Monday, May 15, 2017

Automatic brakes and car washes.

Here's an interesting side effect of all the meddlesome technology finding its way into modern cars: many of them won't go through automatic car washes now without some considerable knowledge and planning by the driver.
The biggest issue is auto-hold parking brakes. Because people are idiots (google for how many people get run over by their own car every day), more and more manufacturers are adding this 'feature' to their cars. Basically, if the engine is running (or off) and the car is in neutral, the parking brake is automatically applied. This means for the conveyor-belt type car washes, where (you guessed it) the car needs to be in neutral with your foot off the brake (or you need to be out of the car with the engine off), the car won't move because it's decided the parking brake needs to be on.
Many vehicles have defeats and overrides for this but none of them are simple, none have these instructions readily published and easy-to-find in the owner's manual, and all are multi-step processes. Some cars - for example the full-size Range Rover Sport - don't have any published method to do this, so if you own one of those, you're not going through an automated car wash whether you want to or not.
The other big problem is all the automation that is creeping in. Pedestrian collision avoidance and low-speed auto-braking might work well when you're crawling in bumper-to-bumper traffic in the city, but when you're crawling along in a car wash tunnel, the brushes, water jets and sponge fins all register as obstructions and the car will automatically apply the brakes even if you're in neutral.
The end result of all this is that more and more vehicles are being damaged in automatic car wash tunnels because they're stopping dead in their tracks (or flat refusing to enter). The ones that stop dead in the tunnels can end up causing pile-up accidents because the conveyor systems might want to just keep pushing the cars behind through the tunnel. Newer systems can detect stalled vehicles and shut the tunnel down, but older ones can't.
If you're expecting the employees at the car wash to know what to do, think again. You're on your own here and almost every automatic car wash will have an iron-clad policy that they're not liable for any damage, and you accept that condition by purchasing a wash.
So be warned. If you drive any of the 33 cars on the (growing) list in the following link, you're in for an adventure (or an accident) if you go to an automatic car wash:
33 vehicles that need special help to drive through a car wash.