Ever Had Your Car Damaged In An Automated Car Wash?

I’m curious about people’s experiences with vehicle damage with automatic car washes. Full disclosure, I operate a pair of tunnel washes in the Midwest and damage claims are the bane of my existence.

I’d like to hear your experiences…what was damaged and how, how was it handled by the management/staff of the car wash, etc.

Fire away with any questions you may have about the industry as well.

Never had any damage, but they always miss a spot on the back.

The back is the single hardest part of a car to clean and to dry for any automatic wash that uses cloth. To compensate for that we use hogs hair brushes on mop handles to clean the backs of vehicles before we send them through.

I only use the touchless car washes because of damage possibility. I realize the touchless car washes don’t get off road grime from wet roads, but in that case I just hand wash.
A question, do people often get their car stuck in the wash bays? Many years ago at our local carwash they had a touchless car wash system (Laserwash something I think) that had rails along the side and a metal pad you had to drive your front tire onto. This lady in front of me got her car in there in such a way that she couldn’t get it out, she actually got out of her car and came back and asked me if I could get her car out of there (I did.)

One managed to twist my antenna into a bit of a hook. Wasn’t something that was worth following up on. (Also, I don’t remember if I noticed it at the time, honestly.)

I actually had an outside mirror ripped off in a car wash, but I’ll point out that this happened years ago, and it was an aftermarket mirror at a time when cars weren’t always equipped with standard mirrors.

The management didn’t want to pay for it, but I pointed out that there was no warning sign and no one mentioned it when I paid, so they gave up and paid for a new mirror.

It seems the blow dryers are getting more and more determined to rip the blades off my windshield wipers.

Just thank the appropriate deity in the Pantheon that these guys have never shown up at your car wash.

Are those brushes kind to the finish?

Why do so many brush guys miss the same spot?

Car washes have come a long, long way in the past decade with damages/scratching. You are right, touchless car washes suck for actually, you know, getting a car clean…:slight_smile:
And yes, there is some minor risk of damage in a cloth wash, but generally only to antennas (especially power antennas that will not retract), poorly designed/previously damaged side mirrors (Pontiac Grand Am/Grand Prix 1997-2002), trim that’s already starting to curl off the car or any decayed or rusty parts.

We use micro-fiber soft cloth and lubricating low ph soap to clean cars. The idea is for the cloth to glide over the surface of the vehicle, not beat it up. You only want to apply just enough friction to clean the car. Most modern equipment is adjustable to that effect with air cylinders, stoppers and the like.

As to your question, our tunnel wash uses a conveyor (the wash in your example is called an in-bay automatic) to move the car through the tunnel and the equipment position is stationary other than rotation. We have these things attached to our conveyor chain called rollers that deploy onto the top track of the conveyor when we “send” a car, and since the driver has been instructed to put the vehicle into neutral, the car is slowly pushed through the wash by the roller. Sometimes people inexplicably hit their brake, gas it or whatever and either jump their roller (which leaves them sitting there, fair game for the car behind them to get pushed into their rear end by the conveyor if we don’t catch it in time) or a driver will rear end the car in front of them by accelerating for no reason.

99.5% of the time we don’t damage mast/whip antennas as they have so much flex in them but on the rare occasion we do, we just have the customer go buy a new antenna from Auto Zone or wherever and reimburse them for it.

Our policy is that we cannot be responsible for anything aftermarket, things like bug shields, aftermarket wheels, etc because we cannot be confident in the structural integrity of such items versus factory parts. If your mirror had been a factory mirror and I could not ascertain that it had been previously broken (re-attached with a non-factory screw, glued/taped on, etc…it happens, believe me) then we would send you to our bodyshop to have it replaced and they would direct bill us for the repair.

LOL, yeah, I’ve seen that one before.

The hogs hair brushes we use to clean the backs of vehicles are absolutely safe and soft or we wouldn’t use them. They are the same material we use on our foaming brushes in our self-serve bays. They don’t really hold grit and we are pretty religious about keeping the mop water changed regularly and not letting the brush heads touch the ground to prevent them picking up any abrasives.

The other trick with that is to spray off the back of the vehicle with the prep gun before you brush it so you’re not dragging dirt back and forth across the back of it…you just want to get the film off of there, and in my experience the only way to remove road film is friction. Chemicals alone cannot do it.

I have an (aftermarket) Thule roof rack, with a couple of bike trays. I’ve been told I can’t use automated car washes as the brushes may catch & either damage your equipment or damage my roof/rack. Any truth to this?

Eh…its a possibility. Roof racks generally aren’t any issue with us, but elongated towing hitches and things like tommy gates can be. Generally speaking the only cloth that will touch the roof of a vehicle is called mitter cloth…they are the long strips of cloth that you see that drape over the car, cleaning the hood, roof and decklid of a vehicle.

Had that happen (damaged the mirror) a few years back (in a stationary wash)-the “flapdoodles” weren’t spinning like they should and when they moved up the side of my car, off went the mirror. I even had a buddy of mine who worked there who wrote up a report for me-still didn’t get a single dime from the cocksuckers.

I am a bit of a freak about my car, but I do take it through the touchless car wash a couple times each winter when it is just too crappy or cold to wash it outside by hand. I live on part of a gravel road and if I don’t wash the Trans Am in the winter it looks like I have taken it elk hunting.

But even the touchless washes can harm your car. I found a 1 or 2 inch circle where the clear coat had been blown off on one door. I imagine that there was a rock chip or other flaw that allowed the high pressure water jets to get under the clear coat.

I would never think of entering a car wash that used brushes. Even for the touchless I quicky wipe down most of the car by hand before entering. And do the wheels by hand because the touchless doesn’t work on wheels, and only works on the rest of the car if it is already mostly clean.

I’m honestly surprised that this happened in an in bay automatic. They use proximity sensors to “size” your vehicle so the nozzles get close enough to impinge the surface of the car but not so close as to actually touch it. They may have had a sensor go bad. That’s the bad thing about those kinds of washes…you have to trust that they are impeccably maintained because there is usually nobody on site to fix something or deal with a customer if something happens.

I’m equally surprised they didn’t pay for your mirror. That’s just shitty customer service. Our place has cameras everywhere so we usually get a good idea of a before/after image of cars so we can reject fraudulent claims out of hand, eg “Sir, you can see here in this image of your car that the dent you are claiming we inflicted upon your vehicle was already there before you went through our process!”

Customer: “Harumph!”

Most car washes that use cloth do not use brushes, as in “bristle brushes” anymore. If they have what’s called a “top brush” its also using soft cloth strips in lieu of bristles of any kind.

The cloth we use is designed specifically for the car wash industry and is also made to not retain grit and abrasives. You also have to scrupulously inspect your cloth periodically, as well as protect it from certain situations (open bed pickup truck full of gravel, for instance) if you want it to remain pristine. We do that.

The self-serve gas-station attendant didn’t open the exit door (mid-winter).

I had to stomp on the brake until the conveyor-belt steel cylinder pushing the back wheel passed under the tire (lifting and dropping the car a couple of inches) and I could get out and open the tunnel door myself, then rush back to the car before the next cylinder pushed the car out.

I turned the air ever bluer than the temperature had as I yelled at him through the walls of his kiosk as drool ran down his chin.

Aside from the time I accidentally went through the wash with my trunk lid popped open, the only damage I’ve ever had in a car wash is that occasionally the brush-type automatic wash will catch my license plate and bend it upward.

Yeah, that happens sometimes due to the nature of the way the equipment operates and the fact that many states, Ohio among them, require a front license plate (Indiana and Kentucky, the other two states in my tri-state area, do not) and automobile manufacturers rarely design vehicles with a recessed area for front license plates like they do for the rear ones.

Simple solution? Buy a sturdy, stainless license plate holder and it’ll never happen again.

Once upon a time, back when I didn’t have a 'vertible, the cloth strippy spinny thingy on the driver’s side neatly took out the mirror. I didn’t even bother with the carwash neanderthals. I just forwarded the bill to my insurance company who paid without a murmur.

I don’t think I’ve ever had any damage, but just the day before yesterday my sunglass case was stolen during a car wash. I know I left it in the car, but didn’t miss it until the next day. Then I went on Yelp and found many other people posting that they had items stolen at that particular car wash and that it was useless to complain to management. And it was a rather upscale joint, too.

Yes. The car wash in question was at a local supermarket. When the wheel brushes came in, they missed the wheels, and I was left with a crescent shaped white score on the doors of the black car.

I’m a reasonable person, so I went to the customer service desk so we could politely sort things out. It’s not the shop assistants fault. I had just stuck £30 of petrol in the car, so I said I’d be happy to repair the damage myself if they wrote off the cost of the petrol. No deal. The shop assistant looked at the car, then I had to make a formal complaint which they logged and sent off to their head office.

A couple of days later I got a letter from their head office customer service team. They said that the car wash had a sign disclaiming liability howsoever caused so they weren’t liable for the damage.

Nice try

There was no sign. No disclaimer, no conditions of use. Nothing. Of course I took photos to back this up. And some attractive pictures of my clean, if scratched Skoda.

That was the point that i contacted the boss of that particular supermarkets Retail Division. (Learning point here is if you are going to flame someone, don’t just pull their name from the company accounts. Make sure they have not changed jobs and are now the head of the Asian Division.) So in my letter I explained that his store had a reasonable duty of care for my property. That the reasonable expectation for a car wash is for the vehicle to come out in a similar, though cleaner condition than it went in. This being under the remit of Scots law, I may have used the word “delict” and while I didn’t mention the snail case, it was certainly at the back of my mind.

So a short time later a letter arrived, thanking me for my letter to their Boss Man (Asian Division), apologising for the inconvenience and asking me to send the bill for repair to her.

£100 of polishing later and you wouldn’t notice the damage.