Automotive Analytics – Do People Consult Owners Manuals Prior to Buying? | Part 1

Automotive Analytics Part 1

 Do People Look for the Owners Manual Before Buying?

Article written on October 31st, 2013

Throughout my time running this site I’ve received an occasional email from visitors asking for owners manuals that I never thought I would need. No, I’m not talking about old, outdated, +30 year old manuals for classic cars (although I do get these). I’m talking about owners manuals for new cars. Here’s an example email I received:

Hey do you have the owners manual for a 2013 Ford Focus? I was considering leasing one and would like to go over the manual before I go ahead with the purchase.

Hmmm I thought. That’s kinda strange. Never would I have imagined that anyone would need an owners manual for a new car. My initial thought process was that people needed owners manuals for used cars because they often end up missing. So when I built this site I was reluctant to “waste” my time gathering 2013 year manuals and often excluded them from my download list. That is, until I started receiving more and more emails asking for the 2013 and 2014 year manuals! Quite often automotive manufacturers themselves don’t even bother uploading the 2013/2014 year manuals (Hyundai is a perfect example of this). So in order to determine if the demand for owners manuals for new cars was an anomaly or statistically significant I delved into my Google Analytics and WordPress downloads manager accounts. My hypothesis:

Data analyzed from organic search terms in Google Analytics and downloads tracked from my download manager supports a trend of consumers who refer to the owners manuals from new cars to assist in their buying decision.

A few words on my website

•JGMTDM is a large database with over 3,000 owners manuals available for download
•JGMTDM transfers over 1.2 terabytes of data a month
•Went live on April 20th, 2013, totaling 554,866 visits since the writing of this post (October 31st, 2013)
•Averages over 175,000 visits a month (75% via organic search)
•I initially never bothered putting up 2013 model year owners manuals because I thought that nobody would need them. Hence, a lot of the newest car manuals I have only go up to 2012.
•I started receiving comments and emails from people asking for the 2013 manuals because they stated they liked reading them before purchasing

 

Traffic breakdown:
 

 

About data collected

•Data analyzed from 7 of my top performing makes (Ford, Chevy, Honda, Toyota, Acura, Subaru, and Hyundai)
•Data for each make is separated by model, year, and how many downloads my download manager has tracked
•Furthermore I am including organic search data from Google Analytics organized by year and search queries for each year
•Data collected from April 20th to September 29th (162 days or 5 months and 9 days)

 

About my Google Analytics data
•369,068 organic search keywords logged
•180,636 were “(not provided)”, which is Google’s way of protecting users privacy when logged into a Google product. Therefore (not provided) holds no keyword data.
•After filtering out (not provided) I scanned each keyword containing a year which returned 137,804 organic keyword results to drill down into.

 

In Google Analytics I created an advanced segment that captured organic keyword searches that brought visitors to my site. I separated each keyword by year. So you’ll see that any organic keyword that had “1990” in it brought me 401 visitors from organic search engines.

 

 

You can see from the table above that nearly 7% of all my organic search traffic specifically input the keyword “2012” or “2013”. I have no 2014 year manuals on my site but they still received 32 visits. Now this shouldn’t be mind blowing to the average car buyer, but for anyone working in marketing for the automotive industry would see some interesting numbers never seen before. They may be asking themselves “Why on earth would anyone need a 2013 owners manual? The car is brand new! They come with an owners manual!”

The questions I keep asking myself is are these people downloading 2012/2013 year manuals because they want an easily searchable PDF file or are they doing some serious research before making a buying decision?

From the emails I have received I believe it is a mix of the two aforementioned reasons. If you’re a manufacturer like Hyundai it would behoove you to start including late model owners manuals on your website, people are looking for them. If you’re employed in any marketing capacity in the automotive industry I would suggest making these manuals as easy to get to as possible. Car buyers are no doubt looking for them and you have a golden opportunity to influence some major buying decisions. The graph below is a better visual representation of the table above; better showing which years car owners are searching for:

 

Top downloads tracked from the download manager

File # of Downloads
2012 Acura MDX 4,763
2012 Volvo S60 2,439
2011 Volvo S40 1,819
2013 Hyundai Elantra 1,763
2013 Hyundai Sonata 1,741
2011 Hyundai Sonata 1,318
2012 Ford Focus 1,251
1998 Volvo S70-V70 1,250
2001 Volvo V70 1,221
2005 Chevrolet Silverado 1,132

The table above represents my top 10 most downloaded files on my website taken directly from my download manager. Pretty interesting to see that 5 out of the 10 most downloaded files on my site are for 2012-2013 year models. What also stands out is many of the highest downloaded ’12/’13 manuals are for SUV’s and crossovers. Many models even have a high correlation between units sold and owners manuals downloaded which we will explore in the next installment.

Closing thoughts

Ford  is a great example of a company making their manuals easy to get to and constantly updating them. Nearly every manual for every year make and model from 1990 and newer is available for easy download on their MotorCraft website. They should be commended for helping out frustrated owners. GM is nearly as good but they require registration for access to these manuals, an unnecessary barrier for a free service in my opinion. Dodge-Chrysler-Jeep ranks 3rd on the list because they cut off all free downloads past 2008, which is pretty ridiculous. The worst offenders are without a doubt the Japanese manufacturers. Honda, Toyota, and Subaru all require registration on some obscure technical info website and worse yet they split their manuals up into pieces so you can’t download the whole thing. Honda, by far, is the worse example of this, and their manuals are usually split up into 100-125 pieces FOR ONE MANUAL. Mitsubishi on the other hand has absolutely no owners manuals available for download, instead they link you directly to a paid distributor of these manuals. This is a serious inconvenience to all Mitsubishi car owners and it boggles my mind why any automotive company would refuse to provide this resource. And Mitsubishi wonders why they are performing so poorly in the North American market… All in all, unless I start polling visitors I will never know various reasons why people are looking for a manual online. As stated in my hypothesis I do believe that there exists a small segment of car buyers who will refer to an owners manual before buying a new car. But what if there exists another segment of people who refer to their owners manual prior to buying a USED car? Obviously that’s impossible to extrapolate from the given data above but it is certainly interesting. Digital marketers might have some new questions to ask after reading this. So, if you’ve read this far I’m asking you:

  1. Why are you looking for a digital file for your owners manual? Is your car missing one or do you want an easily searchable PDF file?
  2. Have you ever read parts of the owners manual before deciding to buy a new or used car?
  3. Any other thoughts or comments you might have on this topic.

 

Next installment In part 2 of Automotive Analytics I’ll delve deeper into a few standout models that really made me scratch my head. In particular the Ford Focus has some pretty interesting charts I’ll look into.

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