Ford to buyer – you’re too dumb to drive

June 15th, 2007
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Mrs. K. and I finally broke down and bought one of those big honkin’ diesel trucks whose WWII-troop-carrier-like capacity and cost I’ve derided in previous posts. Well, we’ll be driving a lot of rough roads, carrying a truck camper and besides, the new unit turns out to consume less fuel than its much smaller predecessor.

Being new to operating a diesel, I heeded the salesman’s exhortations to learn about its exacting maintenance needs. I figured Ford was a sensible traditional car company, so I’d learn a lot of new facts and gain insight into driving, handling and caring for a large truck.

Silly me. The four books I churned through – the main one topping out at 366 pages (and no, it’s not half in French) – were of little benefit. It’s all don’t do this, don’t do that, slow down, slow down, you could be injured or killed. Ford is reduced to shilling for safety nazis and bureauweenies.

Instructions are written as if for four-year-olds, with endless repetition and constant admonitions and warnings in screened boxes with exclamation marks. The text is interminable and Byzantine. In some cases that’s because the procedures they describe are needlessly complex – simple resets of electronic features often require five and seven steps. Disengaging the idiotic “Belt Minder”, a whole extra set of seatbelt alarms on top of the already-intrusive standard bells and chimes, involves latching and unlatching your seatbelt nine times – and that’s just one in a multi-step process. The inconvenience of the procedure itself is a form of bureaucratic manipulation.

In other cases the procedure is straightforward, with the instructions serving the function of social engineering. Much of the copy about plugging in your MP3 is aimed at manipulating you into stopping the vehicle and engaging the parking break before you even adjust the volume. Then you’re told to stow the thing in a closed compartment. Evidently it’ll kill you otherwise.

Minimizing tire wear gets its own section, as if this should be any of Ford’s business. One tip: “observe posted speed limits”. So, if I understand correctly, driving 99 in a 100 zone is fine, but driving 60 in a 50 zone will wear out the tires. This stuff is beyond parody. If tire wear can be reduced by minimizing heavy braking and acceleration, then doesn’t logic suggest you ought to glide through needless low-speed zones at highway speed?

The manuals continually thwart one’s hopes to learn some actual new facts. Explanations are circular or tautological. The how’s and wherefore’s are omitted. It’s stated probably 30 times that a four-wheel-drive vehicle handles “differently” from a car. But not once is it explained how. Then follow pages of all the different ways four-wheel-drive can get you killed. Almost made me want to trade in the truck and buy an East German Trabant. The one thing I really wanted to know – how the auto-locking hubs work, and when you might need to engage the manual lock – was never explained. I had to phone the dealership.

After a while one realizes there just isn’t much factual content. As if the overweening social engineering imperative has so debased the writers psyches that they’re rendered incapable of conveying information. Not surprisingly, in the few places that things get factually complicated, the writers are quickly lost in the thickets of their confusion and their text became almost incomprehensible.

Reading these manuals creates the impression that Ford Motor Company believes its buyers are suicidally incompetent – clearly too stupid to drive. If Ford considers its buyers capable of the lunatic moves it warns against, why is it even making vehicles? This truck has 350 horsepower, four-wheel anti-lock brakes, all kinds of great safety features, a modern chassis that handles vastly better than older trucks, and on and on. Yet pretty much all you read is that the slightest mistake – turning the steering wheel a little too hard, engaging the tow/haul transmission mode on a slippery road, not stowing your i-pod in a closed compartment – will get you killed.

At bottom, this is just terrible marketing. Does Ford think people will want to drive its vehicles after reading this stuff? Perhaps the saving grace is that hardly anyone reads anymore, and I’d expect that 366-page content-free manuals draw fewer readers than Maxim. So maybe there’s little harm done in the end.

Anyway, don’t worry. The annoying reading experience hasn’t dulled my enjoyment of this magnificent new truck.

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