Car Wash Damages – Can a Car Wash Kill You?

Back in the day, car owners washed their own vehicles. That changed in the 1940s when the car wash was introduced, which — as its name implies — used machines to clean cars more effectively. While car washes are certainly convenient, you may be wondering if they’re also dangerous.  

A car wash can kill you under certain circumstances. For instance, if you get out of the car during the wash, you might get caught in the conveyor belt pulling the vehicle. Fortunately, it’s possible to minimize injuries (or even deaths) from car washes.

Although it’s highly unlikely you’ll die in a car wash, it can still happen. In this article, I’ll explain in more detail whether car washes can kill you or are dangerous for you. I’ll also go into the precautions you can take to be safe, and whether you can sue for damages. 

Can a Car Wash Kill You?

A car wash can kill you if you don’t take the necessary precautions. There have been deaths in some states — although they usually involved people standing near the car wash rather than inside the car being washed.  

Let’s look at some of the deaths that have happened in car washes in the United States. Note that these are few and far between, and aren’t likely to happen to those who are aware of the safety basics when using car washes.

Car Wash Death in California

The CDC/OSHA reported a car wash death in 2005. The victim was an employee of the car wash and was washing the tunnel. The side-arm brush caught his hose and pulled him into the rotating machine which crushed him to death. 

Car Wash Death in Tennessee

The Murfreesboro Post reported that an 85-year-old woman died at a car wash in 2019. When she tried to pay for the service via the automated attendant, she had one foot on her car’s brakes. As a result, her car rolled into a pole, killing her.  

Car Washes As Remote Killing Machines

Security experts at Whitescope LLC told conference-goers that hackers can theoretically take over automated car washes and turn them into killing machines. They can control any car wash connected to the web and do things like forcing the roller arms to move low enough to crush the car. They can also bypass the safety mechanisms. 

Here are a couple of YouTube news videos of instances where people have died in car wash accidents. 

Is a Car Wash Dangerous for You?

A car wash can become dangerous for you. Modern car washes have no safety barriers to keep people from walking into the wash bay and are entirely automated (i.e., they have no human attendant). Also, there are no federal laws prohibiting anyone from walking into a car wash.

How Car Washes Can Become Dangerous (and How To Stay Safe)

Some of the hazards posed by car washes include electrical hazards, chemical hazards, vehicle hazards, slips and falls, and violent assaults. Whether your car wash has explicit safety rules or not, it’s still possible to get injured or even killed by a car wash, as I’ve explained earlier. Below, I’ll further discuss each hazard and how to minimize them. 

Electrical Hazards

Electrical hazards are a constant possibility when using a car wash. After all, car wash machines run on electric power, and if electricity ends up in places it shouldn’t (e.g., anywhere near a water source), that’s not going to end well for anyone. If you’re using a car wash, it’s best to stay inside your vehicle and alert any nearby persons regarding exposed wires.

Chemical Hazards

Chemical hazards happen when you expose your skin to the chemicals used to wash the cars. According to an article from the Journal of Industrial and Engineering Chemistry, many car wash cleaning solutions contain hydrofluoric acid — a substance known to be toxic to humans and the environment. You can minimize chemical hazards by keeping a first aid kit within reach in case of chemical burns.

Vehicle Hazards

Vehicle hazards are some of the most common dangers at car washes — whether from other cars or your own (as demonstrated by the 2019 incident outlined earlier).

Many people even think that a car wash might break their car’s windshield. This is not the case, and there are many reasons for it, as I have outlined in my article here.

If you don’t want any automobile-related accidents while at the car wash, here’s what you can do.

  • Limit your car’s speed.
  • Avoid standing in front of cars as they enter the conveyor belt. 
  • Ensure the vehicle is parked and turned off. 
  • Ensure the emergency brake is engaged before exiting the vehicle.
  • Drive vehicles only when the doors are closed, and no limbs are exposed. 
  • Exit the wash tunnel slowly.

Slips and Falls

Slips and falls can happen anywhere there’s water. Elderly drivers are particularly prone to this as well as vehicular accidents in general, according to an article from Accident Analysis & Prevention. To minimize slips and falls at the car wash, you may want to wear slip-resistant shoes and avoid going out of your car until the floor has been completely cleaned.

Violent Assaults

Unfortunately, there has been the occasional violent incident at car washes. For example, a man was convicted by the Arapahoe County jury in Colorado for attacking and carjacking a woman in Littleton  Although violent assaults don’t happen every day, you should be on guard for any suspicious person approaching your vehicle and alert the authorities when necessary. 

How To Sue for Damages From Car Wash Hazards

If you want to sue for damages from a car wash accident, you can consult a reputable personal injury attorney. An attorney can tell you whether you can pursue legal action for what you suffered. In the meantime, you can gather documentation supporting your case as follows.

  • Obtain the necessary medical attention for your injury. 
  • Keep all receipts for medical treatment. 
  • Photograph your injuries and the area where the accident occurred.

Key Takeaways

  • Car wash deaths are rare but they can happen.
  • Common sense will help you make good decisions when using a car wash.
  • If you are injured in a car wash accident, you can sue for damages with the help of a personal injury attorney. 


Autech-carwash: How the First Automatic Car Wash System Came to Be

Motorbiscuit: Would Walking Through an Automatic Car Wash Kill You?

Carwash: The evolution of the carwashing industry

Pjoes: Trends in Modern Car Washing 

CDC: A Car Wash Attendant Dies When Pulled Into a Side Arm Rotating Brush in a Car Wash

Carwash: Woman dies in accident at car wash

Silicon Angle: Be afraid: Automated car washes can be hacked and turned into a killing machine

The Register: Hackers can turn web-connected car washes into horrible death traps

YouTube: Man Killed In Freak Accident Inside North Texas Car Wash

YouTube: Man Dies In Car Wash Accident

ScienceDirect: A review of hydrofluoric acid and its use in the car wash industry

ScienceDirect: Fatal accidents of older drivers

9News: Jury convicts man in violent car wash carjacking

Avvo: Legal Answers

Jan-Lucas Ganssauge
Jan-Lucas Ganssauge