Professional Carwashing & Detailing

Jeep's a comin' through!

October 11, 2010

It’s the shout that could be heard around carwashes if owners pay heed to the International Carwash Associa-tion’s (ICA) new advisory:

  1. Handle Jeep Cherokees and Jeep Grand Cherokees with extreme caution.
  2. Allow only specially trained carwash employees to handle these vehicles.
  3. Notify all carwash employees when one of these vehicles is on the property.
  4. Move the vehicle using both feet – left foot on the brake and right foot on the accelerator.
  5. Instruct employees and customers to never walk in front of one of these vehicles.

Strong measures to be sure, but given the reputation — earned or not — which those Jeep models have in the industry, the warning is a first step to help operators reduce the possibilities for a serious accident in their carwashes.

First, a little historical background. In the early 1990s, there were reports of vehicles suddenly lurching into motion, out-of-control and jeopardizing anything, or anyone, in the way. Some people were injured, some killed and there was property damage.

Many of the incidents involved Jeep Cherokees and Grand Cherokees, and soon the phenomena became known as “Jeep sudden acceleration,” or shortened simply to “the Jeep problem.”

Engineering studies were done. DaimlerChrysler, which manufactures Jeep, settled several lawsuits and the company assured the public there is nothing in the design or engineering of Jeeps which would cause “sudden unintended acceleration.’’

The company said driver inexperience was most likely the cause.

Others theorized a problem with the cruise control, or the computer chips which control acceleration, or even the positioning of the brake and gas pedals.

Nothing was ever proved and talk of “sudden unintended acceleration” seemed to ease earlier this decade.

In February, a customer was killed and an employee injured at a carwash in Connecticut. The vehicle involved was a Jeep.

Once again, the issue rose to the surface, demanding more attention.

The ICA convened a special session to discuss sudden unintended acceleration at its annual convention just a few weeks after the Connecticut incident.

It was clear from response at the session the sudden acceleration problem still existed and was causing concern in the industry.

The ICA has formed the Sudden Unintended Acceleration Advisory Group to help formulate association policy and a response to the incidents.

The group’s members include Bruce Arnett, of Atlanta; Randy Cressal of Valencia, CA; Henry Dubinsky of St. Louis; John Lai of Tucson, AZ; Laurie Sherman of Bristol, PA; and Walt Tack of Fond du Lac, WI.

And the association is asking carwash operators to help out.

At the ICA seminar, the association’s chief counsel, Bruce Kramer, showed a preliminary accident form intended for owners to use should their businesses encounter a sudden unintended acceleration incident involving any vehicle, not just Jeeps.

The form is now available on the ICA’s website: www.CarCareCentral. com. Local and regional associations are also getting the forms to make available to members.

The ICA, which has been monitoring and evaluating these types of accidents for more than a decade, believes the specific information sought on the new form will help produce a data base from which to draw valid conclusions.

In response to the ICA posting, Max Gates, a Jeep spokesman, said the company has not been able to find any vehicle factors which could be responsible in any of the incidents.

“Vehicles of all makes are involved in accidents at carwashes,” he said. “Of the 41 complaints to NHTSA (National Highway Traffic Safety Administration) and involving allegations of “sudden acceleration” at carwashes, only five involve an earlier model Grand Cherokee. Interestingly, five also involve the Toyota Camry vehicle.”

Additional training and certification of employees may be appropriate, he added.

Based on this renewed concern from the industry, Professional Carwashing & Detailing® magazine and Professional Car Care Online™ put forth an online survey question: “Have you ever encountered unintended acceleration with a Jeep vehicle?’’

While the survey is unscientific, 67 respondents answered “Yes.”

Yet another sign there is something to “sudden unexpected acceleration.”