See Me After Class: Dealing With the Rise of Not-So-Smart Cars

The increasing number of vehicles with automated safety systems is causing major headaches for car wash operators. NoPileups is one way to teach smart cars a lesson.

A smart car identifies an unassuming jaywalker (image property of Volvo)

It seems like everywhere you turn, people are making things “smarter.” Your toaster can tell you the weather. Your lamp will excuse you when you sneeze. Even your toothbrush thinks it knows your molars better than you do. Car companies are starting to get in on the trend as well, adding automated features like parking assists and emergency braking to just about every vehicle on the lot. While these features do help drivers stay safe, new cars aren’t exactly as smart as the name suggests.

Actually, smart cars can be pretty dumb. Your average smart vehicle isn’t even bright enough to figure out when it’s at a car wash. While auto-braking sensors have made many places safer, they’ve made wash tunnels a lot more dangerous. The likelihood of collisions skyrocket when you have smart vehicles stopping randomly because they can’t tell where they are. To make matters worse, your customers may not even know their car is a liability. As BestRide Editor-in-chief Craig Fitzgerald puts it, “consumers have no idea about the unintended consequences of these technologies…” Between the increased risk and the constantly-changing technology, the old ways of stopping accidents at your site aren’t going to cut it.

You’re going to need to outsmart the smart cars.

Somebody Thinks They’re Sooo Smart

The automated safety systems in modern cars are a fantastic innovation, but the way they interact with car washes is a massive oversight. The technology may differ from car to car, but the idea is the same. When an object passes into the vehicle’s path, the auto-brake deploys and the vehicle slows or stops. The problem is, these systems don’t actually care what’s getting in the way. Your average smart car doesn’t know the difference between a mitter and a brick wall — all it sees is obstruction. Just about everything in your tunnel looks like a hazard to a smart car, and since some of these systems are operating even when the vehicle is turned off, your customer’s new ride is almost guaranteed to freak out the moment it loads on.

It’s easy to think this problem of auto-braking vehicles is a long way off, but it’s already here. Over 25 auto makers have vehicles available with auto-braking or other automated safety systems installed on models ranging from the highest-end luxury sedans to the most unassuming econoboxes. Even if you still roll your eyes at the thought of smart cars at your car wash, you won’t be able to write them off for much longer. US car manufacturers have pledged to incorporate auto-braking and other safety systems in all new vehicles by 2022. Very soon, nearly every vehicle coming through your tunnel will be equipped with some form of automated safety equipment.

So, why don’t you just turn auto-braking off when it comes time to wash a smart car? The simple answer is you can’t. At least, not easily. Unlike other automated safety mechanisms (like airbags), many auto-braking systems lack straightforward shutoffs. Often, turning off automatic safety systems is, according to Fitzgerald, “...a multi-step procedure, requiring deep research in the [owner’s] manual.” With how convoluted and hidden the instructions can get, your average customer may not even know they can disable auto-braking in their car.


While this issue continues to plague operators, organizations like the International Car Wash Association are doing their best to raise awareness and mitigate the problems caused by smart cars. Eric Wulf, CEO of the ICWA, published a list of instructions for dealing with what he calls “special needs vehicles.” The makes and models covered by Wulf represent some of the worst offenders, but lists like these can only cover so many bases for so long. Auto-braking technology is a moving target, and the burden still falls on you and your attendants to know what models to look out for. Until a dedicated ‘car wash mode’ comes standard in every smart car, you’re going to need to make some tough choices on how to handle auto-braking vehicles.


Make Your Tunnel Smarter With NoPileups

With so many smart cars already on the road, it’s time to ask: What are you going to do to protect your car wash? Will you turn away customers, dedicate time and energy to watching each vehicle like a hawk, or cross your fingers and hope car manufacturers wise up? Rejecting smart car owners isn’t just bad business; it’s also unsustainable. You’d soon be turning away every driver out there. Dedicating employees to manage every auto-braking vehicle is better than letting a smart car into your tunnel and crossing your fingers, but this brings its own problems. For every attendant hand-holding an auto-braking vehicle, there’s one less person watching for collisions. When everyone’s dealing with smart cars, no one’s hitting the emergency stop when something goes haywire.

In order to succeed in this changing landscape, you’re going to need something smarter than your average smart car to keep accidents out of your tunnel. NoPileups’ full-tunnel collision prevention is constantly on the lookout for any misbehaving vehicle — even the smart ones. The moment an auto-braking vehicle mistakes a wrap for a kindergartener, NoPileups’ spots the car’s erratic behavior and prevents the potential accident. While the monitoring system is keeping watch, your team can dedicate more time to providing great customer service.

This is in addition to the increased production and safety NoPileups already brings to a site. Auto-braking vehicles may be the biggest issue facing car wash owners right now, but smart cars didn’t suddenly replace accidentally tapped brakes or twisted steering wheels. NoPileups doesn’t just prepare your site for the problems of the future; it helps you and your team deal with the collisions that have plagued car washes for decades.

Prepare for the Future

As smart cars become more common, you need an operation ready to meet them head-on. A future-proof, constant monitoring system like NoPileups keeps watch for even the most unassuming auto-braking vehicles. While your employees do their best to scour owner’s manuals and nurse smart cars through your tunnel, you can be confident any auto-braking vehicle that slips by will be caught the moment they hop a roller. Until smart cars wise up, NoPileups is ready to teach them a lesson on how to keep your car wash safe.

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