Modern Cars Are Freaking Out In Car Washes

Modern cars are equipped with all sorts of fancy new safety equipment. A side-effect of all those automated braking systems and other goodies is that your car might freak the hell out in an automated car wash, kind of like trying to get a dog into a bathtub.


The increasingly advanced automatic driver-assistance safety systems in modern cars is causing some major issues in the queue for automated car washes, according to a report from Craig Fitzgerald over at Best Ride.

The issue is that the sensory safety systems that help to prevent crashes on the road also often prevent cars from thinking the enclosure full of spraying water and spinning brushes is a good place to be, causing the systems to overload and essentially disable the vehicle.

From Best Ride:

It’s particularly a problem in car washes that require car owners to be out of the vehicle and the car to be off and in neutral. Even in vehicles without autonomous technology, the car will automatically shift to “Park” when the engine is turned off, and the manufacturer doesn’t offer any means of defeating the system.

Volvo does provide instructions on how to turn the feature off. The issue for drivers at the mouth of the tunnel with six cars behind them is that those instructions are buried deep in the Owner’s Manual on page 536. (Turning the feature off in the Volvo XC90 requires five rather complicated steps that we’ve detailed in the Special Instructions section below.)

Instructions can be even more labyrinthine. In the 7 Series, for example, BMW has a subhead in the manual entitled “Before driving into a car wash” on page 73. That section jumps numbered instructions to page 242, but by the time you hit instruction #3, you’re instructed to flip back to page 77 to deactivate Automatic Hold braking, and then back to 242 for the remaining two steps.

Of course there are a few caveats. Car washes using conveyor belt systems to guide the cars through obviously mitigate the issues of having to get the car to drive through. Also, some modern cars still allow you to disable the safety systems that may be causing the issues, but many owners likely don’t know how to.

Best Ride goes into quite a bit of detail on how to mitigate these problems on a variety of vehicles, so you should check out their report.


That last aspect wont even matter in a few years when all cars come with automatic braking and other detection systems as standard and are not able to be disabled. If you’ve had troubles with bathing your car (or dog), tell us about it.

Whatever will we do? Hand wash our cars? Are you crazy?

Update: An earlier version of this story failed to attribute the original source of the information, Best Ride. It has been updated.



PSA: Don’t use automated car washes. For any car.