One of the number one searches, complaints, and gripe from RV52.com readers has to do with the RV owners manual. Sometimes these are called RV users manual, users guide, owners guide, and 10 other names that are about the same.
But I checked in Bing.com and it looks like the owners manual is the consensus winner.
The users manual from a Palomino (palomino-2015-travel-trailer-owners-manual) is a typical example of the users manuals for the RV industry. This is listed here SOLELY as a representative users manual for the entire industry. Sheri and I like the Palomino brand so picking on their manual is actually picking on one that we like.
What we expect in an RV owners manual
Many of us are conditioned to think that an owners manual for a vehicle ought to look like an owners manual for a Chevrolet, Honda, or a Ford car or truck.
An RV is a vehicle just like a car, right?
So we expect the owners manual to explain fully and simply EVERY detail of the RV just like a car.
For example, we expect to have detailed instructions on how every switch and lever in the RV control panel works.
We expect to have a set of detailed instructions explaining how the stereo system is controlled. We expect to have a good set of instructions on how to raise and lower the antenna.
But an RV is NOT like a car. And an RV owners manual is very, very different from a car owners manual.
I'll discuss my theory why in a little bit.
What we get in an RV owners manual
What you really get is a manual that is very, very generic. It discusses at a very high level things like the hot water heater, generic statements on how to tow the RV, tire pressure and more.
While it has lots of basic information, for most purposes it really doesn't help you operate the RV.
So I believe what you get is a manual whereby the RV manufacturer has enough information, guided by the idea of reducing legal risk, that they can win with most lawsuits around bad things that can and do happen to users of RVs.
I'm not even going to say whether I think this is good or bad. I think it is very very sad that businesses have to be very defensive because people will sue at the drop of a hat. But for better or worse, from my observation, shunting legal risk is the purpose of the owners manual.
There are a few tidbits of information, but those manuals will never get much better than what they are.
It is WORTH NOTING that you also get separate users manuals from many of the components in the RV.
Why aren't the owners manuals better
Here is my theory on why the owners manuals aren't better. I believe it is a list of items, so I'll list these in bullets.
- RV manufacturers are very small. They simply cannot afford to hire full time writers. Even if they did have a full-time writer, there is no way that single person could ever ever pull off anything like an automotive users manual.
- An RV manufacturer is more like a home builder than a car manufacturer. This statement is really more about the industry and the industry mind-set than anything. If you really, really dig in and observe the RV industry, I hope you'll agree with me. They deploy sticks and bricks (not bricks really – too heavy) home building techniques to the construction of an RV. It is more of a home on wheels than anything. This is less true with a Class A since the entire Class A was constructed as a vehicle – but the RV manufacturer is more of a conversion shop than a bus builder.
- Thinking about your home – did you ever really get a users manual for your house. I certainly never have. So for me, that sort of zooms in on why you don't get a users manual that is very nice for an RV.
- RV manufacturers don't make their own components. Car makers make theirs. Even if they don't make theirs, they certainly fully spec their components. This is why you get a bag of 3rd party manuals with an RV.
- RV manufacturers will swap out components in a heart-beat. They tend to get odd-brand electronics which have Chinese->English translated users manuals if they have them at all. This swapping out and “lightly documented” components makes it quite difficult for any writer to keep up with.
- So to conclude – a small industry with limited budget, focused on safety
Is there anything you can do about it?
- First you probably have to reset your expectation.
- Then there are excellent resources all over the world that explain things. I think many of them get way to complicated way too fast. I wrote a simple one that I think helps “level-set RV users – especially newbie users” without getting to complicated.
- Think of your RV as a house and not a vehicle.
- Come to love and appreciate your “bag of books“.
Here is a search on Amazon for RV owners manuals. Also RV52.com collects them and puts them over on the RV University pages.