- thanks to current safety technology, simply putting your car in neutral for the carwash isn't as simple as it used to be, and sometimes it's tricky to find the right way to get your car through an automatic carwash.
- a list on a carwash industry news site shows the problem affects models from across the industry, but usually the higher-trim vehicles with more safety sensors.
- the solution, as it so often does, lies in double-checking your manual or owner website for the precise solution. or hand-washing your car, of course.
some experts suggest never taking your car through a carwash, citing the possible damage caused by abrasive cleaning tools. many drivers suggest those experts should come over with a sponge and bucket, then, because driving through a carwash is easier and takes only a few minutes. we're fans of detailing cars ourselves when possible but understand it's also a good thing to drive through the tunnel with the spinning brushes.
different kinds of carwashes pose different potential problems for your car. soft-cloth carwashes can damage items that stick out from the car, like loose trim or side mirrors, for example. but not every car fares equally well in automatic carwashes, especially the kinds that drag a car set to the neutral gear through the brushes. an archived article on the carwash.com industry news site notes a number of models that have particular challenges with the neutral setting, making it clear that owners of vehicles five years old or younger need to learn how to prep them for a ride through the carwash.
"there are several models of vehicles [where] there is no provision for the car to be in neutral with the engine off, and that presents a problem," the coo of autobell car wash, carl howard, told carwash.com in 2016. "in those cases, we have had to actually put the customer in that car and change our operation a little bit."
we did not get a response from carwash.com about an updated list of problem vehicles, but the larger problem these days is that some modern advanced driver-assistance systems (adas) will prevent a car from moving forward because it thinks it might hit an object, and the automatic rain-sensing wipers may engage when you least want them to.
starting in 2015, the list noted that the 2015 acura tlx and some lincolns and lexus hybrids, among other examples, need to be turned off in exactly the right way to make sure the car stays in neutral long enough for the car to be moved through the carwash. on some models, drivers need to turn off dynamic cruise control functions to get the car through correctly; on others, such as newer subarus, you may need to shut off the controls for pre-collision braking, auto vehicle hold, and automatic wipers individually before you enter the carwash.
new volvos with auto hold braking as part of their pilot assist technology suite will automatically engage the brakes after three seconds of not moving. this feature makes sense in most situations, such as keeping the vehicle from rolling down a hill, but not at a carwash. that was an issue as recently as 2017, but on newer models, volvo has updated the technology so that it doesn't trigger when the car is in n now. best of all may be the mercedes-benz gls-class, which has a one-step "carwash mode" selector on 2020 and newer models.
you can't count on knowing what works for every car these days, so check your vehicle manual for any specific instructions related to using drive through car washes. in fact, bottom line: don't drive into a carwash before you've checked your owner's manual and made sure you know the protocol that will keep your car safe while it's getting clean.