Going to the car wash is supposed to make your car look better, not worse, but accidents happen, and it’s possible for your car to be damaged at the car wash. But if you have full coverage insurance, your car insurance company will likely cover the cost if your car is damaged at a car wash.
Drivers who have full coverage (meaning their policy includes comprehensive and collision insurance) are covered for damage to their vehicle, no matter who is at fault. Here’s what you need to know about how your car insurance works when it comes to car wash damage.
How will my insurance cover car wash damage?
Car insurance can cover both damage you cause to other drivers in an accident and damage to your own car (depending on the coverage you have). Every car insurance policy is made up of multiple types of coverage, and depending on what exactly happened at the car wash, you may need to use more than one part of your policy.
If you hit something at the car wash and your car was damaged, your liability coverage would pay for the damage you caused to the car wash (up to the limits of your policy) and your collision coverage would pay for the damage to your car.
Say you accidentally shifted out of neutral while going through the car wash and the washer arm damages your wheel well and dents the metal on your car door. The damage to your car would technically be your fault, so you would file a claim with your car insurance.
If you don’t think you were at fault, like if your car was damaged by a falling object at the car wash or one of the moving parts cracked your windshield, you can file a claim with your car insurance company and your comprehensive coverage would cover the cost of repairing the damage to your car (comprehensive coverage is optional, and it covers damage to your car not caused by a collision).
If your insurance company decides that the car wash was actually at fault, you’ll still get paid, but your insurance company will probably take the car wash to court to recoup their expenses in a process called subrogation.
What if both my car and the car wash were damaged?
If there was an accident that damaged both your car and the car wash itself, the insurance company will try to determine who was at fault. There are several ways the claim could be paid, depending on who was at fault:
1. If your car was damaged by the car wash
If you followed all the instructions but your car was damaged by the car wash, there are two possible ways to file a claim. If you have full coverage you can file a claim with your own insurance company, but drivers who don’t have full coverage insurance (or drivers who had their claim denied) should file a claim directly against the car wash’s liability insurance.
To file a liability claim with the car wash, you’ll need to talk to the customer service representative at the car wash to get their company’s insurance information. You’ll also want to save any documentation (like receipts, waivers, and photos) to help with your claim.
2. If you damaged the car wash with your car
Accidents happen. Maybe you turned too wide or knocked your car out of neutral while in the automatic car wash, damaging the building itself or the mechanical parts that wash your car. Either way, your liability insurance will pay for the damage you caused. If you don’t have enough property damage liability coverage to pay for all of the damage, you will be expected to pay any costs beyond your coverage limits out-of-pocket.
3. If you and the car wash are both at fault for the damage
Different states have different laws regarding fault in an accident. In some states, the laws say that each party must pay for the amount of damage they are responsible for causing. For example, if the total cost of the accident is $10,000 and you are found to be 30% at fault, you would be expected to pay $3,000. This is called comparative negligence.
But some states have laws that say the party who is more than 50% responsible has to pay for all the damage, called modified comparative negligence. A few states even use a contributory negligence model to set payments, which says that if both parties are even a little bit responsible for the damage they should each cover their own expenses.
If you and the car wash are both partially at fault for an accident, your state laws will determine how much (if anything) you will be responsible for paying.
Does signing a waiver mean I can’t file a claim against a car wash?
Not necessarily. There are several ways you may still be able to file a claim after signing a liability waiver, including:
State laws: Your state may or may not have laws preventing you from waiving your rights in certain situations.
Level of negligence: Businesses have a duty of care, which means they are expected to operate in a way that is reasonably safe. If the car wash knew their equipment was dangerous and continued to use it anyway, it may void a waiver.
Vague wording: If the waiver is not specific enough or tries to absolve the car wash from all damage in every situation, it may not be sufficient to stop you from filing a claim.
Is an automatic car wash bad for car paint?
It can be, depending on the car wash. Touchless car washes are much less likely to scratch or damage the paint on your car than a tunnel car wash (which are common types of car washes at gas stations) that uses brushes and other equipment to literally scrub away the dirt on your car.
Automatic car washes have improved significantly over the years, with gentler soaps and fewer abrasive parts that could damage your car. But they are still more likely to damage your car than hand washing it, whether you do the washing yourself or pay someone else to do it.