by Mark Taylor
For many, the act of vehicle maintenance and modification amounts to arriving at a service station, handing over the keys, and waiting while men and women in grease stained uniforms poke and prod, drain and pour, wrench and torque. For as much as the owners know, they are witnessing the incantations of wizards and witches. “You have carbon deposits on your spark plugs” and “Do you prefer synthetic or regular oil” make less sense than “wingardium leviosa.” That last one is from Harry Potter by the way. The increased complexity of motor vehicles, in conjunction with a plurality of other distractions, leads many auto users to avoid attempting to understand the inner workings of the very thing they rely on daily. Such knowledge, as far as they are concerned, is only possessed by those with special skills gained through an apprenticeship or a dedicated education at a special institution. Only disaster awaits one who dares to seek said knowledge without an invitation. Or perhaps these motor unenthusiasts just don’t appreciate how truly therapeutic it is to scrub motor oil off one’s hands.
Whatever their reasons, such users maintain a division between the world of the expert and the world of the amateur. Such division is not, however, nearly as strong as it may appear. The rise of the information age provides a multitude of ways for people of varying levels of expertise to share their knowledge with others. Online Wikis, message boards, and DIY (do it yourself) websites all allow those with little information to learn from those with abundant information and for the amateur to approach the level of an expert. Much of this blurring of the line between expert and amateur stems from the ability of “how to” guides to decipher the genre of the service manual. Such guides appropriate the genre of the service manual, translating the runes of the wizardry tome so the amateur understands the magic.
Much of the mystery surrounding the service manual is due to its exclusive nature. New cars and motorcycles come with owner’s manuals, but service manuals are only given to dealerships or purchased by service stations and individual owners. The average vehicle user never comes in contact with such a book without luck or intent. Such a lack of inclusion reinforces the notion that the manuals contain information beyond the grasp of the uninitiated. This division is reinforced by much of the language present in the manuals, “Should be serviced by an [sic] your dealer, unless the owner has proper tools and service data and is mechanically qualified” (Honda 2003-2005 3-4). Should someone outside of the specialized field of vehicle maintenance dare to peek inside the secret book, they are greeted with a commandment reinforcing the societal assumption to see an expert unless they happen to be one absent any indication of what a “mechanically qualified” person is.
If the brave amateur presses on, they are then provided a hefty amount of diagrams, data charts, and visuals to navigate (Figures 1 and 2). Many of these images, and the instructions listed with them, assume a basic level of knowledge that the amateur may or may not have. The names of parts are listed, and the instructions about how to interact with them are clearly given, “Rotate the crankshaft clockwise and align the ‘FT’ mark on the primary drive gear with the index mark on the right crankcase cover” (Honda 2003-2005 3-4). However, the tools needed to perform such an action and a description of how to use said tools are not provided. Clearly, the exclusive nature of the service manual is reinforced by its assumed audience.
Despite these impediments, not all of the aspects associated with the service manual genre are unfriendly to the amateur. As stated above, the manuals make use of a large number of images and data tables. While the data tables may be too dense for some, the images are often simple enough to allow universal understanding. In figure 3, the parts associated with the instructions are circled in white and black and are labeled using arrows and black text contrasting with a white box, thus providing both the expert and the amateur audience a simple bit of labeling to go along with the command “Remove the six socket bolts and the timing hole cap cover” (Honda 2003-2005 3-8). When photo images do not provide enough detail, diagram drawings are used in a similar way (Figure 4). The images are also placed in chronological order, coinciding with the step-by-step instructions. The only likely issues one could raise with the images are their size, often no larger than 2×3, their lack of color, and their being zoomed in, which can make finding the observed location difficult when one is looking at the unit as a whole.
(See C. Justin Hall and Zachary Allen’s essay “Olympic Pictograms” for more about the use of images and drawings to achieve universal understanding).
Much of the simplicity found in the manual images is the result of what Edward R. Tufte describes as “just noticeable differences,” meaning “visual elements that make a clear difference but no more – contrasts that are definite, effective, and minimal” (73). The arrows and white boxes provided in the images (Figure 3) are immediately noticeable by their contrast to the image, but they are also limited in number. The diagrams that are substituted for photo images also include text and arrows set apart from the focal point of the image, and the parts being described make use of slightly bolder lines in order to make them noticeable without being distracting (Figure 4). The minimalism of the images is also facilitated by a system of chronological ordering. Time oriented ordering makes use of spatial parallelism, which “takes advantage of our notable capacity to compare and reason about multiple images that appear simultaneously within our eyespan” (Tufte 80). Presenting images in a before and after pattern employs the natural ability to detect causality, adding clarity to the instructions stated in the manual without needing to crowd a single image with a disproportionate amount of graphics.
This ease of use explains why manuals have changed so little in twenty years; the little they have changed is largely due to advances in computer technology. Although the example manual used here (figure 5) is for a different motorcycle, the instructions in the 1984 manual are very similar to the 2004 manual, “Remove the right crankshaft cover” (Honda Shop Manual 6-4). The labeling matches the later manual, and chronological ordering is the method of choice. The only major differences are the lack of highlighting circles and the clarity of the image, both items that have been improved with the increased use of computer graphics and high quality cameras.
Easy to understand diagrams and images aside, the focus on the assumed audience of expert mechanics still leaves amateurs with a book full of half references. Returning to the fantasy analogy, a book full of spells and incantations but with no indication of how to use a wand. It is this deficiency of direction that is most directly corrected by the genre of “how to” videos on sites such as YouTube. Static images in books can suggest motion through text or image modifications; Tufte’s discussion of books that attempt to instruct readers on the performance of card tricks is a great example of this (55-63; Figure 6). However, such modifications take space. While service manuals do show movement in ways similar to Tufte’s examples for some applications (Figure 7), they simply do not have the pages to dedicate towards standard tool use. Videos do have similar constraints, as those that show tool use are longer than those that edit out the turning of a wrench. But videos also tend to be centered on more specific subject matter than the all-encompassing service manual. Such specificity means that time allowances for tool demonstration are common (Zep Rider 7:30). Time for purchasing advice is not uncommon as well, “This is the off brand version. It was twenty bucks on eBay” (KevinKaysBikes 0:26).
It does bear noting that there is a wide amount of variety in the styles that encompass the “how to” genre of videos, and every video creator makes their own assumptions about the audience. Not all of the videos studied include narrated discussion of tool use for every instance in which a wrench or screwdriver is applied, but the use of the tool is still recorded, allowing the amateur to witness its application. For example, Zep Rider provides only a few side comments on the use of both his socket wrench and torque wrench. However, through careful observation, an amateur could walk away with a fundamental understanding of the use of both tools. Much of this is made possible because of motion’s ability to create an “orienting response” (Ware 36). Often used as a way to grab attention on web pages or highway signs, motion provokes the eye, pulling the viewer’s attention. Having a single source of movement, a tool being used, in a scene that is completely still, a well-focused and motionless camera, creates a situation in which the audience is compelled to witness and notice an act. The master wizard may not explain the twist of the wrist, but the apprentice still learns by observing it.
Also bearing mention is the variety of ways in which the “how to” video genre makes us of the service manual. Many “how to” videos either begin with a disclaimer to consult one’s manual or include such a statement in the video information section, “Always follow the instructions in your repair manual when doing repair or maintenance work on a motorcycle” (Smallengineshop). Such statements are intended to protect the video creator from legal liability. Also, manual descriptions using arrow graphics are often replaced by the very tool employed for ages to “[enable] the audience to connect the visual and verbal information into a visual working memory nexus” (Ware 169). The finger (smallengineshop 2:09). In addition, the videos make use of the manual as a short cut “So I assume you can follow the manual and take off the tank” and a specific information guide “I recommend using your toaster manual [motorcycle manual]” (KevinKaysBikes 1:05; Zep Rider 5:59). Zep Rider goes so far as to hold the manual near the camera, allowing the viewer to read the specific valve clearance numbers (6:58). In principle, these “how to” videos provide much of the context missing on the pages of the service manual. However, both the recursive nature of context and legal requirements bind the videos to the manual in some way. This bondage creates a rhetorical situation in which the expert in the video passes an initiation rite to the amateur audience. No longer is the audience told to visit an expert; now they are told to act like an expert, to use the expert’s book. The wizard master invites the apprentice to use the wizardry tome.
Much of this inclusive nature is encouraged by the nonprofessional tone of the video. While many of the creators may be considered experts in their mechanical fields, they are not experts in the field of video creation. Instead of denying this fact, some creators like Zep Rider embrace it. At the end of his video, Zep Rider includes an outtake section in which he repeatedly stumbles over his words (19:40). Even the creators that do not in some way admit a lack of video creating expertise still show such a lack. Smallengineshop attempts to make up for poor lighting by using a flashlight, creating a glare (2:29). In another example, he blocks the camera angle with his hand, effectively ruining the shot (5:00). Despite the obvious counterproductive nature of such video capturing errors, the lack of professionalism opens up the mechanical arena. The apprentice sees the master as fallible, as human.
For those less inclined to watch a video, websites, blogs, and web forums are also common locations of “how to” guides. Because of their reliance on still photos, these guides can be understood as a halfway point between the service manual and the “how to” video. Like the manual, they must rely on descriptions and altered photos to explain an action. To accomplish such a task, these sites often make use of multiple images in chronological order (Fireblader Figure 8). They also often create their own graphical elements to go along with the photos (Pitfield Figure 9). It is not uncommon for these guides to even make use of the manual’s images instead of generating originals (Dreamzboy Figure 10).
Unlike the manual, these “how to” guide pages share the inclusive nature of “how to” videos. The audience is not commanded to see an expert; instead, they are commanded to consult their manual, “The information on this page is not a substitute for instructions in the Honda Service Manual” (Pitfield). They are also often provided a list of tools that will be required and even shopping advice, “I got a Motion Pro universal tappet tool set from Cycle Gear for about $45” (Pitfield). Finally, the detached tone of the manual is replaced with a personal one, how personal depends on the author. Strict 2nd person imperatives are sometimes replaced with 1st person accounts of failures, “I didn’t label mine because it was my first time doing valve adjustment and [sic] lacking experience” (Dreamzboy). In each case, the amateur is welcomed as a compatriot instead of an imposter; the arcane master treats the apprentice as an equal who simply has yet to cast the spell instead of one lacking the skill to do so.
The observations here are based on a small sample size of manuals, videos, and websites and are therefore tentative. It is entirely possible that a wider study could find a plurality of variances; the immense nature of the internet makes finding both concurrence and conflict effortless. A note about experience is also required. The suggested move from amateur toward expert presented here is not meant to suggest that a few hours of studying videos and websites will allow one to be an expert. Let not the fantasy analogy confuse the issue; there is no magical spell of expertise. To the contrary, expertise and experience are bound together; expertise is gained through experience and experience denotes expertise. After all, it is experience that teaches one to deal with the odd situation not explained in manuals or instructional videos. This study merely suggests that the line between the two is being blurred by increased availability of non-professionally made “how to” guides. The knowledge of the expert, the one with the experience, is now being offered to the amateur. With said knowledge, the amateur has the ability to gain their own experience, moving them towards being an expert. The line between expertise and amateur no longer divides to one side the dealership garage and to the other the home garage. The secrets of magic are no longer held by only those inside the school walls. The enthusiast at home is encouraged to cast his own spell.
Dreamzboy. “How to Adjust Valve Clearance.” 600rr.net. Jelsoft Enterprises, 4 Aug. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.
Honda 2003-2005 VTX1300S/R/C Service Manual. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 2004. Print.
Honda Shop Manual CB700SC Nighthawk S ’84-’85. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 1984. Print.
KevinKaysBikes. “Valve Measurement and Adjustment 1981 Honda CB900C.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 5 Mar. 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Pitfield, David. “Honda CRF230 Valve Clearance Adjustment.” Codewins.com. N.p., Nov. 2005. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Smallengineshop “Motorcycle Repair: How to Adjust the Valves or Valve Lash on a 1985 Honda XR600.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 29 May 2011. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
Tufte, Edward R. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire: Graphics Press, 1997. Print.
“Valve Clearance Inspection – CBF 1000A DIY.” Fireblader.dk. FireBladerDk, 24 Apr. 2011. Web. 21 Apr. 2014.
Ware, Colin. Visual Thinking for Design. Amsterdam: Morgan Kaufmann, 2008. Print.
Zep Rider. “Honda Rebel 250 – Valve Adjustment.” Online video clip. YouTube. YouTube, 20 May 2012. Web. 18 Apr. 2014.
1. Honda 2003-2005 VTX1300S/R/C Service Manual. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 2004. Print.
2. Honda 2003-2005 VTX1300S/R/C Service Manual. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 2004. Print.
3. Honda 2003-2005 VTX1300S/R/C Service Manual. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 2004. Print.
4. Honda 2003-2005 VTX1300S/R/C Service Manual. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 2004. Print.
5. Honda Shop Manual CB700SC Nighthawk S ’84-’85. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 1984. Print.
6. Tufte, Edward R. Visual Explanations: Images and Quantities, Evidence and Narrative. Cheshire: Graphics Press, 1997. Print.
7. Honda 2003-2005 VTX1300S/R/C Service Manual. N.p.: Honda Motor Co., 2004. Print.
1. Zep Rider http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qZxB7sUG_O4
2. KevinKaysBikes http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=elKilUuKM8U
3. smallengineshop http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Srv3y7kllpM