The odds are you’ve lost some instruction manuals over the years. Maybe they’re lying in a drawer somewhere or long ago ended up in a recycling bin. Fortunately, you don’t need to send in for a replacement—many of those manuals are available online. You just have to find them.
Device manufacturers often release manuals through their websites—sometimes readable online, sometimes downloadable as a PDF. You’ll even find manuals for lots of older devices. Sure, you probably won’t find the instructions for your old cathode ray TV from the 70s, but the manuals for a lot of stuff from the early-2000s are out there. For example, I was able to find the instruction booklet for the Game Boy Advance which came out in 2001.
The biggest issue you’ll face is simply tracking down the right instructions. They often get buried deep in the bowels of company websites. For manufacturers who just make a few devices—like Nintendo—the process is straightforward enough. For manufacturers that produce hundreds of different products, though, finding the right manual can be a monk-like exercise in patience.
Step One: Figure Out Exactly What You Own
The first step is to work out what device you actually have. That means you’ll need the brand name and model number at least. That’s easier for some devices than others. You probably know what model iPhone you have, but we’re guessing you can barely remember who made your fridge, let alone what model it is.
First, just check out the device itself. If the brand and model number are not written clearly on the outside, check for any hidden stickers or labels on the back, underside, or even inside the device. On many fridges, washers, and dryers, for example, you can find the model number on a sticker inside the door.
If you bought it from Amazon or another similar site, you can try going back through your order history to see what you actually bought. If you bought it from a brick and mortar store, they may even have records of the purchase—especially if it was a big ticket item like a fridge.
If all else fails, you can try a web search using the brand name and some descriptive words—something like “Samsung large silver fridge”. You might have to dig deep into the search results, but you should hopefully be able to find out what you own by comparing the images from Google to the device in your home.
Step Two: Search For the Right Manual
Once you know what you device actually own, you can start looking for the manual online. Most of the time, the easiest place to find instruction manuals is from the manufacturer’s website. Visit their site, go to any “Support” or “Customer Care” sections, and see if there’s an option somewhere for downloading manuals. You can also try searching the support center or chatting with a customer representative if you’re able.
If the instruction manuals section isn’t immediately apparent on the website, it’s time to turn to a web search. Search engines will do a lot better job of combing through the depths of of a manufacturer’s site than you.
The first option is to just search “[Device Name] Instruction Manual”. If you’re lucky, it will pop up either on the official site or through some fan site.
If that doesn’t work or you get too many results, you can try directing Google to only return results from the manufacturer’s website—one of the many search skills you should be taking advantage of. To do that, enter “site:[manufacturerswebsite.com] [Device Name] Instruction Manual”.
As long as the manual is online, available to Google, and you’re spelling everything right, this should get you the manual you’re looking for. If that doesn’t work, there are also services out there that do nothing but collect manuals and make them available for download. Our favorite is manualslib.com, which boasts more than two million manuals available.
And if you can’t find the right manual using any of these techniques, it’s possible that the manual just isn’t available online. Your best option in that case is to contact the company’s customer service department and ask for their help.
The days of the paper manual are over. Many devices, like the iPhone, don’t even ship with manuals anymore. While this is definitely an improvement, no one has ever claimed corporate websites are well designed. There’s a little skill involved in tracking down an instruction manual!