- Car Safety & Safe Driving
How an Automatic Carwash, broke my back, destroyed my car and could potentially be fatal for children.
My car after an automatic carwashClick thumbnail to view full-size
5 minutes in an Automatic Carwash, changed my life forever.
It was a beautiful Friday afternoon on February 29, 2008. Leap year. My husband and I were going to drive to Charleston, SC to spend our 22nd wedding anniversary. I had just dropped by the frame shop to pick up his anniversary present, a Clemson baseball print, signed by the baseball coaches of the past and present, nicely matted and framed. I had planned to swing by the carwash to get my car cleaned. Nothing unusual. I had been going here for a couple of years.
I pulled up to the carwash and as I was greeted by the attendant, I went to step out of my car to walk inside and watch my car go through the wash like I had done so many times before in the past. This time, the attendant stopped me and told me to remain seated in the car, stating that they no longer allowed people to go inside of the carwash, they had recently changed their policy and started asking their customers to remain in their vehicles through the wash cycle. Once the cycle is over he said, "you will pull to the right side of the building and an attendant will meet you there to vacuum your car and complete the interior and exterior tire shine." I was surprised, but followed their instructions. After all, my sons and I use to go to the little automatic car-washes at the gas stations and they loved the rainbow shower and wash cycle. They thought it was the coolest thing to go through that.
So, not giving it any thought, I decided I would clean out my purse while going through the cycle. It still pulled your car in on the conveyor. All you had to do was sit in side and wait for it to be over. So, in I went, the conveyor starts moving and the initial water cycle begins spraying the car and under the carriage. Next comes the pretty rainbow suds. I had a sunroof, so I could see everything going over my head too, and of course, the suds covered my sunroof. Just as the brushes cut on, I saw the big blue rollers and side rollers move into action. The brushes started spinning really fast and the powerful water begins spraying back and forth over the top of the car and on the sides. The cloths began making a loud slapping noise and moving quickly back and forth. With the car-wash underway, I unbuckled my seat belt and began cleaning out my purse.
A few minutes into the wash cycle, the roller now starting to move over the top of my sunroof. It seemed to be unusually close to my glass. I glanced up and felt a little uneasy about the same time I heard a loud clank. It sounded like it tapped my sunroof. Instinctively, I ducked my head, being startled by the noise, made a yelp. The next few minutes I relieve every time I pass a carwash. As I glanced up and then to the back of my car to see what may have caused the noise, my car made a loud crashing noise, and jolted up in the air and began rocking violently back and forth. The blue roller came crashing through my back hatch and settled down into the backseat of my Mitsubishi Eclipse. It then started jerking violently in my backseat as it continued to try and run it's cycle, all the while it continued to spin swiftly, only it was not just water it was filling my car with, it now had shards of glass that were being propelled at my head like a machine gun shooting rapid fire. I felt the sting of the glass as it hit my head and arms, and the water as it sprayed in on me. I tried to get out of my car to get out of the wash itself, but my doors were pinned in by the blue rollers on the side. When the big roller became stuck inside my car, it caused the rest of the equipment to stop as well. The car was being pulled by the conveyors one way, and the blue roller in the opposite direction. I felt like I was being ripped apart from the inside out. It seemed like it lasted forever even though it was only minutes. The blue roller then began jerking my car again violently as it tried to pull itself out with the timing of the cycle. The only problem is that it was now stuck inside the backseat of my car between the seat, hatch and sunroof. I was screaming most of the time, ducking from the shots of glass and trying to figure out what to do to keep this from taking my head off with it. I kept wondering where the attendant was, and why the machine hadn't somehow shut down. Surely someone heard me screaming, or heard all the ripping, tearing and the glass breaking. But, nothing, no one came to make the machine stop. No magic buttons to push, or if there was, there certainly was no attendant there to push it.
The machine kept lifting and jerking my car, roaring and straining to break free so it could finish it's cycle. But, it was stuck, it couldn't move out, because it was wedged between my hatch and back seat. Suddenly, with another jolt, it began moving towards my head. I couldn't believe that no one was stopping this. It was like I was all alone inside and outside the car-wash. As the bars started coming towards my head, I finally realized it wasn't going to stop on it's own and no one was coming in to make it stop either. I was scared and could only think of one way to get myself out of there. I grew up with brothers and race cars. I remembered how to pop a clutch. So, I took it from neutral which is what the attendant had me put it in, and placed it in first. For just a second, it gave me just enough traction to pull myself off the track and onto solid ground and just enough of a jolt, that the machine was freed from my backseat and pulled itself back out of my car and let me down on all four wheels.
It made one last jerk and loud noise and then just as quick as it started, I was finally free and was able to move my car out to the end of the washer. The water had stopped, the propelling glass ceased and finally, no more loud noises and jerking. My heart was racing so fast that I was breathing really hard. My hands were shaking so uncontrollably that I was struggling just trying to get my door open. When I did, I stumbled to the ground and sat for a second trying to comprehend what had just happened to me. When I glanced up, I saw what use to be my car, I couldn't believe what I saw. It was destroyed. It didn't even look like my beautiful, sporty, little car. When I caught my breath, it finally hit me that there was still no one coming to check on me or even to investigate what that loud noise was. It was like no one even realized what had just happened to me or my car. I stumbled back into my car and pulled it over to the side. As I opened my door, that same attendant came around the side to greet me with all smiles. "Are you ready for that tire shine ma'am? Keep in mind, I too went through a rainbow shower with water. I was a rainbow, wet mess, with glass in my hair, stuck to my clothes. My skin was stinging, my legs were killing me and my back felt like someone had just hit me with a truck for some reason.
I looked at that smiling face and lost the little bit of control I had left. "Are you kidding me? Do you not see what's left of my car and me?" He then looked at my car and his eyes grew very large and his mouth gaped open, "lord lady, what happened to you?" I then gave him the same look back, except I believe for that second, my color changed from white to purple in a mere second. I couldn't believe that he just asked me what had happened. Obviously from the wet hair and clothes, along with the lovely color of the rainbow, my own blood, shards of glass and a totally destroyed car should have been some clue right? He never once asked me anything else. He just turned and told me to sit down, he would be back with the owner.
Finally, I thought, someone can tell me what just happened to me and my car, and help is on the way. I struggled back to my car and grabbed my cell phone to call my husband. I could hardly form the words "honey, I need you to come to the carwash, it just ate my car with me inside of it". It seemed like several minutes before the owner and his wife came out of their other business which was across the parking lot. He walked up and took a look at me and then at my car, never once introducing himself, or asking me if I was ok. About the same time he decided to speak to me, my husband and son pulled up, jumped out of their vehicle and ran over to check me out. Then, the wife comes over and asked if I needed a towel. Not, are you ok. Not, we called the police to fill out a report. Not, come inside where you will be more comfortable. Not, you should sit down, you don't look so well. Or even, what happened?
The owner dismissed this, like it was no big deal. Something that must have occurred mulitplie times, because he did not blink an eye when he looked directly at me and stated "I have a guy who can replace that windshield for you, he fixes all of the damaged cars for me". I was still shaking and not really understanding why he was only referring to the window when it was clear that it ripped the motor out of my hatch, pulled my spoiler up, and with what had to be quite a lot of force, bent my metal trunk into a "v". My husband stepped in and said, "you do mean the windshield and the back of her car?". The owner then said, well just take it to my body guy and see what he says. He then finallly asked me what had happened? As I tried to explain and before I could finish with the first 3 words, he interrupted me and in an unkind tone, stated "well, this has happened before at my other carwashes. Its the kind of car you drive. If it didn't have that spoiler it would have been fine". I started to ask why he didn't put a warning sign up about spoilers, but couldn't, because he then snapped and said, "if you hadn't paniced and drove your car off the track, it wouldn't have done as much damage." I couldn't believe what I was hearing. Was I to blame for this accident? Did he really just blame me and my car? Wow, it finally clicked with me that he had no intention of helping me when the next two events basically spelled it out in front of me in bright neon lights. He then looked over at his attendant and said "vacuum all the glass out of her car and get rid of those pieces of windshield." The attendant jumped on it so fast, we didn't have time to stop him before he had it all vaccumed out.
The next thing was the deal breaker. I asked for his insurance information and whether or not he had called the police to file a report. He said it was not necessary because he was paying his body shop to fix it. He also said he had a friend at a rental company that would help provide me a rental car. I decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and go with his second referral. When we arrived to a place called "rent a wreck", I know, it should have been a dead give away, but still trying to be optimistic and exhibit good human behavior, I agreed, to go to his friend and rent a car. Here, I was greeted with a really unprofessional group of people who wanted me to pay the rental bill for a 1999 Pontiac Grandam, gold, that sounded like the muffler was gone, the breaks were squeaking and the right quarter panel was wrecked. To that end, the inside looked and smelled like someone had went on a 7 day drunk and deficated in the car. I knew at that instant that this man had no intention of trying to do the right thing by fixing my car or even following up with the pain I had experienced in his carwash. Worse, I could no longer feel my feet as when I sat down in a chair at the rental office or in the car when I got in it to sit down and wait for my husband. My back was throbbing, my hands and arms were still stinging and I needed to get the glass out of my hair, because my son and husband kept picking it off of me like monkeys.
At this point, I realized that maybe I should go ahead and swing by the hospital. Over a year ago, I had two rods placed in my spine because of degenerative disc disease. I began to wonder if the shaking had caused my hardware to shift and maybe press on a nerve to cause the pain and numbness. When I went to the doctor, I got what turned out to be the first of many looks that said, I can't believe a car-wash did this. I was diagnosed with nerve damage and sent home with pain medication and told to followup with my neurosurgeon, which I did. We also went by the Sheriffs Department and filed my own report, and contacted my insurance company to get them to help me with a rental car and the fixing of my car. The people who owned the car-wash refused to give me their insurance information, but quickly took my drivers license and insurance card to copy for themselves. We had to get our own Auto Insurance Compamy to Suborrgate the damage on the car, because this man and his Insurance company would not return phone calls or even acknowledge the accident.
It took a while for my neurosurgeon to figure it out because of the positioning of my spine. But, the car-wash broke my back in half. A perfectly clear break that you could not see on the MRI or CT. On those scans it looked fractured. But, on a bending X-ray, it showed it snapped clean in half. I loss the feeling in my feet and calves from my knees down. I had to have two rods extended and 4 more added. I have now had two spine surgeries and have permanent spine damage and peripheral neuropathy. There is no cure for what I am going through now. It will never get better and prognosis is that will only get more painful with age.
To date, I have over 860k in medical bills, approximately 8000k done in damages just on my car. Not to mention loss wages of close to 48k for the 12 months it has taken to recover and start walking unassisted again. I have not heard the first thing from this man or his Insurance Company.
I have no idea what will happen with this in the future. I don't really care what others think about what happened to me. BUT, I will ask you to take the content of this story and apply it if you have children who enjoy that little trip to the car wash. I drove a small sports car. It did have a backseat and yes an adult could fit in it, so could a carseat. But, on this day, in that moment that this equipment malfunctioned, had their been a child in a carseat in my car, it would have been crushed. Most likely it would have resulted in a fatality of a child, because it sat all the way down in the backseat. There is no way I could have gotten to anyone or fought that equipment off. I would have been helpless to get someones attention, because they clearly walked away. I was helpless to do anything with the equipment because it creates thousands of pounds of pressure and force. It is a freak accident. As a matter of fact, if you google it, I am probably the only person in the world it has happened to. But, I went into this carwash like millions of people do everyday. On that day, the equipment malfunctioned. On that day, it broke my back and destroyed my car. On that date, I was blessed not to have had one of my nieces or nephews in their car-seat in the backseat of my car.
I hope this "freak accident" prevents a "tragic accident" to an innocent. I truly believe they should be required to post signs that say a car wash can malfunction and cause bodily harm. They should also post signs for cars with spoilers and let people know that they are at greater risk to having damage done by their machines. I would not have gone in there that day if either of those signs had been posted. I have not been to one since, and will not the rest of my life.
We take for granted that people who own these business conduct proper inspections of their equipment, do the proper maintenance on them and alert you to hazards that may exist. Knowledge is certainly power. Don't you have the right to know that something you feel should be completely safe, just may not be and could be more dangerous than you can comprehend?No one deserves to go into something so innocent and so common and come out changed for life or worse, losing a life.
I asked two things of this company. First, post a sign stating that people should not be in a car during a wash cycle because it could potentially malfunction and cause personal body and property damage. "Enter at your own risk" is so generalized that people dismiss it. The sign needs to tell you the true risk.
Secondly, they need to make it mandatory that no child should be allowed to be inside a vehicle during a wash. I explained in detail how this equipment crashed through my hatch and sat down in my backseat, roller spinning, metal arms and all. If a car-seat had been in my backseat, I could not have reached my child or saved them from being crushed and cut to pieces. When I pointed my concerns out to the owner, he simply stated without regard "I don't deal in what if's lady". I was not being paranoid. I did not make any threats of litigation. I tried to no avail to do things his way. This man and his company did nothing, not even apologize for the accident or followup to see if I was OK. But, the child comment and not dealing with "what if's", was more than I could stand and something I was not willing to walk away from.
I am asking anyone who supports my effort to make car-washes safer and to prevent possible injury to adults and especially children in the backseat, to please click on this link below and become a member of my group. I am going to file to hopefully make this a law nationwide. It does take time, but more importantly it takes support. http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=302608761068
Thanks for reading this hub and for your comments.
P.S. This hub was written as I recalled the accident 2 years after the initial accident. As I am dealing with post traumatic stress syndrome, it helps to write about it, but more importantly, its very important that everyone have the opportunity to choose whether to risk sitting in your vehicle and hope for the best or watch it go through and know that you and your family are safe as your vehicle is washed. Not ALL car-washes or insurance companies so callously disregard the welfare of others. But, unfortunately for me, I have run into both. Since 2010, I have had an additional spine surgery to place a neurostimulator in my spine and a shoulder surgery to repair the torn labrum that learning to transition from a wheelchair to a bed caused. Although, I am no longer in a wheelchair, "Thank you God", I do still walk with assisted devices and do still have major problems with my spine as well as with claustrophobia, PTSD, etc... I chose the stimulator as a way not to take pain medication because I have never been a big fan of taking it. Which caused me to have unmanaged pain. I am permanently disabled now and can no longer work. I know there is a silver lining coming in my future one day. I also know that it is always in Gods time and not mine. It has now been over 5 years and my case remains unresolved.