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The tripmeter on my car must not be reset when the vehicle is moving; otherwise it may break.

I am wondering what an appropriate warning label for this quirk of German engineering would read, in German.

Google Translate suggests the following equivalents of "Only reset when halted":

Nur zurücksetzen, wenn angehalten

or

Nur bei Stillstand zurücksetzen

So I am curious what the difference is, and if either of them needs adjustment to be idiomatic and/or grammatically correct.

The first one seems to me like "Only reset, after having come to a stop" and the second like "Only at a standstill reset". I tend towards the second if only because it's shorter. And it emphasizes "at a standstill" which seems good, to put the warning up front.

Another possible label would be a "forbidden" red circle and slash to negate "Reset while moving" (or driving). I suspect that it would not be phrased correctly if I asked Google Translate for the positive statement in order to negate it.

I am of course not looking for a conversational tone, but something brief and to the point, as if it were an official warning. I am assuming that using a word for "tripmeter" would be unnecessarily verbose.

I took German in school, a long time ago, and I have read Mark Twain's commentary on the language. In preparation for making this post, I read this page about word order: https://www.bbc.co.uk/bitesize/topics/zm3m47h/articles/zkkbhbk - indicating that Twain was inaccurate, but not really illuminating my questions.

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    Mark Twain's essay was more for humor than education. That said, allowing for the occasional hyperbole and the fact that he was writing about the German of 150 years ago, I don't think there's much that's really inaccurate. Twain eventually wrote his own translation of Struwwelpeter, which I think shows he took his study of German pretty seriously considering that for him it was just a hobby.
    – RDBury
    May 2, 2022 at 8:23

2 Answers 2

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You can say

Nur bei Fahrzeugstillstand zurücksetzen.

Personally I would prefer

Nicht während der Fahrt zurücksetzen.

This is not a literal translation, but it says that the tripmeter must not be reset when the vehicle is moving.

Update:

The German expression for "tripmeter" is "Kilometerzähler" or "Streckenzähler". The German translation of "to reset the tripmeter" is "den Kilometerzähler zurücksetzen". Sometimes on can also find the phrase "den Kilometerzähler zurückstellen".

In fact "zurücksetzen" can also mean to drive a car in reverse gear, but there is no danger of confusion because the word is used in the context of resetting a measuring device.

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    +1 although "Nicht während der Fahrt zurücksetzen." is the most German wording ever. Be clear, and always make it a Verbot if you can! :-)
    – HalvarF
    May 2, 2022 at 11:54
  • It's quite interesting that Google Translate isn't invertible - yesterday it suggested zurücksetzen for "reset", but today it suggests "reverse" for zurücksetzen. I assume it wouldn't be confused with putting the vehicle in reverse gear by a German speaker?
    – Jared S
    May 3, 2022 at 3:00
  • I like the compound words, although I'm not sure when they would be preferred and what message it would send.
    – Jared S
    May 3, 2022 at 3:02
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    "Nicht während der Fahrt zurücksetzen" indeed sounds very idiomatic German; the compound "Fahrzeugstillstand" reads a bit forced. For positive wordings, I like Tilman's "Stillstand des Fahrzeugs" better.
    – ojdo
    May 3, 2022 at 10:05
  • This also aligns well with the (arguably over-)use of nouns in official language. May 3, 2022 at 12:40
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The typical German instruction manual idiom would be:

Nur bei Stillstand des Fahrzeugs zurücksetzen.

Your first variant wenn angehalten would imply to a German reader that the tripmeter itself had somehow to be stopped, because the transitive participle angehalten requests an accusative object and the tripmeter, already present as the implied accusative object of zurücksetzen, imposes itself.

Your second variant isn't wrong, but instruction manuals tend to make things very clear, in this case stating explicitly that it is the vehicle which has to be motionless, so in practice the author will add the clarifying des Fahrzeugs even if it isn't strictly necessary.

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  • Well, the tripmeter itself does have to be stopped; that is the proximate cause of the issue, although stopping the car is the method of doing so. However, it probably would confuse a hypothetical generic driver. As far as adding clarifying words, I was aiming for more of a small label next to the button than an instruction manual blurb.
    – Jared S
    May 3, 2022 at 2:57
  • Well, pushing the reset pin while the vehicle is moving would indeed stop the tripmeter without stopping the car, breaking the device in the process. So I'd consider that distinction essential. As to the second point, I grant you that, although I've seen warning labels whose authors obviously didn't have such qualms. ;-) May 3, 2022 at 6:52

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