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Warning: Use of this product may result in injury or death!

Back in the day, the prime directive of owners manuals was information: as in how you use the products. Nowadays, it's more about deflecting liability.

The warnings aren't exactly subtle. The very first page of nearly every manual threatens, in large type: "Caution. Risk of electrical shock" and "Heed all warnings."

These cautions are used without any sense of proportion or logic. For example, A/V receiver owners are advised: "To reduce the risk of fire or electric shock do not expose this appliance to snow, rain, dripping or moisture." So forget about poolside installation of your new 200 watt per channel receiver.

Steve Guttenberg

I liked this one, found on a single speaker surround system manual, "Do not touch hot spots during and immediately after use." I guess these warnings are used by the company's lawyers in cases of product liability, but do they work?

"Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I think we have proved beyond reasonable doubt that the plaintiff, Mr. Jones, willfully touched his Acme Z1000 speaker's hot spots, which unfortunately resulted in the loss of his pinky finger. The defense rests."

Here's one from an A/V receiver manual: "Use only with the cart, stand, tripod, bracket or table specified by the manufacturer, or sold with the apparatus. When a cart is used, use caution when moving the cart/apparatus to avoid injury from tip-over." Huh? So in other words, by placing your new receiver on unauthorized furniture, you're at some risk.

Then again, it doesn't say anything about dropping the 42-pound receiver on your foot when placing the receiver on a cart, stand, tripod, bracket, or table specified by the manufacturer. So there's a loophole. Let the lawsuits begin.

There's menace lurking everywhere. You'd be wise to have the bomb squad emergency numbers handy before picking up the remote control and remember the A/V receiver manufacturer's dire "Heed all warnings" credo. This is an exact quote: "Danger of explosion if battery is incorrectly replaced. Replace only with the same or equivalent battery type."

Another receiver manual suggests: "Do not expose the batteries (batteries installed) to excessive heat, such as sunshine, fire and the like." Or at least consider face protection or plastic guard of some type before touching the remote.

Blu-ray, DVD, and CD player manuals sometimes offer this advisory "Invisible laser radiation when open. AVOID DIRECT EXPOSURE TO THE BEAM." Can you say "death ray"? Sounds like a job for the MythBusters!

I noticed a new one of late, the "Listening Caution." It recommends: "Once you've established a comfortable sound level, leave it there." Or else. Raising or lowering the volume may result in, well, I'm not sure you want to find out. You've been warned.

I wouldn't mind these warnings so much if the manuals also provided information about the actual product, but manuals text is too often patched together from other manuals. Cut and pasted bits that aren't relevant to the product just serve to confuse the buyer.

At the end of the day, it feels like the manufacturers don't really give a hoot. They've already got your money. So now they just need to cover their legal backsides.

Have you read any good manuals lately?