Local Car Washes Damaging Cars: Consumers

If you plan on getting a car wash this week, auto experts say be careful before you drive in.

Cynthia Cathcart usually gets her car washed at her local dealership. But by the time she got off work, it was closed.

So, she drove around Dallas to find another one.

"I'll just zip through a sweet little car wash," she said. 

But $5 later, she said her car came out with her driver side mirror dangling. Cathcart said the manager and owner were nowhere to be found, but an employee said they'd handle it.

"He said, 'go get an estimate from your car dealership and bring it back.' They wouldn't give me a phone number to call or fax or email. He said you need to come back," she explained.

The repairs came out to $539.

But when she came back to the car wash, Cathcart said she was told the owner wasn't there and she'd have to come back between 8 and 9 the next morning.

"It's a wild goose chase," she said. "I don't think that they care."

Cathcart said she went back five times, to no avail. She's not the only consumer upset with a local car wash.

We've heard from about a dozen people who say their cars were damaged. And as the weather starts to heat up, Tarrant County College auto expert James Martin said we should expect more.

"There is a huge convenience factor by going through a car wash," he explained.

But with convenience sometimes comes problems, and it's up to drivers to know the risks.

According to Martin, paint is the number one victim of a car wash. He said cars are more susceptible because of the type of paint manufacturers are using on newer cars.

"After a while you start to see scratches on the hood, top of the car and it's the clear coat that your scratching," said Martin.

With some older cars, he said, antennas usually won't survive the car wash either, so it's up to you to make sure it's down before you drive through.

Another common complaint he hears from drivers: damaged side mirrors.

Cathcart said the car wash employees forgot to collapse her side mirrors before she went through the wash.

Big mistake.

"We're talking about components that are largely made of plastic," Martin explained.

If you're in a rush, he said a touchless car wash is a better option.

"That's where you pull in and you use what would look like a pressure washer nozzle and wash the car," said Martin. "I would opt for that."

But if you have more time on your hands, he highly recommends doing it yourself.

"I take some rags with me and I wash the car and I wipe it down," he said.

We reached out to the local car wash to find out if they were planning on covering Cathcart's mirror.

The owner at the time said this was the first time she's heard about the incident, and because Cathcart doesn't have her receipt, she can't prove that she was there.

Before you drive into a car wash, here are Samantha Chatman's Solutions:

• Make sure you have a receipt and keep it just in case something goes wrong.
• Read the signs that tell you what the car wash does not cover, and it might be a good idea to take a picture of it.
• Make sure your mirrors are collapsed, windows are up and your antenna is down.
• Take plenty of pictures on site if you notice damage.
• Check with your auto insurance to see if it covers car wash damage.

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