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two overlapping wrenches, representing the importance of service manuals in a variety of industries

What Is a Service Manual?

A service manual is a resource provided by a manufacturer explaining how to use, maintain, troubleshoot, and repair a product. Traditionally, they were hardcopy reference books, but manufacturers today often make them available online. To the layperson, a service manual, user manual, and repair manual sound more or less interchangeable. Sometimes, they are — a service manual and a repair manual may refer to the same thing. However, a user manual or owner’s manual usually refers to a simpler guide for the consumer. You might recognize them as the short pamphlets that come with the packaging of a purchased product. They contain basic tutorials, diagrams, safety tips, etc. A service manual, meanwhile, is an exhaustive guide primarily used for maintenance and repairs. They usually require some background knowledge to understand, and for that reason are most often used by technicians. However, the best service manuals are written clearly, and accessible to all, even those who do not have an extensive mechanical or repair background.

Why Are Service Manuals Important?

No one wants to have a product that doesn’t work. And when you are dealing with a malfunctioning product, the last thing you want to do is cough up the money for a professional repair. These manuals are fail-safes, opportunities to DIY your way out of an expensive problem. A service manual will contain detailed descriptions and instructions about every part of your product, be it a laptop, refrigerator, or pick-up truck. You can use your manual to determine the cause of your malfunction, what the potential fix would be, and decide if you have the skills, tools, and understanding to fix it yourself. Not all malfunctions are created equal, however, so you may have to turn to a technician. Expert technicians benefit from service manuals, too. Professionals don’t know everything about every product in their field, but they will know how to use a manual to supplement their experience and industry knowledge in order to fix your product. If you are set against spending money on a technician, you might also use your manual for preventative care and maintenance. Another — perhaps under-acknowledged — user of the service manual is the hobbyist. Do you like to tinker? Do you have an old, unusable car taking up garage space? The service manual is the first tool you need to get things back up and running.

What Industries Provide Service Manuals?

Service manuals are most commonly found in the automotive, home appliance, and computer manufacturing industries. Manuals are either provided for free with the product by the manufacturers themselves or sold separately by third parties. Manuals are vital in establishing trust between a manufacturer and a consumer. When purchasing expensive and technologically complex items like cars or appliances, it’s customary to reassure customers with insurance, warranties, and payment plans. A service manual is just another way to put trust and power into the consumer’s hands. The more capable consumers feel in handling your product, the more satisfied they will be.

Vehicle Service Manual

Automobile manufacturers often provide a comprehensive manual with the purchase of your car, truck, or van or host the manual on their website for easy access. Some manuals can only be sourced from third-party sellers. Each manual is written for a specific vehicle model. Vehicle manuals are not just tools to save costs on repairs and maintenance, but are also a key to your safety as a driver. Unfortunately, many of these manuals end up banished to glove compartments, never to see the light of day. Vehicle manuals can be used to diagnose or fix major issues like motor, brake, alternator, and timing belt malfunctions. They also come in handy in lower-stakes situations like headlight replacements, oil changes, and fluid filling. For more information, try browsing Haynes Manuals AllAccess, their archive of free vehicle service manuals and tutorials. They offer guides to changing air filters, battery replacements, spark plug replacements, and much more.

Appliance Service Manual

In major U.S. cities, you can sometimes get by without a functioning car. However, unlike cars, which have a replacement in public transportation systems, home appliances are an essential creature comfort. A stove, fridge, heat, and running water are bare necessities. For that reason, it is even more important to regularly maintain and, if necessary, repair home appliances. A well-maintained home appliance will have an extended lifespan and, contrary to popular belief, may even save you money in the long run. According to CS Appliance Service, a broken appliance uses up to three times the electricity, which can cause a sudden spike in your bills. So if your freezer door doesn’t close properly, your refrigerator is leaking, or your dryer vent is clogged, don’t hesitate to pull out a manual. Appliance service manuals differ drastically, depending on what appliance they are written for. The most common home appliances are refrigerators, washers, dryers, dishwashers, stoves, air conditioners, central heating and cooling systems, microwaves, and vacuum cleaners. To get more specific, let’s use an LG refrigerator manual as an example. It has several fridge-specific elements, like descriptions of the refrigeration cycle and refrigerator anatomy. LG’s washing machine manual, meanwhile, delves into button functions, pre-washing procedures, and test running without water. These sections are, of course, only relevant to washing machines. Both manuals have overlapping sections common to any appliance manual. They include:

  • Safety Precautions: Most appliances use electricity, so manuals may advise users to disconnect from a power source and/or to seek a technician.
  • Specifications: All manuals should include the product’s model name, product measurements, product features, and other relevant classification information.
  • Parts Description: Parts, again, differ between products, but describing them is essential. Users can make sure they aren’t missing anything and learn what each part does through this section.
  • Assembly and Disassembly: To repair a product, you need to take it apart and put it back together safely. This section guides users through how to do just that.
  • Troubleshooting: Many manuals use flowcharts to map out troubleshooting options. Another common option is providing a Frequently Asked Questions, or FAQs, section.
  • Exploded View Diagrams: Exploded view diagrams are labeled, comprehensive diagrams of how all the parts of a product fit into each other.

Computer Service Manual

Service manuals are available for laptops, desktops, phones, tablets, etc. In addition to explaining product features, they tackle common technological issues like malware prevention and removal, as well as device speed. As architects of the internet age, companies like Dell have organized their manuals into slick, navigable online resources. Instead of throwing the consumer into an archive of manuals, they lead you to a page for your device model organized into sections: “Top Solutions,” “Manuals and Documents,” “Regulatory Information,” and “Videos.” In the first section,  “Top Solutions,” the reader with a common issue can avoid sifting through a long manual and get quick solutions. For an Inspiron 13 5310, for example, this section includes troubleshooting for touchpad functions, booting up, and battery health. If the reader’s problem is not addressed in “Top Solutions,” they can proceed to the full service manual. Like other manuals, the Inspiron manual section includes safety precautions, specifications, and assembly and disassembly. It also includes computer-specific information like how to enter Service Mode, which disconnects the computer from electricity before opening it up for repairs. If users want extra resources, they can access video tutorials and explore the regulations that the product is beholden to.

In Summary

Product breakdown is inevitable, and emergencies happen. In those situations, a service manual is your best friend. If the issue is minor, you can probably use a manual to solve it on your own. If the problem is major, and you happen to have some technician knowledge, you still might be able to use a manual to solve it on your own. At the very least, the manual will help you determine how severe the problem is and what the best next steps to take are. Service manuals are often provided for free with the purchase of a product or available for free online. If you are considering writing a service manual for your product, understand that you are distilling highly technical information into reasonably digestible text. Consult subject matter experts and technical writers so that your consumers have the best resources available to them. Whether you need a single technical writer for a brief project or a team of consultants to produce a complete line of documentation, the quality of our work is guaranteed for you. Our clients work closely with an Engagement Manager from one of our 30 local offices for the entire length of your project at no additional cost. Contact us at (800) 221-0093 or to get started.