The Customer Isn't Always Right: Navigating In-Tunnel Collisions Caused By Driver Error

October 31, 2018

If you had to guess, what would you say is the most dangerous thing in a car wash tunnel?

Is it the brushes? The chemicals? The conveyor? While the equipment can cause serious injury if not treated properly and operated safely, there’s a single wildcard every onsite employee needs to be ready to handle: The customer.

With more and more drivers staying behind the wheel during a wash, the potential for serious loss has never been higher. Not only can a vehicle cause injury and property damage, but the entire ordeal can also grind your operation to a halt. No matter the safety signs and explicit instructions, the occasional customer will still find a costly way to surprise you.

Navigating an incident where a customer is clearly responsible is like threading a needle. Knowing how to approach the situation, who to blame and how to hold a customer accountable is a delicate and time-consuming affair. However, with the right preparation and some help from the anti-collision service NoPileups™, you can proactively prevent a majority of accidents, minimize damage and offer definitive proof when a customer refuses to acknowledge fault.

Change Comes from Within

Just like with most safety issues, the best way to manage customer error is to prevent it in the first place. Doing everything you can to lower risk eliminates chances for customers to do any serious damage.

As the saying goes, “safety starts with you.” Making sure everything on site is up to code reduces the odds of customers getting caught in a bad situation. As we’ve discussed in the past, there are a lot of things to take care of in order to maintain a safe car wash. Here are some basic pillars of car wash safety:



This may sound like the basics, but you’d be surprised at how much can slip through the cracks day after day.

Safety also extends to your team. Making sure your employees are well-versed in safety procedures and best practices can reduce the number of accidents you see at your site. In addition, your employees will be better prepared to handle any surprises. A well-trained team will be more likely to minimize damage, which protects both your business and your customers. Having a prepared staff also reduces downtime if a customer does manage to cause a problem.

Help Your Customers Help You

While there are a ton of things you can do for your site and your employees to keep your car wash accident-free, there are also steps you can take to help your customers protect themselves as well.

First and foremost, its important for your site to have a natural “flow.” You may know your layout like the back of your hand, but a customer doesn’t. Without a natural flow, customers can get confused about what they should do with their vehicle, where to go next and who has the right of way. Having a site layout with a limited number of defined pathways ensures your customer is headed in the right direction with fewer distractions.

This is also why proper signage is a must. Your attendants don’t have time to baby every vehicle every step of the way, so it’s important to give your customers good directions. Signage that indicates the flow of traffic keeps confusion and hesitation to a minimum. Providing clear instructions both in and outside your tunnel helps reduce the number of customer-instigated accidents while establishing liability if something happens to go wrong.

It’s also important to keep distractions to a minimum. The more a customer has to do or think about, the more likely it is they’ll make a mistake. Extra perks like free dash wipes may add value, but they can become a hazard when your customer is knocking things around inside their vehicle. Let customers know to save the freebies for after the wash or distribute them after they’ve exited the tunnel.

Empowering your customer is a win-win. While they keep themselves safe from avoidable accidents, your employees can focus on providing the best possible service to everyone on the lot.

For Everything Else, There’s NoPileups

Even when you’ve done everything right, a customer can still find a way to do some real damage. There aren’t enough signs and instructions in the world that will keep a gas pedal from turning a vehicle into a wrecking ball halfway through the tunnel.

In those cases, NoPileups helps protect you, your employees and your customers.

One of the most destructive things a customer can do is accelerate inside the tunnel. While a stopped car can still be a problem, an accelerating vehicle (known as a ‘drive-ahead’) has the potential to destroy tunnel equipment and cause serious injury.

When a customer drives ahead, NoPileups keeps the situation from getting out of hand. An accelerating vehicle in the tunnel is a surprising thing, and your other customers will likely hit the brakes out of instinct. When that happens, you’ll have a vehicle shooting forward and a group of cars behind it piling up. In that critical moment, with so much chaos, how quickly do you think your attendants will leap for the stop button?

Luckily, NoPileups doesn’t hesitate. The moment a customer jumps forward, the system triggers an emergency stop to keep the situation from escalating. Onsite employees can deal with the important crisis without worrying about a cascade of issues everywhere else.

NoPileups also protects your carwash from expensive and drawn-out disputes. Rarely will a customer confess to stomping on the gas, which creates a “he said, she said” argument that eats up your manager’s time and potentially sticks you with the bill. Since NoPileups uses cameras to track where every vehicle belongs in the tunnel, you can show a customer definitive proof of their fault. In addition, NoPileups saves a record of every incident, so managers can quickly call up the right footage when they need to.

The time NoPileups saves your managers in resolving issues like drive-aheads is massive. One NoPileups customer found they were able to save 7 ½ hours of back-and-forth arguments, paperwork, and headache any time a customer caused an accident. That time is real money, and NoPileups helps you save every penny.

Be Prepared

Every seasoned car wash operator knows: Expect the unexpected.

You can always count on a customer to surprise you. That’s why it’s important to do everything you can to be ready. Making sure your site and employees are prepared for any problem can save time and money when disaster strikes. By using an always on, always monitoring service like NoPileups, any issue can be resolved quickly without creating an avalanche.

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