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Automated car washes are a great way to keep your car shiny and clean. But they can also hurt you if you ignore car safety rules. Well, that seems to be what some movies try to portray, anyway. Some scenes are humorous, while others are horrifying, but the results are never good. So, are automatic car washes really that dangerous?

Can you really walk into an automated car wash?

A person stands in an automatic car wash in October 2020
A person stands in an automatic car wash in October 2020 | Leonard Ortiz/MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images

The answer is yes. You absolutely can walk into an automatic car wash without being in a vehicle. There are no actual barriers or safety mechanisms to prevent you from simply walking through one, but you’ll probably see written warnings. Many car washes are automated and don’t require a human attendant, so there’s really nothing to stop you. 

Plus, no federal laws prohibit you from walking through an automatic car wash. However, states might have their own rules. All of this is theoretical, though, because no one would actually walk through a car wash, right? 

Reports of human deaths in automatic car washes

An employee was killed in 2005 while working in a car wash tunnel, CDC reported. He was washing the floor inside the tunnel when one of the arm brushes grabbed the hose he was using. The victim was pulled into the machine along with the hose and tragically died at the scene.

In a stranger twist in ways to die in a car wash, Silicon Angle reported that hackers could take control of an automatic car wash and use it to murder someone.

“The researchers found that the car washes, which can be remotely monitored and controlled by their owners via a web-based user interface, use Windows CE, first deployed by Microsoft Corp., to power early smartphones in 1996. Since it’s no longer supported, it now represents a massive, open security risk,” the Silicon Angle reported. “Given that access, the car washes can be hijacked and used to attack unsuspecting users innocently having their cars washed in a scenario straight out of a B movie.”

Though it’s unlikely this scenario would happen to you, it’s something to keep in mind. The report also states that during a test to see what could happen if someone took control over a vehicle, the rollers came down so low they crushed the vehicle’s roof. 

It’s important to note that this was a research project and hasn’t actually happened. It’s also possible to enter an automatic car wash on foot and survive. However, this obviously isn’t a risk you should take.

These machines can also damage your vehicle

Many experts recommend that you wash your car regularly to maintain its shiny paint job. What they often don’t mention enough is how a car wash can damage your vehicle.

We recently reported about how the brushes in automated car washes can strip the paint from vehicles. The damage might not be obvious at first, but repeated use will slowly degrade the paint. A better alternative is to go to a car wash where attendants wash and dry vehicles by hand. However, using dirty towels can lead to scratches on your vehicle’s exterior. And the chemicals used in cleaning solutions at touchless car washes can also do plenty of damage.

So the best way to go is to hand-wash using soft, clean rags and towels. If you don’t have the time to do it yourself or live in an area where washing cars isn’t allowed, try finding a car wash without brushes or harsh chemicals. 

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