KPRC 2 Investigates: Car damaged at car wash, but who is responsible?

What you should know about car wash damage liability

You go to a car wash to get your vehicle looking shiny and new. So, ending up with damage to the car and no help - is especially frustrating. Who is responsible if your car gets damaged inside an automatic car wash? A KPRC 2 viewer contacted our Investigates team for help.

HOUSTON – You go to a car wash to get your vehicle looking shiny and new. So, ending up with damage to the car and no help - is especially frustrating. Who is responsible if your car gets damaged inside an automatic car wash? A KPRC 2 viewer contacted our Investigates team for help.

Terrance’s side mirror was ripped off his car in a drive-thru car wash in Northwest Houston. Right now it’s being held together with a lot of duct tape.

KPRC 2 Investigates talked with one viewer who says he can't get help after his mirror was ripped off during a car wash. He's been using duct tape to hold the mirror on the car. It may look minor, but this is nearly $700 worth of damage! (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

He’s been fighting for months for the car wash management to pay for it, and it hasn’t been easy.

“I heard the mirror cracking or it was slowly cracking and then they just popped off,” said Terrance.

He said he had a feeling his tire was off the track as he was driving into the BlueWave Express Car Wash on Jones Road; but the attendant guiding him in said it was okay.

“He said, ‘Yeah,’ I said, ‘Are you sure?’ He said, ‘Yeah,’” explained Terrance. “I felt my car turning like to the left. It felt like the back tire was off. I knew what was happening. I was just trying to brace myself.”

Terrance got a repair estimate from Tomball Dodge. The total repair estimate for the part, installation and paint job is nearly $700.

BlueWave employees were helpful when filled out the claim form, but when he called to check the status a manager told him they won’t cover the costs for a non-factory mirror.

“And I’ll say it, it is the factory mirror; but even if it wasn’t why should that matter?”

Terrance did buy the car used but said he’s never changed the mirror. (Also, we looked at pictures of the same style of 2010 Dodge Charger and it does not appear the mirror has been changed from the original mirror.)

Who is responsible if your car is damaged in an automatic car wash? KPRC 2 Investigates talked with one viewer who says he can't get help after his mirror was ripped off during a car wash. (Copyright 2021 by KPRC Click2Houston - All rights reserved.)

In a statement, a BlueWave spokesperson told us they don’t cover aftermarket products because they “could be installed incorrectly and can easily break.”

They also told us -

“Aftermarket could also be salvage parts. When installing a salvage part, the item would probably have some type of defect, could be the wrong part for the vehicle or installed incorrectly.”

BlueWave Spokesperson

We asked how BlueWave came up with the idea that his mirror was aftermarket. They did not respond to that question. The spokesperson said these guidelines are on the safety rules sign for customers to see as they drive into the car wash.

Who is liable if the car is damaged in a car wash?

So who is liable when damage happens inside an automatic car wash? University of Houston Law Center attorney Ryan Marquez says the car wash can’t just deny liability unless they have a policy in writing notifying customers.

We went back to BlueWave to check and we found a sign posted right at the entrance. It reads, “Chipped windshields, bug guards, bike racks and after market equipment are the responsibility of the customer.”

But Marquez said if the attendant actually guided Terrance into the wash incorrectly, the business may still share some of the blame.

“It sounds like more liability on their positions,” explains Marquez. “Their employees told him he was good.”

Another plus for Terrances’ case: He has a membership and has gone through many times.

“It shows that normally there’s no issues. Here there’s something that was different,” said Marquez. “It would be very difficult for them to disclaim liability.”


What if the car wash refuses to pay for damage done in the car wash?

Terrances’ only recourse is small claims court. The evidence he could use includes:

  • The mirror is original from Dodge.
  • He has a membership and has been through the wash many times with no problems.
  • The only difference in the time his mirror was damaged is that he says employees failed to insure his car was on the track.

“It is just a principle, you know? I mean, the way I feel like they look at it is we don’t have to fix it. I just want my mirror fixed,” said Terrance. “I’m not trying to sue, just do what’s right!”

That’s the way a lot of people feel in this situation but since there is no clear-cut law governing this, small claims court or the Harris County Dispute Resolution Center is the way to go.

You don’t need an attorney to file a case in small claims court. It will cost you $124. Here’s a closer look at how the process works.


About the Authors:

Passionate consumer advocate, mom of 3, addicted to coffee, hairspray and pastries.

Award-winning TV producer and content creator. My goal as a journalist is to help people. Faith and family motivate me. Running keeps me sane.