Feel better about the time you’ve invested in writing documentation

During a recent rental car excursion I became curious about the USB-C port in the front of the Nissan Maxima. Could one run a laptop from the car, for example? I decided to open the glovebox and read the specs from the owner’s manual. After one year and more than 20,000 miles of rental by perhaps 100 different drivers…

(still in its shrink wrap)

13 thoughts on “Feel better about the time you’ve invested in writing documentation

  1. This lengthy manual should be provided in an e-book format so that users could read it while on the road.

  2. I don’t think many people need to read the manual anymore as most cars drive the same. I bet our host Phil could jump into just about any late 70’s low performance general aviation aircraft and fly it just fine! Insurance companies may want a check out but Toucan Sam doesn’t care!

  3. If the manual for a year old rental car is well worn, it indicates some serious design flaws in the car.

    Memories of renting a Ford in the 1980s and searching everywhere to turn on the interior dome light. Rather than the obvious solution of putting the switch next to the light (duh!), the control was a hidden feature of the headlight switch (you had to pull it out, or some other secret handshake).

  4. I picked up a rental Vauxhall Astra on a rainy winter’s night about 15 years ago. I soon discovered the (genius) designers had changed the indicator controls to be different from EVERY OTHER CAR EVER MADE, and there was no obvious way to cancel the signal after a lane change. A manual would have been helpful that night, but unfortunately, the glovebox was bare…

  5. Color me surprised you can’t just tell the NissanConnect system: “Open the manual and tell me about the USB ports.” Still, I think it’s five more years, tops, before printed owner’s manuals in cars are a thing of the past. They’ll be — at best — optional accessories you buy like trunk liners and paint protectors. All the manuals should be electronic by this point, and you should be able to bring them up on any device synced to the car. They’ll also be voice-activated, voice-searchable, and probably connected to your bank account…

    Most manufacturers already offer them in PDF form, so it’s only a proverbial hop, skip and jump. The 2019 Nissan Maxima OM is 492 riveting pages of crucial information and dire warnings and safety reminders, trademark and copyright information, etc. And even with that many pages, there was almost no information on the USB ports:


    The USB ports are mentioned in the manual (both in the front and rear center consoles), but without any information on charging capacity. For that, you have to read the NissanConnect Navigation Owner’s Manual (if so equipped), which only mentions iPhones and iPods or USB sticks. *No mention of USB-C.* They talk about USB 1.0/2.0.


    Another 276 pages of rollicking good information, and this was all I could find: “The USB connector can be used for charging the connected USB device (maximum output up to 5volt, 5W, 1.0A). The USB device will be charged continuously while the ignition switch is in the ACC or ON position.”

    So unless that laptop runs on less than 5 watts, my answer is “no, you can’t.”

    Somewhat amazing: “Do not keep the NissanConnect® system turned on with the engine stopped. Doing so may discharge the vehicle battery. When you use NissanConnect®,
    always keep the engine running.”

    All that intelligence in the vehicle, but it’s not smart enough to monitor the battery’s charge level and warn: “Hey, genius: You’re about to conk out the battery with the navigation system. Turn it off or start the engine, please. It’s 9 degrees below the Ninth Circle outside.”

    Someone, somewhere has stranded themselves this way already.

    • You made me wonder a little more about what federal law has to say regarding printed owner’s manuals in cars. Here’s an interesting article from 2016:


      “National Highway Traffic Safety Administration says it does not require owner’s manuals to be provided in print only. However, NHTSA says some federal safety regulations “require information to be placed in owner’s manuals, if a manual is provided, or otherwise provided in a paper format.”

      So apparently, printed manuals are not mandated by federal law except for special inserts, and the 2017 Chrysler Pacifica had it built into the infotainment system. They kept the paper copy in the glovebox!

      Give it 5 more years…

    • We are living in an increasingly more and more complex world. I would not be surprised if you could Google the answer. And yet, our documentation for our cloud solution contains a primitive search engine which can’t even understand things like misspellings and doesn’t parse the words separately. If you don’t have the exact word or phrase, you are out of luck.

  6. A common pattern in software dev is for newcomers to complain about lack of documentation on “X”, which they’re having trouble understanding. When asked if they’ve read the documentation on A, B, and C which interacts with X they so “No, there’s so much I didn’t know where to start”…

  7. I usually only pull out my Honda CR-V manual if I need to remind myself of the details of some menial, infrequent self-service task, the sort of thing that I would almost certainly never do in a rental car.

    • Exactly. I have a Toyota of recent vintage and it was the first car I have owned (over 40ish years) where I ACTUALLY spent time with the the owner’s manual. There is no need for a “renter’s manual” and none are provided.

  8. Does the owners manual often answer your questions like that? For me, it is only about half the time.

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