Paul Powell's Hellcat Challenger
Patrick Rall's picture

Hellcat Challenger Owners Should Avoid the Car Wash (You Should, Too)

While many automated car washing businesses like to insist that they are safe for all sorts of vehicles, one Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat owner learned the hard way that the “gas station car wash” should be avoided by anyone who cares about the look of their vehicle – regardless of the type of vehicle driven.

Before getting into the unfortunate story of the gorgeous Plum Crazy Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat above, I should point out that many people with vehicles that they love avoid these automated car wash businesses based on the concern that they are very hard on the exterior of the vehicle. Some car wash owners will refute this, insisting that the 30-year old technology at work is perfectly safe and that their machines don’t cause any damage to the vehicles. They will often point out that they have regular customers who have had their vehicles washed for years without any incident, and they are probably telling the truth. In some cases, vehicles can go through these automated car washing tunnels without any problem, but in other cases, these automatic auto washers can cause a great deal of physical damage to the vehicle.

How do I know this? I worked at one for a while in my younger years, and I saw the high frequency of damage to vehicles from properly maintained units. The place where I worked was meticulously maintained by a manager who took pride in his job, but that didn’t stop the machines from tearing vehicles apart. There was a room at the car wash that was literally full of barrels of car parts. Mostly, we had a huge collection of exterior badges – enough to fill a couple of 55 gallon drums. From time to time, owners would come back asking for their badges and we would let them dig through the bins to see if they could find theirs. We also had an area of body moldings, including chrome strips, door edge guards and even the occasional wheel flare or two. Oh, and all of the mangled wiper arms. Basically, anything that wasn’t well-affixed to the vehicle would either be blown off by the pre-soak, the high pressure rinse or the air drying system and if the pressurized stations didn’t get those loose bits, the brushes most certainly would.

Also, I saw how a lack of proper maintenance can quickly turn these businesses into tunnels of doom for vehicle owners – something which was experienced this weekend by Hellcat Challenger owner Paul Powell.

Hellcat Challenger Wheels Mangled
On Saturday, June 25th, Paul Powell was taking his Plum Crazy 2016 Dodge Challenger SRT Hellcat to a local car show when he got caught in a light rain. While Paul generally hand washes his 707hp Mopar muscle car, he figured that it couldn’t hurt to stop in to have a quickie wash at a local gas station, so he stopped at Hoffman Estates BP in Hoffman Estates, Illinois. Their automated car wash is the style where you pull into a small garage of sorts, punch in your pay code, and the washing apparatus moves around your vehicle. Paul points out that it is advertised as a touchless car wash, as many are, so he figured that it would be safe for his Hellcat Challenger.

Unfortunately, he was wrong.

As Paul pulled his Hellcat Challenger into the wash booth, he carefully pulled into the metal guides which ensure proper alignment with the washing apparatus. The idea is that these smooth, metal rollers allow your tire and wheel to guide smoothly into the proper alignment, but when the wheels of Paul’s Challenger contacted the guides, the huge gaps and the gnarled edges of the guides ripped up the outer edge of both driver’s side wheels. Upon seeing this, Paul went back to examine the guides and at that point, he saw the gap in the guide system and the ragged edges of the guides – which groves carved into his wheels.

When he saw the damage to his Hellcat Challenger wheels and the poor condition of the guide system, Paul asked for the owner to come speak with him about the damage. When the owner arrived, he explained to Paul that the guides can only damage the wheels if you are not lined up correctly and that his business is not responsible. The owner went so far as to compare the damage to Paul’s situation being similar to someone plowing through the gas tanks and then expecting the owner of the business to pay for the ensuing damage. The difference, of course, is that you aren’t supposed to intentionally drive into the gas pumps – you are supposed to drive into the guides. When this Hellcat Challenger rolled into the guides as intended, those guides gouged up the wheels, but even with the poor condition of the guides, no responsibility is being taken by the business owner.

The image below shows the front wheel on the left, the rear wheel on the right and the misaligned guide at Hoffman Estates BP that did the damage in the middle.
Damaged Hellcat Wheels

So why am I bringing you this unfortunate story of Paul’s Hellcat Challenger? To remind all of the car guys and car girls out there that these automatic car wash businesses are little more than a way to pay to have damage done to your vehicle. After working at one and seeing the high number of vehicles damaged by a well maintained car wash, I would never take any of my vehicles through one and I tell everyone I know (who cares about their vehicle) to avoid them at all costs. They might call themselves touchless or insist that they are safe to all sorts of vehicles, but in the end, these types of car washes are very hard on the vehicle.

Paul learned the hard way that the negative stereotype surrounding automated car wash businesses are unfortunately accurate and now he is stuck with damages to his Hellcat Challenger, but we can all learn the same lesson from the pictures and his story. The car wash at the Hoffman Estates BP is like many others, with questionable maintenance to very old technology and an owner who refuses responsibility for the damages that his facilities caused. Next time you are thinking about stopping in for a quick car wash…take the time out of your day to wash the car by hand.

Finally, before rushing to the comments to proclaim that Paul should have known better than to take something as nice as a Hellcat Challenger through an automated car wash – I can assure you that he has learned his lesson. Hopefully, more and more vehicle owners learn their lesson and help to eradicate low quality businesses like Hoffman Estates BP.

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Thanks Patrick for writing a great story about my momentary lapse in judgement. I can confirm I will never be taking my car to ANY car wash after this.
We have the brushless car wash at sheetz here in Murrysville pa and I ts maintained regularly. I have 5 cars including a corvette, challenger 392, jeep commander which I have washed at this car wash for over 10 years and never a problem. They will be upgrading to a new technology in brushless car washes next year and expand the current facility.