Weird and Worrisome Car Wash Stories

Published September 22, 2015

First, no judgements here. Some people have to take their cars to the car wash for one reason or another. Here are some weird stories of what happens next.

Back in the day, you pulled up to the car wash, selected which wash package you wanted (as well as the interior scent), handed the key to the attendant, and waited for your car on the other end.

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But now the proliferation of security features on cars and truck has created a unique set of unintended consequences. An industry that just a few years ago had only to worry about snapping off your antennae now has to deal  with push-button ignitions, keyless entry systems, complicated transmissions, active safety systems and other anti-theft components.

The problems car wash operators face now can be categorized into five separate groups:  1. Cars that automatically lock when the key fob leaves the vehicle 2. Cars that lock when the exterior keypad buttons are pressed too many times 3. Cars that shift into park when the engine is shut off or a door is opened 4. Pre-collision systems engaging the brakes when faced with a wall of soapy brushes, and 5. Water getting into places on the car that it shouldn’t.

Sometimes, it’s a very straightforward problem. For example, the doors of the Chevy Cruze lock as car rolls forward in car wash with keys in the ignition. If the owner or attendant doesn’t ride along, the owner better have a spare key.

Introduced in 2012 Chrysler installs eight-speed transmissions in  the 300 and Dodge Charger. The security system won’t allow the car to be turned-off unless the transmission is set to Park., so like the Cruze, someone has to ride along in the car.


To make matters worse, in an effort to reduce water usage, many car wash facilities utilize high pressure water (rather than high volumes of water). In the Chrysler 300 high pressure water shot up from under the car water leak into the transmission from the dipstick tube, causing fluid contamination and a shudder during light acceleration (which could require some expensive service to repair).

Toyota is having a different set of problems with its Toyota and Lexus vehicle equiped with a pre-collision avoidance systems. As a pre-collision equipped Toyota or Lexus  is rolling through the was and encounters the brushes or clothes or cloth it can slam on the brakes because it thinks the car wash equipment is another car. The car may jump off the track and potentially cause an in-car wash collision (image reporting that one to your insurance company: “Who was driving your car and who was driving the vehicle your car hit?”


Ford and Lincoln vehicles have their own problems with their Securicode keypads. While the keypad were once actual buttons, most now are located on the B-pillar, are touch-sensitive, and invisible until pressed.

What happens is that the brushes and clothes are rubbing up against the key pads, and the car registers the input as attempts to unlock the car. After a few random codes, the doors lock up. The only way back into the car is if the customer took the key fob with him/her or they know their code (or at least have written it down).


Some car manufacturers are developing Car Wash Modes (like BMW, which allows some models to roll with the engine off). Another is Range Rover although the process could be streamlined a bit:

  • Hold the “power” button for approximately 3 seconds to turn the vehicle off.
  • Shift the vehicle to a neutral position. Note: the emergency brake will turn on automatically.
  • Remove foot from brake pedal and then press “power” button for approximately 1 second.
  • With foot on brake pedal, press the emergency brake release located in the center console.

The car wash industry is asking the OEMs to adopt an industry-wide car wash mode for new cars and trucks. Their wishes include a system that disengages the pre-collision systems, folds in power mirrors, turns off auto wipers, allow the transmission to e set to neutral with the engine switched off.  While the car wash operators don’t have enough of a voice to challenge the OEMs, certainly as consumers run into more and more of these problems, their complaints and future buying decisions will.






Chris Riley
About Chris Riley

I have been wrecking cars for as long as I've been driving them but I keep coming back for more. Two wheels or four, I'm all in. gives me a chance to give something back to the automobile community.

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