Back to basics

Halfords Essential Guide uses simple design and instructions to unravel the mysteries of the car for the non-mechanically minded.

Things might never be the same in suburban driveways again. A whole generation of drivers, frightened of servicing their own cars by the complexity of anything out of reach of the drivers seat, now have no excuse not to get their hands dirty.

High street retail chain Halfords has introduced a range of car service manuals. They tackle common, but relatively easy, jobs for the inexperienced home mechanic, and use the technical skill of specialist publisher Haynes, which has produced full service guides for almost every popular car made since 1066.

Nothing revolutionary in the Halfords version then… unless you’ve ever tried to read a genuine Haynes manual. While the accuracy and mechanical acumen of these hefty books was never in doubt, they are almost impossible to understand without a significant engineering qualification. For the driver who is content to use a car without really understanding how it works, they are over-complicated to say the least.

Halford’s version could never be accused of that. Starting with unambitious projects such as How to Open The Bonnet, it progresses via External Cleaning to changing spark plugs.

“Our research showed that 3 per cent of drivers don’t know how to open the bonnet,” says Halfords marketing controller Chris Smith. His department recognised a gap in the market for manuals for everyday drivers hoping to save on large servicing bills for minor tasks. “The only manuals were the Haynes manuals. They are excellent, but they are for mechanics.” And, he adds, manufacturers’ manuals are often missing by the time cars reach the second-hand market.

Haynes provided the technical and publishing expertise, and Halfords drafted in a team of freelance graphic designers, which it declined to name, to create the manuals. Clarity and ease of use were uppermost in the brief.

All the photographs are clear and in colour. Labelling is to-the-point and unambiguous, and there are danger warnings pointing out which parts of the car will be hot. A tough ring-binder holds pages which can be detached and fastened by a magnet to the car in a wipe-clean plastic pouch, allowing hands-free reading. Mechanical jargon has been avoided.

The attention to detail has already paid off in some quarters. The hard-to-please Plain English Campaign has given its blessing to the straight talking approach. And, if the market research carried out by Halfords is accurate, the manuals could, in motor dealing terms, be a nice little earner.

There are 16 000 fixed penalty fines for lighting offences in the UK each year. But 62 per cent of women surveyed were not confident enough to change a headlamp bulb or windscreen wiper blade. A quarter of all respondents never check oil or water levels and 71 per cent have never changed a battery. Over a quarter (and 50 per cent in the case of women drivers) never check their tyre pressures. Lack of confidence with scary machinery is seen as the principal reason.

A straw poll of drivers supports the research. When asked how often she checks her tyre pressures one replied: “Once a year. No, actually, never.” Another was curious as to why his car would need a battery when it runs on petrol.

One of the results of such market research must be to reassure those of us who use public transport that we are safer on the Tube than on the roads, where dangerous vehicles roam unchecked. It’s a miracle anybody gets to work in one piece.

Halfords Essential Guide manuals are available for the ten most popular makes of second hand car, priced 9.99. Further versions for other makes and models are planned.

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