Yet Another Owner’s Manual and Autonomous Systems Rant

We need to spout yet again about owners manuals, and spend a few minutes on autonomous technology. The manual comes from Fiat Chrysler Automobiles’ Maserati brand.

Maserati DVDIn 2016, we had a Ghibli to assess. It’s owner’s manual was on a DVD. The manual was nearly impossible to use, with no search function, vague chapter titles and navigation that required you to walk back through any pages you had looked at in a chapter in order to see a new chapter. It was a miserable mess to say the least.

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LevanteTwo years later, we found ourselves in a Maserati Levante and discovered its owners manual in the center stack or entertainment center. The vague chapter titles remain — note that the instructions for handling the car if the key fob dies are in the chapter titled “Before Starting” — but the navigation was fast and easy to use and the search function took us to anything we wanted easily.

However, since our first concern is always getting drivers in and going when their key fobs die, we had a troubling thought we had to test.

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Sure enough, with a dead key, the owner’s manual was inaccessible. So, if you do NOT know how to start the car you can’t check the owner’s manual to find out how!

Maserati startThere is a printed quick start guide found in the glove box. It will show you how to get in the car, but not how to start it! The irony here is that if you can get into the glove box, you’re already in the car! This is of course an inherent problem with all keyless start cars.

So, there you are. Assuming the driver has covered figured out or knows how to extract the mechanical key from the fob and has made his or her way inside, without the knowledge of how to start the car, he or she cannot access the very document intended to help!

So FCA, and since they’re not alone, any other manufacturer moving their owners manuals to the entertainment center, please make sure the instructions to start the car are available in any printed quick start guide found in the glove box. Or perhaps, give your owners an app with the instructions in it. Or maybe this — assuming the car has power, give the driver an option to open the manual without the key fob. There is nothing in the manual that will compromise the vehicle or the owner — it can only help.

Leaving your drivers stranded inside or outside the car over something so simple is virtually criminal. And please don’t blame the sales staff for not telling the new owner how to start the car with a dead key battery. Likely as not he or she was told, but with so much else to learn with a new car, its not likely to be remembered.

We’ve argued for years that people don’t learn by being told or shown they learn by doing. Over and over again. And until a driver faces off with his dead key, he or she is not likely to remember.

So please, please walk a mile in your customer’s shoes when designing and assembling the owner’s manual, what’s inside it and how its accessed. The manuals are available in pdf format online and we’ve linked them at here.

Finally we need to comment on some news concerning the recent Uber accident that cost the life of a pedestrian. We looked at multiple reports to be sure we understood what we had heard. The car’s automatic braking system had been disabled to reduce the potential for erratic vehicle behavior.

Now we had heard a year or so ago that the driver assist systems in the Volvos used for testing by Uber would be disabled during the testing of Uber’s autonomous systems. We had wrongly assumed that this would include automatic braking. It does not. In fact, Uber’s system is not even designed to alert the driver.

We’ve said this about other autonomous driving systems and we’ll repeat here — properly functioning automatic braking has to be job one. In our opinion, whoever has jurisdiction over the Uber tests has to insist that this system be active. Period. The rest of the driving or walking public are not the test subjects.

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