Before roads, driverless tech must conquer car washes

Michael Martinez
The Detroit News

Autonomous cars are expected to successfully navigate complex driving conditions that include heavy traffic, poor weather and a variety of road surfaces.

But first, they have to be able to handle a car wash.

A new report published Wednesday by the car-shopping website found 33 vehicles over 14 brands equipped with semi-autonomous safety systems created unintended headaches when going through a car wash. Technology like automatic braking systems would stop a car during the wash when it detected the brushes inside the tunnel.

“Collision detection, auto hold braking and other technologies are coming to every car as standard equipment by 2020,” BestRide Editor-in- chief Craig Fitzgerald said in a statement. “Consumers have no idea about the unintended consequences of these technologies on simple, everyday tasks. We want drivers to be informed before they get to the car wash.”

The brands affected ranged from luxury makes such as Mercedes-Benz and BMW to Jeeps and Toyotas.

The remedy? Most vehicle safety systems can be deactivated. The problem can be so troublesome that the International Car Wash Association has published a comprehensive list of every vehicle with such systems and how to deactivate them.

“It used to be as simple as paying the person at the tunnel your 12 bucks and enjoying the ride,” Fitzgerald said. “Now, thanks to autonomous technology, a seemingly simple task has turned into a multi-step procedure, requiring deep research in the manual.”

Some instructions are easier than others.

The manual for the BMW 7 Series includes a section titled “Before driving into a car wash” on page 73. That directs you to page 242, which then directs you to page 77, and then back to page 242.

“There’s no standardization in how autonomous and automatic braking systems work, how they’re disabled, or even if they can be disabled,” said International Car Wash Association CEO Eric Wulf. “Some kind of a standardized engineering solution would be something we’d love to talk to the OEMs (original equipment manufacturer) about.”

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