Online videos are the new owner’s manual for many car owners. What does the check engine light mean? Google it. How do you change the clock? Find a video on YouTube.
Or, as a growing number of automakers would like you to do, look it up using the touchscreen on your vehicle’s center console.
That’s precisely what Ford is hoping customers will do with the redesigned Ford F-150, the forthcoming Mustang Mach-E electric crossover and all other coming models equipped with the automaker’s Sync 4 infotainment system.
Ford is dumping the traditional owner’s manual in those vehicles, choosing instead to make the information accessible on the touchscreen.
The only physical material about the vehicle that will be provided for free in the 2021 F-150 and Mach-E will be a booklet on how to perform certain critical activities, such as what to do if the vehicle has run out of power.
It’s about a quarter of the size of the previous manual and will include information on how to jump-start the vehicle or how to change the tires, for example. Full copies of the physical manual will be available for purchase, though Ford said it hadn’t yet set a price.
F-150 shuffles away from papers
“This is the start of a wave of everybody moving in this direction,” said Craig Schmatz, chief program engineer of the F-150, the perennial best-selling vehicle in the country.
“We’ll look back on the paper copies in a few years and wonder why we hadn’t moved to digital copies sooner.”
Khalal Walker is already wondering why. The software engineer from Sacramento, California, recently noticed the check engine light on his 2014 Buick LaCrosse was on.
Rather than reaching for the owner’s manual, he tapped out a YouTube search on his iPhone. He used that knowledge to fix and replace a missing part.
“I was able to diagnose it and not have to send it to the shop, so I can fix it myself,” he said. “I don’t think I’ve ever opened my glove box for the owner’s manual.”
Tesla was among the first to lead the way. The electric vehicle maker has gone full digital, eliminating the paper version of its owner’s manuals and including the relevant information in the infotainment system of its vehicles.
While Walker is receptive to the idea of getting rid of the traditional owner’s manual, others might not be so ready to see it go.
“I, for one, would be very upset,” said Dan Albert, author of “Are We There Yet?: The American Automobile Past, Present, and Driverless.” “I’m obviously the kind of guy who reads the manual.”
But Albert recognizes that it has become impractical for many drivers.
“There’s so many things where it’s just easier to Google it and maybe watch a YouTube video of it than to try to actually go through the manual,” he said. “The reality is, we’re not reading the owner’s manual.”
If owner’s manuals go away, it would qualify as a full-circle moment of