Who’s on the hook if your car gets damaged in a car wash?

Aug 24, 2023, 10:33 PM | Updated: 11:02 pm

BOUNTIFUL, Utah – Like many Utahns, Dallin Pedersen installed a roof rack on his vehicle, an upgrade that’s extremely handy for hauling everything from skis to bicycles or kayaks.

“I loved having the roof rack when it was working,” Pedersen said.

That convenience came to a crashing halt for him at the car wash.

“Sure enough, as I go through, I’m like that brush is getting a lot closer than it ever has before,” he said.

So close, says Pedersen, that it snagged his roof-mounted bike rack, which somehow escaped damage. But the factory roof rails and crossbars it was attached to, were ripped out of their mounts on his SUV’s roof.

Dallin Pedersen shows KSL’s Matt Gephardt an incident report an employee at the car wash filled out, saying the top retract wasn’t set by the cashier. Pedersen believes the missed step led to the damage to his car. (Jeff Dahdah, KSL TV)

“It’s not really going to hold anything, any kind of load anymore,” Pedersen said. “And so, it’s basically worthless now.”

The fix is not cheap. Replacing those broken pieces on his 2012 Ford’s roof rack will cost over $1,500. Pedersen says he has gone through that particular car wash many times before with his bike rack on with nary a scratch or even a hint of trouble.

“They never told me anything,” he said. “They didn’t say, ‘This is going to be a problem,’ or ‘You need to take that off when you come in,’ or anything.”

So, what happened this time around? Pedersen says he was given an incident report, in which an employee wrote that an important step was missed.

“Top retract wasn’t set by cashier,” he said. “I went to talk to the person. They said, ‘Yes, this is our fault. We should probably take care of it.’”

Disclaimer signs

But Pedersen says the manager called him days later and reminded him of the sign posted at the wash saying they are only responsible for items less than five years old. So, that repair bill for his 11-year-old Ford? That is on him.

“I feel like they’re hiding behind a policy and just trying to get this immunity through it,” he said.

Washed out after months of getting nowhere, Pedersen decided it was time to tap in the KSL Investigators.

We took our car through the South Salt Lake Quick Quack Car Wash – the same wash Pedersen used. Only after we paid and were in the chute for the wash did we see the sign, warning they are only responsible for items factory installed, secured, undamaged and less than five years old.

So just how enforceable are disclaimer signs like this?

“Sounds like a contract of adhesion,” Doug Oviatt, an attorney with experience in contract law, said. “A contract of adhesion is a is a type of contract, where it’s drafted by one party. It’s got ‘take it or leave it’ terms. In fact, I would say most contracts that people sign as part of their lives are contracts of adhesion. They are enforceable.”

Doug Oviatt, an attorney with experience in contract law, tells Matt Gephardt that factors such as a sign’s location, language and size can lead a court to question its fairness. (Mark Wetzel, KSL TV)

Oviatt says these and many other contracts do not require our signature for them to be enforceable. But their enforceability will hinge on several factors.

“Where that sign is, how big the sign is, what the language of the sign says – those are all factors that a court would look at to make sure that the overall result here is fair,” he said. “Nobody is forcing this person to use this service.”

The location of a sign can go a long way in determining its enforceability.

Oviatt says if a car wash has placed it in such a way that you cannot exit the wash if you choose not to accept the sign’s terms, a court will likely question its fairness.

Another factor courts will look at is negligence. Oviatt says a business can be liable for repairs, regardless of what a sign says, if there is negligence.

“If there was a known problem in there, they had failed to maintain their equipment properly, and that had resulted in the damage, then that sign on the wall, I think, would probably have a little less effect,” he said.

Same goes for an employee mistake.

Reverse course

KSL reached out to Quick Quack Car Wash’s communications team to ask them why then, Pedersen is wrong to think they should pay for the damages to his SUV. We did not get a direct answer to that, but in an email, they did tell us that they “resolved this with the customer directly.”

In the end, some good news for Pedersen. He says he got word from Quick Quack that they will pay the roof-rack repair bill.

“You could have any policy you want,” he said, “but that still doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re not responsible for certain things that happen.”

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Who’s on the hook if your car gets damaged in a car wash?