Will My Insurance Cover Car Wash Damage?

min read
Updated: 14 March 2024
Written by
Cara Carlone
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It’s the first warm day of spring. Your car is dusty from being driven all winter and it’s begging to be cleaned. You take it to the nearest car wash and pull into the bay.

The water, soap, and brushes work their magic; your car is sparkling. But you get home and notice a scratch on the side of your driver-side door. Now what?

This scenario is not as uncommon as you think. As an auto insurance professional for close to two decades, I have seen my fair share of these types of losses.

And with the car wash industry seeing 2.3 billion cars being washed annually, there is a significant opportunity for damage to occur. To learn how to prevent car wash damage and determine if your car insurance will cover it, keep reading.

Key Takeaways

  • Insurance may cover car wash damage to your car, depending on what caused it.

  • The comprehensive and collision portion of your policy is what would cover damage to your car if you were at fault.

  • The liability portion of your policy would pay for any damage you caused to other property at the car wash if you were at fault.

  • If the car wash owner was negligent in some way, their business insurance would cover the damage to your car.

  • Be sure to check your car before and after a car wash to confirm any damage.

Will My Insurance Cover Car Wash Damage?

To determine whether your insurance policy will cover car wash damage, you have to know what type of coverage you carry.

Generally speaking, the answer is yes, as long as you have comprehensive and collision on your car. Coverage will also largely depend on what caused the damage.

Collision coverage is what will pay for damages you cause to your car by hitting something. If you hit a pole or another car, this coverage pays for damage to your car.

Comprehensive coverage is what pays for damage to your car caused by something other than a collision, such as a sign falling on top of your car.

Almost all states require drivers to carry liability coverage. This means that if you hit someone or something, your insurance company will pay for bodily injury or property damage that you cause. Liability is the portion of your policy that would cover the damage done to the car wash, if any.

For example, suppose your foot slips off the brake as you’re entering a car wash and you strike the side of the wall.

Your insurance company would cover the damage to your car through the collision portion of your policy, assuming you purchased it, while the damage that you caused to the car wash wall would be paid for under the liability portion of your policy.

Your insurance company may not cover car wash damage if you are not determined to be the cause. For instance, if the car wash malfunctioned and caused the damage, the business would be responsible for paying the damages. Businesses carry liability policies for these exact scenarios!

Who Is Responsible For Car Wash Damage?

As I mentioned, the party who pays for the damage to the car depends on who is responsible for causing it in the first place. Here are some common scenarios where each party may be responsible for the damage.

When The Car Wash Owner Covers Damage

In general, the car wash owner may be responsible for covering the damage when it is caused by some malfunction of equipment or the owner’s negligence.

These are some examples where an owner may be held liable:

  • Your car is damaged as a result of an equipment malfunction, such as a brush falling onto your hood and breaking the windshield
  • Car wash employees weren’t properly trained and their actions caused damage
  • The owner did not fix equipment they knew was faulty
  • The owner did not regularly maintain the equipment to keep it in good working order
  • Guidelines for safety were not clearly communicated to the customer

If any of the above actions resulted in damage to your car, you may be able to get the car wash owner’s commercial insurance policy to pay for the repairs.

When Your Car Insurance Covers Car Wash Damage

Your car insurance policy may cover damage from a car wash if you were the cause. If you forgot to put your car in neutral and hit the car in front of you, for example.

But remember that the type of insurance you buy will determine whether your insurance company will pay for the damage.

As long as you have liability coverage, which is required by almost all states, any damage to another person or building should be paid for by the insurance company.

You need to purchase comprehensive and collision to have coverage for damage you cause to your car. There is also a deductible that will apply in these scenarios.

When You Will Cover Car Wash Damage

Fortunately, there aren’t too many scenarios where car wash damage wouldn’t be covered by either your insurance company or the car wash owners’ policy. But, there are some notable exceptions.

First, intentional damage will never be covered by your insurance. If your insurance company determines that you purposely caused damage to your vehicle, you will not only be on the hook for the cost of the repairs, but you could jeopardize your insurance coverage.

Secondly, as mentioned a few times, coverage is imperative. Without comprehensive or collision coverage, any damage you cause to your car will be your financial responsibility.

It’s important to note, however, that these coverages also include a deductible, which means there is a slight out-of-pocket expense, even if insurance is picking up the tab.

Speaking of deductibles, any damage to your car needs to exceed the deductible amount you carry on your car.

For example, if you have a deductible of $1,000 for collision coverage and the cost to repair the car wash damage is $500, your insurance company will not pay for the repair. You would be responsible for that.

The same goes for any damage you cause to the car wash property. If you only carry the minimum limits required by your state, and the damage you cause is over that limit, you will be responsible for paying that out of pocket.

With the average car wash equipment ranging in price from $500,000-$2,000,000, you will need to carry more than minimal limits to ensure you are adequately protected.

Lastly, insurance will never pay for wear and tear. There is always a risk of paint or finish deterioration with car washes over time.

If you notice this happening to your car, even if you can trace it back to the car wash, you will be responsible for the damage.

How Will My Insurance Cover Car Wash Damage?

The claims adjuster will handle the claim depending on how the damage occurred. For example, if you caused damage to another car or car wash property, the adjuster will open a liability claim. Liability claims can take longer to settle, especially if anyone was injured.

When you notice damage to your car after a wash, you should notify your insurance company immediately. They will need all details of the loss, including where it occurred and what happened. Be specific as possible.

If your vehicle was damaged, the adjuster will confirm the cause of the loss and if you have the appropriate coverage on your policy. You are then able to get estimates for the repairs to your car and the insurance company can either write you a check or pay the shop directly. Remember that your deductible will apply to this coverage.

You can still file a claim with your auto insurance if the car wash owner was negligent and you weren’t at fault for the damage.

The difference is that the claims adjuster will attempt to recoup the money paid for the repairs from the car wash owner’s insurance, in a process called subrogation. However, you may still be responsible for your deductible if you go this route.

Another option would be to attempt to file a claim with the car wash owner’s insurance company. While this process can be more of a hassle for you, it has little to no out-of-pocket expense.

Important

Be sure to take photos before and after going through a car wash, so you can send evidence of the damage to your insurer.

What If Both My Car And The Car Wash Were Damaged?

In scenarios where both your car and the car wash were damaged, you should still notify your insurance company. Based on the circumstances of the loss, they will be able to determine whether you or the car wash owner were the cause of the accident.

From there, they can better advise on what route you should take for repairs.

The property damage liability portion of your auto policy will cover any repairs to the car wash for which you are responsible. No deductible applies but coverage is limited to the amount chosen when you purchased the policy. Anything beyond that limit of liability will need to be paid out of pocket.

What If I Signed A Waiver?

Some businesses require their customers to sign liability waivers to protect themselves from having to pay for damages caused by the car wash.

But depending on where you live and the situation, you may still be able to claim damages against the car wash owner. It’s best to check with your insurance adjuster to confirm.

How Does Car Wash Damage Happen?

There are a few different ways cars can be damaged at car washes. The first and obvious way is that you strike another car or hit something in the car wash itself. This type of damage includes your car antennae or side mirrors scraping against equipment and breaking.

Brushes within the car wash have also been known to scratch and scrape off paint, if not working properly. Malfunctioning equipment within the car wash can fall onto the car and break mirrors, or damage other parts of your vehicle.

Lastly and maybe less well-known is that soap from the car wash can cause deterioration of your car’s paint and finish over time. Many car washes use harsh chemicals in their cleaning supplies to get your car clean.

Car washes and auto detailers can use $5,000 to $20,000 worth of chemicals annually. These chemicals do help to keep your car sparkling, but can ultimately damage your car in the long run.

What Should I Do If A Car Wash Damages My Vehicle?

If you find damage to your car after a wash, there are a few immediate steps you should take. First, ensure you and any passengers are safe. Do not attempt to get out of an automatic car wash if it’s still running, for example.

Next, take photos of any damage. This includes damage to your car, as well as damage that you may have caused to the car wash. You should then notify an employee about what happened.

They may be able to help get your car out of the bay if it is inoperable or unsafe to drive and they can provide the company’s insurance information.

Calling the police is not always necessary but may be a good idea if anyone is injured. Be sure to hold onto any documentation that could potentially help you file a claim later. This can include incident reports, receipts, or photos.

What If A Car Wash Employee Damaged My Car?

Car wash businesses have the responsibility of training their employees to do their job correctly. If your car is damaged due to the car wash employee’s negligence, then the owner of the car wash may be liable.

FAQs

How Much Damage Do Car Washes Do?

In general, car washes can cause significant damage if you’re not careful. To reduce your risk of damage, be sure to choose a car wash that has good reviews, follow the safety guidelines specified by the business, turn your side mirrors in, and check your car before and after the wash for scratches.

Does Insurance Cover Paint Damage On Cars?

Whether insurance covers paint damage depends on what caused it in the first place. Remember that wear and tear, intentional damage, and other types of losses will not be covered. If the paint damage was the result of an accident you caused, you will also need the proper coverage, such as comprehensive or collision.

Should You Hand Wash Your Car?

Yes! Hand washing your car is the safest way to keep your car clean. By hand washing, you are able to control how hard you scrub, the texture of the brushes, and the type of soap used. You don’t even have to leave your own home!

Does Insurance Cover Scratches Caused By Car Washes?

Insurance may cover scratches on your car caused by car washes. However, it depends on what caused the damage in the first place. It’s always best to check with your insurance company to confirm.

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