, factory approved technicians and service centers service the vehicle. If it is determined that an unapproved technician has serviced the vehicle, the warranty will be declared null and void, even in states where that’s illegal because screw states rights. In addition the credit division of the company will be informed and the sucker will be subject to a loan review and/or modification, up to and including termination of the loan with full amount due. The sucker will allow any officer of The Company, it’s board of directors and any shareholder with a significant (to be determined by the officers) number of shares to engage in sexual intercourse with the sucker, the sucker’s spouse, fiancée, daughter (of legal age), and/or son (of legal age) according to rules set forth by The Company. The Company will not be held liable for any stains due to drink spills from containers greater than 4 ounces (118 ml). The sucker will not transport animals over 3 inches in length in the vehicle.

    *See for list of approved transportable objects.”

    Of course you can say you don’t agree, but then the car won’t start and becomes a worthless object in the driveway. And when every manufacturer uses the same boilerplate, well, we can always just walk, right?

    • Doubtful…it will be like the software update on a modern…”sailfawn”…check this box to agree with the 250 page legal disclaimer about the above plus much more, like the DMCA for the ECU, their permission to sell your GPS coordinates to marketers, your position and speed to anyone they wish (Fed, state, and local) for per mile revenue and speed enforcement.

      And of couse the ubiquitous straw to breathe into, or some other passive EtOH/THC sensor, as well as the requirement to allow full autonomous driving inside certain zones…

      Cue “Red Barchetta”

      • As useful as my cellphone is to me what with GPS and being able to download oil leases and track myself to some location and back again in dark of night and foul weather is great. Being able to see those badass west Tx. thunderstorms is a literal life saver too.

        But…..I often see an app I think would be handy and it not only wants access to your location but also your address book, your text messages(really), your pictures and videos(WTF?), the size of your hemorrhoids in real time and the same for sexual acts, I feel the need to pass. So instead of using Google Earth or some other google gps, I just use my Wunderground on Mozilla FF and don’t trust it even then. Oh, it also wants to be able to link with any wifi and bluetooth it decides it likes. That shit is just too much. I have enabled google GPS just for lease work and then deleted it(ha, like it’s really gone).

  4. Eric, you may have missed some manuals of that ’16 RAV4. My ’12 RAV4 has, other than the Owner’s Manual, a Display Audio System Manual – 228 pages to turn on the radio, a Navigation System with Entune Quick Reference Guide, a RAV4 2012 Quick Reference Guide, a Warranty & Maintenance Guide, and an Owner’s Warranty Rights Notification.

    Dealer was clueless when I requested eliminating some of the more annoying, optional, beeps and bongs.

  5. Expect the manual for your 2018 or 2019 car to run to 1,000 pages at the very least.

    Can’t be too safe.

    Or too secure.

    And if these manuals keep on getting longer, soon we won’t have time to drive anyhow.

    Wanna bet that the day is coming in the near future when you’re going to be required to take and pass a closed-book multiple-choice written exam on the contents of this tome before you’ll be allowed to buy/lease or drive the vehicle?

    All because of “safety concerns,” of course.

  6. I recently downloaded the owners manual for a Canon EOS6 DSLR camera even tough I don’t own one. It runs 404 pages. Remember back to the days of film SLRs? Most people back then could understand and use their film cameras intuitively, they almost never broke, and took better pictures. The average manual was probably wafer thin.

    • Yes, but at most there was one “program” mode on that film SLR and a basic light meter that might have a selectable zone (if you’re too lazy to move the camera around and watching the meter to get an idea of what exposure settings to use). Took pretty good pictures, and if you took the film to someone who knew what they were doing (or did it yourself), you could get pretty good pictures out the thing.

      Now today everyone wants to look like a pro, but no one wants to learn anything. So we get 20 different program modes (hey, it’s just software and feature lists sell cameras). The whole point of DSLRs is manual mode. When you can take a thousand pictures without having to pay for film and processing, why trust a program mode? You screw up, just take another picture. It don’t cost nothin’

  7. Like everything else these days, I believe manuals are written by lawyers, or at least the lawyers define and approve what must be included. So when someone breaks something, or gets hurt, or otherwise uses their vehicle in a manner not consistent with the manual, the car company’s arse is protected. “oh, so you didn’t actually read page 357, paragraph 2.1, to familiarize yourself with the 30 steps to correctly program the entertainment system?”. And now its broken, but the warranty is now void, tough luck and all that.

  8. The manual for my ’73 Dart actually included instructions on how to properly aim the headlights.

    My ’03 Passat’s manual is incomprehensible and hides the fuse panel diagram. Pain in the ass.

  9. Computer manuals on the other hand have gotten shorter and shorter. When I got my first computer, an apple 2 C, back in 1983 ish, the manuals came in their own box! A box almost as big as the one for the green screened monitor. Back then they encouraged end users to try a little programming. So some of the manuals were pure programming books.

    Now in 2016, they don’t want you changing things on it.

    My newest imac came with almost nothing printed. Now they tell you to check online. Kind of a problem if the computer doesn’t work or the internet doesn’t work……..

    • Yeah… No joke.
      Had to get someone to tell em info at ADP way back when – Email wasn’t working. Couldn’t look up anything, no connection.
      Anyway, when I finally get a telephone number to helpdesk, I explain I have email issues, cannot send or receive, no connection, on the network…

      After they fix it, I find an email in my inbox, “Next time, just EMAIL US AND WE’LL HANDLE IT.” (Emphasis mine.)

      No cure for terminal stupidity…

      • A few months ago my email got hacked or something and AT&T decided to lock my email account. Guess how they notified me…

    • My Digital PDP-8e from 1972 has a manual set that includes mechanical drawings and full schematics.

      To be fair, so does my much newer Icom IC-9100 ham radio, along with a downloadable service manual.

  10. Eric, don’t you know that all Dishonest Abe wanted to do was save the Agglutination?

    Speaking of agglutination, is there any better example of its advocacy than the author of It Takes a Village? The pain caused by the shrill of her voice makes for the perfect complement of the process of agglutination.

    Although I share your frustration with the prolixity of the owner’s manual, allow me to differ when applying the Moby Dick concept to contracts and other legal documents like the By-laws of a corporation, leases, powers of attorney, trusts, and wills.

    Too often, lawyers rely upon (1) boilerplate or (2) forms prepared by practitioners and law professor who are specialists in a given area and (3) that which they have “borrowed” from other lawyers, when they draft legal documents. Too often, the legal document is too ambiguous, too vanilla, too vague, and is bereft of comprehensive specificity. What do you think happens when a contract or a will or a trust has an ambiguity or does not address a specific matter? Who resolves the ambiguity or fills in the gaps?

    The state by means of the black robed brethren. That is why I think it behooves all of us to insist upon as much specificity as possible when it comes to our legal documents in situations where we have some control and can leverage that control to make sure that the contract or the trust is razor sharp in its comprehensiveness and specificity. You want the contract to addresses contingencies and eschew words, phrases, and standards that beg for judicial intervention and resolution.

    To wit, take your Last Will & Testament. If you have certain relatives whom you would not, under any circumstances, want to be the Personal Representative of your estate or to ever have any control of any asset of the estate or control of any matter of administration of your estate, why not affirmatively memorialize the same?

    Perhaps, in addition to certain family members, relatives, or even good friends whom you would not want to be your Personal Representative, you might not cotton to the idea of a bank or trust company ever being in control of your estate or its administration. Why not pen something like the following:

    I hereby declare that, under no circumstances, compelling or otherwise, shall any banking or financial institution, including, but not limited to, any bank holding company, broker-dealer, central bank, commercial bank, cooperative bank, credit union, finance company, investment bank, merchant bank, mortgage bank, mortgage company, mutual fund company, national bank, pension plan, pension plan administrator, savings bank, savings and loan association, and / or trust company ever be or become the Personal Representative of my estate. The foregoing command is absolute and subject to no exceptions. I demand and expect any arbitrator, court, master, or any other tribunal who may be called upon to make findings of fact and / or rulings of law regarding my estate and / or its administration to give literal effect to my testamentary directions, including my command that no banking or financial institution shall ever be a Personal Representative of my estate or ever possess the power to make any decision concerning the administration of my estate. I have an absolute right to determine who shall serve as well as who shall never serve as my Personal Representative and such a right is within the ambit of my associational, contractual, natural, and testamentary rights.

    In my view, even when we are operating within the system, we cede too much when we should be pushing the envelope. Why not deprive the state and its cronies of whatever you can? When it comes to your planning documents, you are probably better served by Moby Dick than The Old Man and the Sea.

    • Most people – even those like me – are conflict-averse.
      The calculus is simple:
      They demand.
      I demur.
      They demand, using different words.
      I explain, again, that the answer was no.
      They demand – usually by now, they’re smiling while they phrase it another way.
      I say, we’ve gone back and forth three times, the answer is still NO.
      They demand – and probably insinuate something (I.E., their body language indicates aggression.)

      Any sane person, by now, is fed up. The appropriate response is to beat the snot out of them. But no one will allow THAT to happen – the choad was just making a “reasonable” request. And should you respond – even raising your voice – the police will be summoned and YOU will be harassed, if not arrested. And the choad wins.

      Happens EVERY. FUCKING. TIME.

      Which is why they want US disarmed. So they can passive-aggressively assault us, DARE us to respond as men instead of insects, and then beat down anyone who responds as more than a servile subject.

      Hence my eternal refrain, which no one wants to hear.
      But all the current pattern allows is psychopaths to rule unchallenged – and backed by government force.

      for comparison:
      We are NOT alone in understanding…

  11. The actual reason for the tomes being produced and issued with new cars is to so obfuscate their operation and, in particular, any related potential safety issues, that the manufacturer has created plausible deniability for its corporate self for anything that might go wrong and cause actionable harm to the user. By over stressing the arcane, like my Prius that long-beeps me and flashes all kinds of warnings if I try to drive it (like backing up so one can actually see what’s behind) with a door open. Common sense should prevail, one would think, but the excessive bells, whistles, and printed “manual” are there to relieve the manufacturer of any liability due to improper operation, even when it’s patently obvious to all. Doesn’t matter that you might not have read all 700 pages, except somewhere in there is the Toyota get-out-of-jail free card. That’s why.

    • Hi Harry,

      I feeeeel your pain… I hit critical mass exasperation with all this scheisse about two years ago. I am seriously considering a cabin in the woods and a corded wall phone…

  12. Eric, Got to drive a co-workers brand new Fiat 124c spider today. Great car.. Get it back to the office and try to get the push button ignition to roll the windows up. Can’t get it to work, the anti theft was on. Had to call the dealer to try and find out what was wrong. They sent someone out. Still not sure what happened but they had to reset it. We think it had something to do with having a second fob in her purse. These keyless systems are a pain.

    The point is the owners manual is no help at all. It constantly warns to not let kids in the trunk. It talks about systems and then says “see such and such” with no reference to what page, I was never able to find what it referenced. No help at all.

  13. It’s better to get the PDF versions of owner’s manuals that can be keyword searched. It wasn’t so bad for car owner’s manuals to have poor indices when they were short but now it means looking in 12 places for something and finding in none and that’s if the word you picked is in the index. Because what you want is generally not the first thing you call it. There will be a different term in the owner’s manual for it. So you figure out its called something else and look in eight more places and there it is. Finally. Just easier with the PDF.

  14. These things aren’t novels. Novels are, or at least can be, fun to read. These are encyclopedias. And I’m talkin’ Brittanica, not World Book.


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