Thanks to advanced safety technology, the simple task of running your car through the carwash 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. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) and the auto industry have wagered that it can save lives by mandating this technology on every passenger vehicle sold in the U.S.
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 carwash. It used to be as simple as paying the person at the tunnel your $12 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.
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 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 Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s (IIHS) Top Safety Pick+ rating, so manufacturers are eager to incorporate it, not only as a way of saving lives but also as a very effective marketing tool.
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 carwash 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.
That’s exactly the situation that Jimmy Dinsmore — a writer for CarNewsCafe — 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 backwards. Pilot Assist Auto Hold Braking engages when the car is in park or neutral.
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.
Second, an alarming number of people manage to get killed every year by being run over by their own cars. If you do a Google News search for “run over by own car,” 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 it’s 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 carwash. It’s particularly a problem in carwashes 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 are detailed in the “Special instructions” section of this article.
Instructions can be even more labyrinthine. In the 7 Series, for example, BMW has a subhead in the manual entitled “Before driving into a carwash” on page 73. That section jumps numbered instructions to page 242, but by the time you hit instruction No. 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.
That’s an unwelcome challenge when you’ve paid your money and six cars are piled up behind you.
A similar issue was encountered 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.
A call for standardization
It’s a problem so widespread that Eric Wulf at the International Carwash Association (ICA) has assembled a PDF for his member carwashes that include instructions for “Special Needs Vehicles.”
Wulf points out that carwashes 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 carwash,” he says. “Variations are due to differing business models or consumer preferences.”
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 carwash 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 “CARWASH” 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 on the ICA’s website, but we’ve included special instructions for those vehicles that have particularly confusing methods of entering a carwash.
The list of vehicles requiring special attention is extensive. With research from the ICA, we’ve put a list together with instructions on how to get these “Special Needs Vehicles” through a carwash:
The ICA 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.
- With the engine running and your foot on the brake, press the “N”
- Within five seconds, press the Engine Stop/Start button.
- “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
- Drive into the carwash.
- Engage selector lever position N.
- Switch the engine off.
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 carwash; otherwise, selector lever position P is engaged and damages can result.”
Chrysler 200, 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 US LLC 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 carwash, 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 carwash, though.
Lexus CT200h, ES350, RC, NX, RX
This is particular to Lexus vehicles equipped with Collision Avoidance.
Turn off the Dynamic Cruise Control by pressing the end of the cruise control stalk on the right side of the steering wheel.
Look to see that the Dynamic Cruise Control indicator is turned off in the middle screen between the gauges.
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 carwash without the engine running, you have to remove that button and insert the SmartKey:
- Switch on the ignition.
- Depress the brake pedal and keep it depressed.
- Pull the Start/Stop button out of the ignition.
- Insert the SmartKey into the ignition lock.
- Shift to Neutral.
- Release the brake pedal.
- Release the electric parking brake.
- Switch off the ignition and leave the SmartKey in the ignition lock.
Range Rover Evoque
- Hold the “power” button for approximately three seconds to turn the vehicle off.
- Shift the vehicle to a neutral position. Note: The emergency brake will turn on automatically.
- Remove foot from the brake pedal, and then press the “power” button for approximately one second.
- With your foot on the brake pedal, press the emergency brake release located in the center console.
Subaru Crosstrek, Impreza, WRX (automatic transmission only), Legacy, Outback, Forester
This applies to any Subaru with EyeSight. Subaru’s EyeSight collision avoidance system can see carwashes as obstacles and may apply the brakes, preventing your vehicle from moving through an automatic carwash. In order to get through it, you have to disable the system.
From Subaru’s manual:
- Press and hold the [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.
- 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 carwash are included in the Official Walkthrough video posted on YouTube. The video, found at www.youtube.com/watch?v=6HtlmNzqQdo, shows the relevant information at 16:26.
Toyota Prius, Prius V, Camry, Avalon, RAV4, Highlander
This is particular to Toyota vehicles equipped with Collision Avoidance.
- Turn off the Dynamic Cruise Control by pressing the end of the cruise control stalk on the right side of the steering wheel.
- Look to see that the Dynamic Cruise Control indicator is turned off in the middle screen between the gauges.
Volvo S60, V60, S80, XC60, 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:
- Drive the vehicle into the carwash.
- Turn off the auto-hold function using the control on the center console.
- 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).
- Put the gear selector in N.
- 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.
Editor’s note: This article, originally published in October 2016 on BestRide.com, has been reprinted in its entirety with permission by the author and the host site. You can view the original article at http://bestride.com/news/technology/these-33-vehicles-need-special-help-to-drive-through-a-car-wash.
Craig Fitzgerald is a writer, editor, lousy guitar player and dad. He is the content marketing and publication manager at BestRide.com.
See how the carwash industry and the auto manufacturing industry are working toward finding solutions to these issues in the video interview below.