Car Wash Runaways: The Price of High Tech

Footage from the security video camera at the Mr. C’s Car Wash on Mack Avenue in Detroit, Michigan shows General Manager Rodney Watts chasing a Ford Focus which appears to be driving itself. The Ford can be seen pulling forward for washing, then driving down the conveyor belt without anyone operating the vehicle. Mr. C’s has several locations around the city.

Watts says that, since January, this has happened roughly six times. Cars roll down the belt without anyone behind the wheel, usually hitting the wall.

Watts said, “That’s what you call a runaway. You try to catch it and get it under control as quickly as possible safely.” Mr. C’s insurance company has now raised the deductible to $10,000 due to all the claims this year.

The trouble, says Watts, is new vehicle technology, mainly from the Big Three. He explained how the advanced technology is causing troubles with the carwash process.

When the car goes through the wash, between the cloth, the high pressure vents, the dryer sets off the keyless entry. If it sets it off more than three times, it goes into an anti-collision theft mode. There aren’t enough employees to sit inside the cars for the washes, and even the owners don’t know the disarming codes.”

Mr. C’s isn’t alone. Similar issues are being reported by other local car washes, such as Jax Kar Wash, which has several locations in Detroit.

“Ford and Lincoln vehicles with keyless entry can lock up. The car goes into anti-auto theft mode, and you can’t use the code or key fob for fifteen minutes,” says an open letter from Mr. C’s to an editor at Auto Week magazine. It also states that with the new push button on the console of the 2014 Lincoln MKZ, “n” has to be pushed twice or it goes into park.

Additionally, employees report that Chrysler 200’s, Dodge Rams and some Jeep models engage the parking brake if the door is open with the car in neutral. Also, some Chryslers can’t be turned off in neutral, which is a safety hazard for employees on the conveyor belt. GM issues are less serious. The letter mentions defroster wires that are exposed can snag and damage the vehicle.

A Ford representative has denied hearing any claims of runaway cars, and issued a statement on the operation and advantages of Securicode keyless entry. Chrysler and GM had no response when asked for comment by a Detroit news station.

Watts has an idea to fix the issues: “Have the engineers come up with a car wash mode. You get to a car wash and use the mode and it shuts everything down.”

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