Electric Cars and Automatic Carwashes

The reinvigoration of the electric car has turned it into one of the fastest-growing segments of the automotive industry. It’s not just an afterthought anymore – from successful companies like Tesla, to upstarts like Lucid and Nio, to even established carmakers pushing modern all-electric editions of their vehicles like the Ford Mustang Mach-E, it’s here to stay. Many carmakers, including Nissan and Hyundai, have focused on electric vehicles being the future. Not the far future either.M any carmakers focusing on going to mostly-electric or all-electric production within the next two decades.

That being said, these vehicles can bring some unique concerns to the table for car wash owners. More than any other modern automotive evolution, electric vehicles require different care and maintenance. How do these concerns affect your business?

Water-Tight Washing

One of the prime concerns of many new EV owners – and car wash owners – is what a wash could do to an electric vehicle. We all know that electricity and water are a dangerous combination. Of course, they are tested under the assumption that they will get wet through normal usage. But are EVs protected in the high-pressure automatic washes?

Short answer? Yes. Automatic car washes are safe for electric vehicles.

This comes with some caveats though. Every electric vehicle comes with unique features that may require special attention when it comes to automatic car washes. For instance, some vehicles have automatic windshield wipers that will need to be turned off. If they come on in the middle of washing, they can be snagged by the rotating brushes and damaged, or pulled off completely. Others may be dependent on sensors for safety and automatic driving capabilities that can be knocked out of adjustment.

Why Do Electric Vehicles Need Special Attention in Automatic and Tunnel Car Washes?

The high pressures and automation of automatic and tunnel car washes make for a different atmosphere for the vehicles. Self-serve car washes don’t rely on high pressures and automated processes to get the job done. All they need is your elbow grease and chemicals.

These washes need automatic brushes and high-pressure water to get that deep clean. Both of these can dislodge a charge port door that isn’t locked or secure properly. This is potentially the most vulnerable an electric vehicle can be in a wash. Exposing the charging port to heavy water and chemicals could have an impact on charging in the future.

Another place where electric vehicles need precaution is because many of them are highly dependent on sensors. This is particularly important on Tesla vehicles, where sensors affect the Autopilot self-driving capabilities. Knocking these sensors out of adjustment can hamper the system. In turn, this can return false readings or cause a failure of the self-driving system, endangering riders and pedestrians. Consider having a retract package set up for specific vehicle types and models. This makes it easier for your workers to adjust for these vehicles.

Neutral Issues

One of the biggest concerns that has plagued electric vehicles in car washes throughout their growth comes with tunnel washes. Specifically, the issue of what to do when the tunnel says that the vehicle needs to be put in neutral, with feet off the brakes.

Many fully-electric vehicles don’t have a neutral gear. They don’t need it, as there is no transmission or gearbox. In these vehicles, the battery regulates power to the wheels. To put the car into neutral, electric vehicles require different processes. From BMW to Tesla to Ford, they all have a different process to disengage the wheels. The problem is, not too many electric vehicle drivers look into this before it becomes an issue. It’s only needed for towing and car washes, so it’s not on their minds. They may find out to late – when they are sitting on your conveyor – that they’re not sure what to do! This can lead to back-ups in your line.

It’s not as simple as “select neutral” on the stalk or console either. Most electric vehicles have a neutral override that will engage the parking brake if the vehicle is in neutral too long. This includes Teslas, the Chevy Volt and Bolt, and the Nissan Leaf. If the vehicle triggers the brake while in process, the vehicle could end up jumping your track part way through. This can then result in causing damage to your wash or the vehicle.

Our recommendation is that you make sure to have a conversation with all electric vehicle drivers who bring their car, truck, or SUV to your automatic wash. Confirm with them that their vehicle has a car wash mode or a permanent neutral mode. Confirm with them that they know how to put it in said mode. Warn them of what can happen if they don’t, and make it clear that you are not responsible for damage if they fail to do so. Make sure all of your preppers, paystation attendants, and sales staff know to do this as well.

Full-Service Concerns of Electric Vehicles

Understanding electric vehicles is even more important for full-service washes, where employees will be responsible for the vehicle for a long period of time. This may include performing functions inside the vehicle and moving the vehicle. For these sorts of washes, getting the electric vehicle through the automatic wash is only part of the process!

Moving these vehicles from one station to another; operating internal processes such as power-adjustable seating, steering wheel adjustments, power windows; and even making sure the vehicle is properly charged or at least not draining power all need to be points you address with your team. Make sure you set up your full-service shop to accommodate these needs – consider acquiring some owner manuals for electric vehicles so that your team can consult them. You could even put up your own charge point for customer and worker convenience!

Worker Familiarity and Training

A major part of dealing with this is simply staying on top of what is new, and passing that training on down to the staff that will be encountering these vehicles every day.

As a car wash owner or manager, you’ll need to be up to date on new vehicle features that are coming out. It might be hard to sift through every single feature list for new vehicles, but the good news is that car wash professionals swap stories and information in forums and social media groups all the time! You may run across new concerns and new solutions by being part of these forums. When you find something out that hasn’t been brought up yet, you’ll have the opportunity yourself to pay it back and contribute!

Once you get this information, it’s up to you to spread it to your workers. It could be as simple as printing a notice out and leaving it by the clock-in spot. Or perhaps you want to create a binder with notes and solutions so that your workers have an easily accessible guide when something comes up. There’s also texts and e-mails, although perhaps the best idea is to hold regular “tool box talks” like construction and manufacturing sites do. Gather your workers and give them the information, and make sure right then and there that everything is clear and understood.

Staying on top of the latest evolutions of electric vehicles will be crucial for car wash operators going forward. With everyone from BMW and Mercedes-Benz to Hyundai and Toyota pursing low- and no-emission goals for the future, electric vehicles are the future of the car world. This means washing electric vehicles is the future of the car wash world. Don’t let it get ahead of you!