The Importance of Reading the Manual Before Buying a Major Product

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A Brand New York woman was left dumbfounded when she found out that the storm door she had purchased was so difficult to put together that she'd must pay a professional $200 to make it happen for her. And a Consumer Reports staff member was disappointed after investing in a $100 electronic activity tracker only to find out that it transmits data on the iPhone, never to the Android phone he owns.

You may avoid these sorts of post-purchase regrets by reading the product manual or instructions before buying that new computer, appliance and car or another expensive or technologically complex item. Such documentation increasingly is available for download from manufacturer websites (typically in pdf format). Since you'll need to read it anyway after the purchase, why not do so before buying and possibly avoid some disappointing surprise along with the feeling which you wasted your money?

What you find could make the visible difference between whether you buy a product, choose another model or make, or forgo the acquisition. It can also be a sobering counter to the advertising hype or sales pitch that took your attention away from all the not-so-stellar details you'll wish you have known about before you handed over your credit card and lugged that monstrosity home.

Just thumbing through the manual or instructions can remind you of those things you meant to ask about before you got googly-eyed over the prospect of owning that latest, greatest new gadget. Or it might make you think of questions to ask.

A specifications page in the manual can help you evaluate if that refrigerator is too big for the space you have for doing it or whether that home entertainment system receiver can work with a record turntable without your having to buy additional equipment.

Reading the manual or instructions also may help you plan your purchase. Should you buy special cables for the new TV? Did you make sure to hire a plumber to install a water line for the ice maker that is included with your new fridge? If you want to read or burn CDs or DVDs with that new laptop, will you must purchase a separate, external drive?

Of course, reading the manual or instructions isn't the only method you can find out what extras you'll need, and it's just part of the research you should do when considering a major purchase. You also should read the product description and any list of frequently asked questions, as well as seek out user and professional reviews, such as those in Consumer Reports. But reviewing the documentation could be the piece that makes the main difference.

What to do

Here are some of the things you should look when going through the manual or instructions.

Warranty and technical support. Often the manual is where you’ll find the written warranty. Discover exactly what it covers, what it excludes, and how long it lasts. What do you have to do to file a claim? If you have to return the item to the manufacturer, and who covers the price of shipping it back, who pays? Does the manual include a list of service centers that you can call or consider the product to for repairs? Is there one near you if so? How do you begin getting technical support? Is there a toll-free phone number? Is the warranty transferable to subsequent owners?

Readability and accuracy. Evaluate the manual or instructions. Are they well-organized and easy to read, especially for things that have a lot of features, require assembly, or that otherwise aren’t easy to set up or use, including computers? Could it be likely that you'll find whatever you're looking for in the manual? What is the table of contents or index?

Features. Confirm the item actually has the features and capabilities you want. For instance, does that washing machine have automatic dispensers for bleach, detergent, and fabric softener or an extra rinse cycle if you're sensitive to detergent residue? If you have small children, or a cook time/delay feature that lets you select when cooking starts and ends, does that new oven feature a control lockout, a recommended feature?

Compatibility. Does that software deal with your Mac or PC? Will that elliptical exerciser fit in your basement with enough clearance for you personally step to on it without hitting your head on the ceiling? Does that new car run on regular fuel? Alternatively, will you go broke feeding it premium?

, and setup.assembly and Installation Does the product requireassembly and installation? Alternatively, setup? If so, can you do it yourself or will you must pay someone? Maybe after reading the manual or instructions, you'll understand that you were crazy thinking you might install that garbage disposal yourself. Perhaps you don't hold the technical savvy to set up that wireless router and theprinters and computers, as well as other devices you'd like to hook up to it. In case the manual or instructions leave you in doubt, try out a web search to see how good others did. Our tests of closet organizers found cellular phone instructions on several models to be unclear or wrong. Perhaps with further research you'll find that someone has posted a YouTube video to help you overcome the documentation's shortcomings.

Maintenance. What kind of maintenance does this product require? Equally as with setup and installation, is it possible to do it yourself or will it need a professional? Just how much does the constant maintenance cost? By way of example, does that new car have a timing belt rather than a chain, requiring you to spend hundreds of dollars every 100,000 miles or more to replace it (or possibly risk destroying your engine, among our staff members did)? Does that new smart phone have batteries that may be replaced only by the manufacturer? What if your brand-new product contains lightbulbs, belts, or filters? Can you change them yourself? Are replacements widely available, or must you buy them in the manufacturer at astronomical cost?

, and other add-ons.Accessories and subscriptions Find out what additional items you may need to purchase to get that product to actually work or supply the advanced functions or performance you need. Intend to mulch or bag your grass with that new riding lawnmower? Figure on spending another $50 to $500 for a kit. And what about subscriptions? Sure, don't rely on it unless you're happy to pay extra to subscribe to the service that delivers the info, although that car maker heralded the power of its high-tech communications system to provide live traffic and weather.

Naturally, the manual probably won't tell you the fee for extras, installation, or maintenance. But it can clue you in on what to research further before buying-that is, unless you're planning o make use of a crystal ball instead. But that probably has a manual, too!