These 33 Vehicles Need Special Help To Drive Through a Car Wash

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Thanks to advanced safety technology, the simple task of running your car through the car wash can be a multi-step procedure, sometimes requiring deep research in the manual to avoid the embarrassment of being stuck at the beginning of the tunnel.

In the short span of three years, a significant number of cars on the market have an impressive array of advanced safety and autonomous technology.  NHTSA and the auto industry have wagered that it can save lives by mandating this technology on every passenger vehicle sold in the United States.

But the unintended consequence is that some things we used to do without thinking about now require a specific progression of steps. One of those things is running your car through an automated car wash. It used to be as simple as paying the person at the tunnel your twelve bucks and enjoying the ride. Now, thanks to autonomous technology, a seemingly simple task has turned into a multi-step procedure, requiring deep research in the manual.

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Up until this point, a lot of this technology has been reserved for cars in the luxury bracket, but for the 2017 model year, even cars at the lowest end of the price spectrum have autonomous features. For example, the upcoming 2017 Chevrolet Spark has an entire arsenal of autonomous features that automatically brake, and that alert you to cars in the lane next to you. This technology is required for automakers to receive the IIHS’s Top Safety Pick+ rating, so manufacturers are eager to incorporate it, not only as a way of saving lives, but as a very effective marketing tool.

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Auto manufacturers have already agreed to incorporate this automated technology on every passenger vehicle sold by the 2022 model year.

The unintended consequence is this: You arrive at your local car wash tunnel and make your way inside. The rollers engage, the brushes and water jets start, but your car simply won’t move, even in neutral.

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That’s exactly the situation that Jimmy Dinsmore — a writer for Car News Cafe — found himself in while driving a Volvo XC90. He originally figured that the issue was due to Volvo’s standard Pedestrian Detection feature that at slow speeds will brake the car fully if it detects a pedestrian in its path, but that’s not what kept the car from rolling.

The culprit is Volvo’s “Pilot Assist Auto Hold Braking,” which describes its automatic parking brake. If the Volvo XC90 reaches a full stop for more than three seconds, the braking system automatically engages all four disc brakes to keep it from rolling either forward or back. Pilot Assist Auto Hold Braking engages when the car is in park or neutral.

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The feature is useful for a few reasons. First, when you’re in stopped traffic on a steep hill, when you let off the foot brake to transition to the accelerator, the XC90 won’t roll backwards.

Secondly, an alarming number of people manage to get killed every year by being run over by their own cars. Do a Google News search for “run over by own car” and every single day a news story comes up.  It’s a situation that’s exacerbated by auto stop/start technology, or silent hybrid and electric vehicles that can make you think the car is off, when they’re actually in Drive and poised to take off again. Keyless ignition that doesn’t make you execute the familiar “turn the key” action to shut the car off is also a factor. Keyless ignition has been blamed for 19 deaths and 25 close calls since 2009.

But if there’s one time you’d want this feature deactivated, it would be at the car wash. 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.)

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Page 536 of the Volvo XC90 manual describes the five-step procedure to disengage the Volvo’s Pilot Assist Auto Hold Braking. (Photo Courtesy: Chad Kirchner)

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.

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That’s an unwelcome challenge when you’ve paid your money and six cars are piled up behind you.

We had a similar issue with the 2017 Kia Cadenza, but it’s a much easier process to turn it off. We pulled the Cadenza into the wash and the Auto Hold braking feature was on. When the rollers tried to push the car down the tunnel, the car remained immobile. Turning the feature off is a simple one-touch press of the Auto Hold button near the gear shift, but you have to know it’s there, and what it does.

It’s a problem so widespread that Eric Wulf at the International Car Wash Association has assembled a .pdf for his member car washes that include instructions for “Special Needs Vehicles.”

Wulf points out that car washes are different across the country. Some have drivers stay inside the car while the car goes through the tunnel with the engine running, but some require the car to be turned off, with the car owner in the building, watching the car pass through the automatic wash. “I am not aware of any state regulations that dictate whether or not a customer must remain in, or outside of, their vehicle during a car wash,” he says. “Variations are due to differing business models or consumer preferences.”

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The concern for Wulf is that there’s no standardization in how autonomous technology and automatic braking systems work, how they’re disabled, or even IF they can be disabled. “There is a car wash mode that BMW has for some of their vehicles that will allow the car to roll with the engine off. Some kind of a standardized engineering solution would be something we’d love to talk to the OEMs about.” A simple “CAR WASH” button or option on the infotainment screen that turned off the features would be helpful, for example.

The complete list of Special Needs Vehicles is at the International Car Wash Association’s website, but we’ve included special instructions for those vehicles that have particularly confusing methods of entering a car wash.

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SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS

The list of vehicles requiring special attention is extensive. With research from the International Car Wash Association, we’ve put a list together, with instructions on how to get these Special Needs Vehicles through a car wash:

Acura TLX

The International Car Wash Association lists the Acura TLX, but look for this issue in all Acura products that may include a push-button shifter, which BestRide called out as one of the worst shifter designs of 2015.

  1. With the engine running and your foot on the brake, press the “N” button.
  2. Within five seconds, press the Engine Stop/Start button
  3. “Shift To Park” should appear on the screen between the gauges. From that point, you have 15 minutes before the car automatically shifts to park.

BMW 7 Series

  1. Drive into the car wash.
  2. Engage selector lever position N.
  3. Switch the engine off.
  4. From the manual: “In this way, the ignition remains switched on, and a Check-Control message is displayed. Do not turn off the ignition in the car wash; otherwise, selector lever position P is engaged and damages can result.”

Chrysler 200
Chrysler 300
Dodge Charger
Jeep Grand Cherokee
RAM 1500, 2500

Vehicles with eight-speed transmissions and push-button start are also equipped with an automatic parking brake and a rotary shifter. The issue with the rotary shifter is that you can’t have the vehicle in neutral without the car running.

FCA has yet to provide instructions on how to defeat the system, which means that instead of enjoying a cup of free coffee while your car runs through the car wash, you’ll be riding inside it with the engine running.

We dug through the manual to come up with a solution: There’s a manual override. On the RAM 1500, anyway, there’s a panel just above the parking brake release that doesn’t look like it’s supposed to be taken out. However, in an emergency, you can pry the panel out, and beneath it is a manual release for the parking position. That’s not something you want to be messing around with at a car wash, though.

Lexus CT200h
Lexus ES350
Lexus RC
Lexus NX
Lexus RX

This is particular to Lexus vehicles equipped with Collision Avoidance.

  1. Turn off the Dynamic Cruise Control by pressing the end of the cruise control stalk on the right side of the steering wheel
  2. Look to see that the Dynamic Cruise Control indicator is turned off in the middle screen between the gauges

Mercedes-Benz

One of the strangest keyless ignition setups in the business is found in Mercedes-Benz vehicles. The Start/Stop button is actually a dummy button. It pushes into a hole where the Mercedes-Benz SmartKey fits. If you want to send your car through an automatic car wash without the engine running, you have to remove that button and insert the SmartKey:

  1. Switch on the ignition
  2. Depress the brake pedal and keep it depressed
  3. Pull the Start/Stop button out of the ignition
  4. Insert the SmartKey into the ignition lock
  5. Shift to Neutral
  6. Release the brake pedal
  7. Release the electric parking brake

Switch off the ignition and leave the Smart-Key in the ignition lock

Range Rover Evoque

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

Subaru Crosstrek
Subaru Impreza
Subaru WRX (automatic transmission only)
Subaru Legacy
Subaru Outback
Subaru Forester

This applies to any Subaru equipped with EyeSight. Subaru’s EyeSight collision avoidance system can see car washes as obstacles and may apply the brakes, preventing your vehicle from moving through an automatic car wash. In order to get through it, you have to disable the system.

From Subaru’s manual:

  1. Press and hold [Pre-Collision Braking System OFF] switch for approximately two seconds or longer to turn off the Pre-Collision Braking System and Pre-Collision Throttle Management
  2. When these functions are off, the Pre-Collision Braking System OFF indicator light on the instrument panel illuminates.

Tesla Model S

Instructions for running the Tesla Model S through a car wash are included in the Official Walkthorugh video posted on YouTube. The video below runs at the appropriate section, but just in case it doesn’t, the relevant information is at 16:26:

Toyota Prius
Toyota Prius V
Toyota Camry
Toyota Avalon
Toyota RAV4
Toyota Highlander

This is particular to Toyota vehicles equipped with Collision Avoidance.

  1. Turn off the Dynamic Cruise Control by pressing the end of the cruise control stalk on the right side of the steering wheel
  2. Look to see that the Dynamic Cruise Control indicator is turned off in the middle screen between the gauges

Volvo S60
Volvo V60
Volvo S80
Volvo XC60
Volvo XC90

We’ve identified this issue in the Volvo XC90, but the instructions likely apply to any Volvo with an automatic parking brake. Check the manual for more information:

  1. Drive the vehicle into the car wash.
  2. Turn off the auto-hold function using the control on the center console.
  3. Turn off the parking brake’s automatic function in the center display’s Top view (tap SETTINGS, tap MY CAR > Electric Parking Brake, and Deselect Auto Activate Parking Brake).
  4. Put the gear selector in N.
  5. Switch off the ignition by turning the start knob to Stop and holding it in this position for at least four seconds.

The vehicle will then be able to roll freely.

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Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald

Writer, editor, lousy guitar player, dad. Content Marketing and Publication Manager at BestRide.com.