Beware: Don’t Get Screwed Over at Self-Serve Car Washes

Beware: How Not to Get Screwed Over at Self-Serve Car Washes
We were screwed over twice in the same week at self-serve car washes…what gives?

There’s a bandit out there, and they’re coming for your credit card.

We’ve all had this experience at least a handful of times in our lives. Anytime we need to pay for something these days, we just swipe or insert that credit card, and away we go. A few days later, we might take a look at our credit card statement, and – horror of horrors – we wound up getting overcharged. At least that was our experience last week during the Easter Jeep Safari. TFLcar’s Roman Mica took our long-term Jeep JK to the desert wilds outside Moab for a few days of off-roading fun, as is the yearly tradition.

Naturally, when you take your Jeep off-roading, it’s bound to emerge from a day of trail riding and rock crawling caked in everything the Utah desert can throw at it. Many Jeep enthusiasts wear that grime on their rigs as a badge of honor. However, for others, a car wash is their best friend after a day’s worth of roughing the off-roading Mecca that is Moab. But what exactly does happen when we take our off-roading veteran JK to a self-serve car wash? Well, turns out we were screwed.

Jeep Wrangler JK. Easter Jeep Safari - Beware: Don't Get Screwed Over by Self-Serve Car Washes
TFL’s resident Jeep Wrangler JK doing what it does best. [Photo: TFLcar]
How, you ask? Because car washes seldom actually tell you what to do to end the transaction when you’re actually done washing your car. Back on March 28th, we took the Jeep over to the local self-serve car wash in Moab for a much-needed spraydown. We parked in the bay and swiped a credit card, as you would, then proceeded to wash the Jeep. The total damage for a few minutes worth of water and soap – $10. Ten freaking dollars to spend three or four minutes washing the Jeep. You’d expect that sort of price at a full-service, automated car wash, but not at a location where you’re putting in all the work. Clearly, something was awry.

One of our local car washes. Stop buttons are plastered everywhere, but it’s not immediately clear which one stops the wash and charges your card.


Okay, if it happens once, you can chalk it up to a coincidence. Normally, these car washes place a hold on your card for the full amount, then it adjusts the charge based on the time you were in the bay. Problem is, it’s not always clear which one just stops the water flowing and which one actually charges your card. This time, that adjustment also didn’t happen. If left to its own devices, then, it just keeps running and winds up charging you the full amount. In that event, you ultimately get screwed. What you thought would be $3 or $4 ends up being more than double that.

So what happens when, a few days later, that winds up happening again? When we returned to Boulder, another self serve car wash ends up hitting our card, again for the maximum amount of $10. Of course, we’re not talking about mountains of money here. But, if you’re the sort of person who washes there car once a week or so, like I am, that $10 can really add up if you’re not careful.

Do we expect anything to change here? Probably not. And some car washes do put some signs up indicating that you need to hit “STOP” when you’re done. But why doesn’t just stopping the cycle charge your card right then and there? Why does it need to be obtuse to the point where car wash owners feel they need to put up huge signs stating to hit the “STOP” button when you’re totally done? One solution would be the old method, where you use coins to prepay for your wash. However, particularly with newer washes, that may no longer be an option.

Some car washes do post notices, but why doesn’t it just stop when you finish your cycle?

Have you ran into this issue before? Let us know what you think in the comments! Subscribe to The Fast Lane Car and TFLnow for our videos from the Easter Jeep Safari. If you enjoy our content, please consider pledging to TFL on our Patreon page!