March 18, 2010

The Vector Black and Decker Pecker Wrecker Et Cetera

I recently bought the Vector Start-It Jump-Start System (VEC012C) to have at work because there have been a record number of coworkers' car batteries dying this winter (mine included, although it was at Dunkin' Donuts on a day off). Everyone turns to me to assist with jump-starts, which I don't really have a problem with--it just gets time consuming. This device is quick and portable, so I don't have to worry when the car is head-on in a parking space in the garage and the adjacent spaces aren't vacant.

I don't know why I specifically picked out the Vector over other brands. Maybe it was the badass lightning bolt in its logo or its cryptic slogan, "The Freedom of Power." Maybe I knew Peter Graves was dying soon and it would be a constant reminder of his famous line from Airplane!, "What's our vector, Victor?" It wasn't the cheapest jumpstarter in the catalog, but I knew it would eventually pay for itself with a few uses.

And by the time it was delivered I was already itching to use it on one of the dead company cars. I tear open the box and dive into the instruction manual only to discover that it's sort of a confusing mess. The cover is fine. Page 1 is blank. Page 2 is the Table of Contents. Good so far.

Pages 3 and 4 contain Safety Information (coincidentally, not listed in the aforementioned Table of Contents). This section is split into 15 Warnings and 13 Cautions.  While I have argued in a previous rambling blog entry that no two words mean the same exact thing, I never really thought about the difference in those terms. Vector describes a Warning Statement as one that identifies "conditions or practices that may result in personal injury," while a Caution Statement identifies "conditions or practices that may result in damage to the vehicles, appliances and/or the Jump-Starter." Fascinating nuances, indeed, though I'm not convinced they are universal truths.  It doesn't help that the Caution section is immediately undermined by "IMPORTANT:" as if "CAUTION:" alone isn't enough.

Page 5 is the Introduction which expands on the bulleted "Key information you should know" found on the cover of the manual. The last paragraph describes the unit in a little more detail and refers to the figures in the photograph on Page 6.  Page 7 is some more bragging about the unit's Additional Features, but more importantly, we finally get into how to actually use the Vector as a jump-start system. But first... 10 more Warnings, many of which we've already seen, and two of which were previously in the Caution section on Page 4. They are clearly flip-flopping on the differences between Warnings and Cautions. More mixed signals pepper an additional Caution section as it is introduced with the statement "Recommendations for optimum performance..." and then again trumped by another bold term, "NOTE:" midway through the list. Distracting, but I press on.

We are now on the all-important Page 8 (pictured below), the instructions for the most vital feature is unfortunately where things get unnecessarily confusing. I'm outside with the Vector in front of a car with a dead battery. I have an 18-pound 450-amp device in my hands and the last thing I want is unclear directions on how to use it. I've jumped plenty of cars with cables in the past, but I've never used one of these standalone jumpers. I'd like to live long enough to get my money's worth. Let's take a look at what to do:

Before we get to Step 1, I'm already told to disconnect the black and then the red clamp. Huh? I haven't even connected anything yet! Are we talking about disconnecting the car battery itself? Or just unhooking the clamps from the jumpstarter? And why would I turn the key after I've disconnected everything? It's already understood that the car is dead and turning the key won't accomplish anything. And then a quick recap. A RECAP, BEFORE WE'VE EVEN GOTTEN TO STEP 1!?!

Let's just ignore this preamble and move on to what looks like the real instructions. Vehicle is off, accessories are off, Vector is off. Clamps are armed and ready. Here we go.

Step 4 and we're now at a real crossroads. I am to determine whether or not my vehicle is a Negative or Positive Grounded System. I wasn't expressly asked to do this, but it's strongly implied that if I don't know, I can't continue. In reality, that's simple enough to figure that out just by looking at the battery and following the cables around, but this is way too nonchalant for what should be a concise instruction manual designed for a layperson. How about this instead?
4.  Determine whether your vehicle is a Negative or Positive Grounded System. (Explanation of how to determine the difference). If Negative, move on to Step X, if Positive move on to Step Y.
This removes redundancy and confusion. Even a fucking flowchart would be better. Whatever. Step 6. Start Vehicle. Step 7. After vehicle starts...

Wait a minute, buddy. YOU NEVER TOLD ME TO TURN THE UNIT ON. The only person whose car would actually start by following Steps 1-7 would be someone whose car was in working order in the first place. And I'm not going to fuck around by guessing when to hit the power button. This is the point that I pick up the phone and call customer service to not just get the correct instruction, but to let them know that their manual blows. I follow the rep's verbal instructions, turn the key, and all is well. Black and Decker owns Vector now, by the way.

Looking back at the manual, I see that in Caution/Note #6 it says "Once the connections are properly made, turn the switch ON and you are ready to jump-start vehicle." This is far from being considered an oversight on my part. Any reasonable person would think that necessary jump-start instructions would be found nowhere else but in the Jump-Starting Instructions section. I think they just put Step 6 in the wrong place.

And that's not the only example of poor instruction chronology. Buried on Page 9 under IMPORTANT: they tell you that the units requires a full 48 hour initial charge. IF IT WAS SO FUCKING IMPORTANT, WHY DIDN'T YOU JUST TELL ME THAT BEFORE YOU TOLD ME HOW TO USE IT? Then in the section on AC Charging (Page 10), more conflicting information: "After initial 48 hour charge, charge this device for at least 14-16 hours or until the green FULL indicator lights." SO IS WHAT YOU'RE SAYING REALLY "CHARGE THE FUCKING THING FOR 62-64 HOURS BEFORE INITIAL USE OR WHAT?"

What is so hard about writing organized, clear instructions? Yes, the first unstated rule is always is "Read all instructions before use."  For the record, I did read through the whole manual and charged it for 3 days before trying it, but that's no excuse for them to be sloppy. If there's something I need to do before using the starter, then you tell me that before telling me what how to use it. I shouldn't have to wait for all to be revealed or call your customer service people and waste their time. It kills me because they over-explain how to attach a clamp--"Squeeze the handles and slide the clamp into position and release your grip"--but then completely forget to tell you to turn the machine on. This stuff really gets to me because it should just be common sense.

Ok, calming down now. Since I learned how to use the Xerox scanner, here's another poorly designed instruction manual. This one is for La Crosse Technology Radio Controlled Analog Clocks (WT4143) which I had to consult when none of our clocks updated themselves for Daylight Savings Time (but that's another story).

About halfway down the first column, did you catch the "Since the beginning of time, man has been fascinated with the measurement of time..."? So profound, yet so asinine.

Now give me a high-five because I finally uploaded my RPM album. It's a free download at

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