Once, the hardest part to get right was lining up the driver-side wheel with the conveyor track. Nowadays, the difficulties of getting a car cleaned at the local automatic car wash are increasing, varied and of a far more complex—and sometimes perplexing—nature.
The proliferation of automotive technology features has thrown a wrench into the mix, with push-button ignitions, keyless entry, smart transmissions, active safety systems and anti-theft features causing headaches for an industry more accustomed to trying not to snap off your antenna or mangle your wipers.
According to Eric Wulf, CEO of the Chicago-based International Car Wash Association, the problems seem to fall under one of four broad categories: cars automatically locking when the key fob leaves the vehicle; cars locking up when the exterior keypad is hit; cars shifting into park when shut off or a door is opened; and pre-collision systems engaging the brakes. The issue is made more complicated when you consider that individual models pose their own set of hurdles, and even vary in the approach required based on model year.
"Our biggest issue right now is that Chrysler came out with an eight-speed transmission in 2012 on the 300 and Dodge Charger," said David Reep, operations manager for Autobell Car Wash Inc., one of the largest car wash chains in the U.S. "The transmission does not allow the car to be shut off in any gear except for park, so when our attendants see anything with this eight-speed transmission, they have to request that the customer remain in the vehicle and ride through with it. They're what we call special-needs vehicles."
Ouch. Chrysler has not yet responded to an email inquiry.
Ford, GM, and BMW all have their own unique ways of dealing with new technology through something as simple as a car wash. Here's how to get through the wash. (Then again, if you're in California, maybe you should just let your car get dirty.)