How to read an instruction book – for Dummies

Hi there dummies!

Now, firstly, before you take offence, please be aware that the dummiest dummy of them all when it comes to instruction books is me. So we are all dummies here, right? No-one reading this blog is any dumber than anyone else reading this blog. You’re all people of higher than average intelligence, as evidenced by the fact that you’re reading this blog. You’re probably creative types. That’s why you have trouble coping with the bland, dry, impersonal and humorless writing contained in an instruction manual.

Ok, now that that’s out of the way, let’s move on. It’s a good thing we did, because we have very quickly come to the first tricky part of the instructions on how to read an instruction manual. That’s because, for this exercise, we need an instruction manual. For those of you afflicted with the condition known as “unable to muster up the slightest interest in reading an instruction book,” this may present a level of difficulty right at the outset, because

a. you probably hate instruction books and burn them,


b. you probably subconsciously thwart your own chances of ever finding an instruction book again by storing all your instruction books somewhere obscure so that you can’t recall where you’ve put them and therefore are unable to utilise them,


c. you conscientiously stored all your instruction books in a large shoe-box in the bottom of the linen cupboard which happens to be about two feet away from where you are sitting, but there is no way you are motivated to open the shoe-box and rummage through a pile of boring instruction manuals by the end goal of reading an instruction manual. It seems far more preferable, and reasonable, to try and work out how to use the item without resorting to such measures.

Here we deviate into the scrutiny of a fictional case study.

In this case, our fictional subject – we’ll call her Popsicle – needs to check the oil on her car. The need is very strong, as the mechanic warned her about 5000kms ago, that the car seems to be using up oil too quickly and that the oil must be checked on more frequently than the standard 10,000km service done by the mechanic. (*the fictional car in this case is a 2008 Ford Focus, which our fictional character does not recommend anyone buy.)

Now, for the record, Popsicle has competently checked the oil on all the other cars she has previously owned ( a Valiant, a Mitsubishi, a Toyota and a Holden) without needing to resort to an instruction manual, but unfortunately on this *#$%%*!* car, merely opening the bonnet is a feat that requires a qualification in safe-cracking, and this is where the need for the instruction manual comes in, bringing us neatly back to –

Step 1: locate the instruction manual.

In this case, Popsicle thought the instruction manual would be in the neat little indentation in the door of the car, made specifically to store such documents as the car manual and a large, olden day map like the Melways in. (remember, this fictional car is from 2008). However, the manual is not to be found in the pocket, and thus the hunt is deemed too hard, and temporarily disbanded, and the car driven about another 200km, before Popsicle has another free morning and decides that checking the oil on the car, whilst a painfully tedious thing to have to put ones mind, and time, towards, is now a Very.High.Priority. The search is resumed.

Fortunately, without too much kerfuffle, a mere three and a half minutes later, the car manual is located in the next most likely place, i.e, the glove-box of the car.

Step 2: open the instruction manual. 

This step is easy for most people. Popsicle achieved this step with only the aid of a strong coffee.

Step 3: locate the topic you need help with.

This step can be a challenge for those who suffer from a low boredom threshold.

You could throw a quick glance at the index, as Popsicle did, but you’d almost certainly discount it immediately, as too uninteresting to persevere with, which is what she did. You could then try flicking through the pages randomly, which is what Popsicle tried next. Perhaps during your flicking, you’ll spot an illustration of someone opening the bonnet of the car. That’s what Popsicle hoped, anyway. A few flicks through the book revealed no such illustration, however, nor an illustration of an oil can, nor of an oil rig, nor of someone beating their own head with their fist in frustration, nor any other image that clearly signposted a section on how to check or refill the oil.

A lovely, and useful, hand-drawn illustration of a can of oil, not from my car manual.

Pic: © Blathering

Step 4: Resort to actually reading the index.

Run your eyes down the headings in the index. Nothing sounds relevant. This was obviously why you didn’t bother to read the index in the first place, it’s a complete waste of time. Who would have thought that things could come to this – here we are in 2017, and neither oil, nor opening the bonnet, are topics worthy of listing in the index of a car manual! Or maybe it’s just the Ford Focus that has no need to dilly-dally with such trivialities. They probably decided that as the owner of the Focus, you would mostly need to head straight to electrical faults, with no distractions, but that’s a topic for another post.

Step 5: turn to the back of the  book, hoping for a section with topics ordered alphabetically. Fortunately, there is such a section, and oil is considered worthy of being listed in the alphabetical index.

Step 6: turn to the listed page to find out how to check the oil

Helpfully, this section begins, open the bonnet. It then goes on to explain how to achieve this mysterious feat. To open the bonnet on a Ford Focus, one must wiggle the Ford badge out of the way, then insert the key into the locking mechanism, turn anti-clockwise, but only a little bit, get your fingers underneath the bonnet and lift the bonnet slightly, then turn the key the whole way clockwise, hop on one foot, turn around three times while chanting Flea Fly Flo, and then lift the bonnet the whole way.

Step 7: Follow these instructions

This step came undone for Popsicle. She wiggled the Ford badge out of the way, stuck the key in and attempted to turn it slightly, anti-clockwise. But it didn’t feel as if the key was turning at all, and forcing the key to turn in the lock doesn’t seem like a smart thing to do. Just for laughs, she checks whether she can turn it clockwise but that also has no traction. She tries skipping to the hopping on one foot and chanting part of the instructions but that only causes the neighbour over the road to pick his toddler up from the verandah and hurry indoors.

Step 8: phone your mechanic

Hopefully you have a nice mechanic, like the mechanic that Popsicle goes to, because some mechanics would probably make you feel like a right twit if you phoned to ask if they would kindly check the oil on your car. In this case the Very Nice Mechanic said yes, no worries, drop it in anytime, just don’t come at lunchtime. Fair enough.

Step 9: Drop you car at the mechanics, and watch him open the bonnet without any trouble.

Well that’s what he did an apprenticeship for!

Step 10: Be told that the oil is totally empty and requires 3 litres to top it up.

Poor old Popsicle! The mechanic’s advice was that she should probably get rid of the 2nd-hand car she’s had for two years, because there is something wrong with the motor if it’s using oil that quickly. Popsicle remarked that there is also something wrong with the electronics in that case, as the oil light on the dashboard was not coming on to indicate that the oil was dangerously low. In any case, she was very thankful that she had decided to prioritise a boring task like checking the oil on the car, instead of doing something much more fun like writing a post on her blog.



Leave a comment


  1. I’m glad that in the end you, sorry, “Popsicle”, managed to get the oil topped up!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Instruction manuals are written by the wrong people. They are written by technical experts who have no understanding of the difficulties faced by the non-technical in trying to cope with complex machinery. Writing manuals is an art and, unfortunatelly, few manual writers possess it.

    Popsicle’s problem with the car bonnet reminds me of my problem with the new trolleys installed recently by our local supermarket. To release them from the chain you have to enter a pound coin and push the slider. I could never get this to work and would try trolley after trolley until one would work, presumably by chance. Tigger then discovered the trick: to insert the coin, avoiding a little protrusion in the socket. Knowing that, I can now operate the slider ‘just like that’. I think Popsicle will find that once she discovers the knack, she’ll be able to open the car bonnet with the same facility.

    I hope Popsicle watched how the mechanic checked the oil level so that she can do it herself in future. It’s very simple. As a student, I worked in a petrol filling station and checked oil, battery and radiator levels and tyre pressures of every possible model of car as a regular part of my job. For checking the oil, the only tools you need are the special dirty rag you keep in the pocket of your overalls for wiping the dipstick.

    Mind you, if the car is swallowing oil at the rate described then Popsicle needs a solution as a matter of urgency or she risks the engine seizing up and turning the car from a vehicle into a sculpture. Solutions include repairing the leak (easy but expensive), buying a new car (easier and even more expensive) or dumping the car altogether and discovering the joys of public transport. Then there is also the increasingly popular move to the bicycle…


    • Believe it or not, Popsicle tells me that she has the same problem with the trolleys at her local supermarket! She is going to try looking for the little protusion to avoid – I will wait to hear the result.

      Popsicle did watch the mechanic check the oil, but Popsicle has checked oil on quite a few other cars, so it was really the opening-of-the-bonnet on this particular car that had beaten Popsicle.

      The move to public transport would be tempting, except that at the moment Popsicle commutes to a city about 70km away for work (too far to ride a bike!) and the only public transport option is a country train, on which the return trip costs AUD $18 per day. Popsicle doesn’t earn enough money to spend 2/3 of an hour’s wage on transportation just to get to work. The cost of petrol means that driving is the cheaper option!


      • Car users typically underestimate the cost of travel by car. If P adds up the cost of insurance, repairs, maintenance, petrol and oil (a particularly important item at the moment) and parking fees, she might be surprised at how much a return trip to the city by car comes to, especially as a season ticket will reduce the cost of travel by train. Much depends on local conditions, of course, and whereas commuters into London find it virtually impossible to use their cars, I accept that in P’s neck of the woods things might be different.


      • I am aware that there are more costs to driving than merely the petrol cost, however with petrol coming it at around $10 AUD per return trip (obviously this fluctuates, & this figure is what I’ve calculated it costs when the price of petrol is at the lower end of where recent fluctuations put it) and train at about $18 per return trip, it seems to me that the $8 per trip I save on the short-term cost by driving, probably covers the oil, insurance, repairs and maintenance, based on a round trip of about 120km. I must admit though, that I’m biased towards believing the comparison works out in favour of driving, because I think that the cost of the train trip should be low enough that when making a comparison (based on the short-term cost forked out to get to work), it is tempting to get the train based on cost. To put this into context, if this was a Metro train instead of a country line, a return journey of the same distance by train would cost about $8 AUD.

        Also, I looked into whether there was a season pass to save money on the train trip, but because I’m part time there is not. The weekly, monthly or yearly options available only save the commuter money if they do the trip 5 days a week. It’s a shame that they don’t have something like a 10-trip pass with no expiry on it – or that lasted for a month – but alas, they do not. My partner has a yearly pass and travels by train 5 days a week most weeks, saving money that way so there are savings options for full-time workers.


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