What Is Car Wash Mode?

Car wash modes, often found in EVs, help make the cleaning process easier on high-tech vehicles.

View of Tesla Model 3 front seat area with infotainment screenTesla

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Today's electronic and highly automated vehicles might look and feel futuristic, but they still get as dirty as any other car. Unfortunately, when you want to drive through an automated car wash, a high-tech automobile's parking sensors and emergency-braking systems might not react well.

Several brands, including electric vehicle makers Tesla and Rivian, come equipped with car wash mode controls specifically designed to help you avoid damage when you're using an automated car wash.

Side view of Rivian R1S in blue-green parked on dirt roadRivian

What Are the Functions of Car Wash Mode?

Generally speaking, car wash mode can disable the rain-sensing wipers, deactivate the parking sensors and automatic emergency braking, and close all the windows to make sure you stay dry. This helps prevent your vehicle from stopping itself on an automatic car wash's motorized conveyor belt, and stops rain-sensing wipers from going into meltdown mode when the rolling washing brushes descend on your car.

For vehicles that also have pop-out door handles or can automatically lock and unlock themselves based on proximity to your key fob or smartphone, car wash mode can temporarily disable those functions.

Tesla Model S in dark blue driving on paved roadTesla

The Benefits of Car Wash Mode

It all comes down to simplicity. While you can still manually go through a litany of screens, buttons, and switches to disable all of the individual systems, car wash mode streamlines the process. Car wash mode also makes sure you haven't forgotten any of those steps.

BMW X5 in blue parked in parking lot with fields and trees behind itBMW

What Vehicles Offer Car Wash Mode?

Tesla, Rivian, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz are among automakers with an available car wash mode.

Tesla's Car Wash Mode closes all of the car's windows, locks its charge port, and disables functions including the rain-sensing wipers, walk-away door locking, parking-sensor chimes, and Tesla's Sentry Mode.

To allow the car to roll freely on an automatic car wash's conveyor belt, Tesla drivers need to touch the Enable Free Roll button on the control screen, or simply shift the vehicle into neutral. Tesla's Car Wash Mode turns off if the car exceeds 9 mph or by pressing Exit on the touchscreen.

In a similar vein, Rivian's Car Wash Mode is available on the R1T and R1S. Drivers put their vehicles into neutral by gently tapping up on the gear selector. Car Wash Mode is under the touchscreen's Access and Security menu, and it will keep the door handles from popping out, mute the parking sensors, and turn off proximity locking and rain-sensing wipers, as well as automatic emergency braking.

Mercedes-Benz's GLS-Class also features a mode for automated car washes that disables the big luxury SUV's automatic safety systems, reminds drivers to close windows, and recalibrates the surround-view camera so you can see what's going on. Drivers can also use the voice-recognition feature in the automaker's in-vehicle tech suite, Mercedes-Benz User Experience, or MBUX, to turn on car wash mode.

Certain BMW vehicles, including the X5, have a limited car wash mode that makes use of the surround-view camera system to help drivers enter a car wash.

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Andy Stonehouse
Andy Stonehouse literally fell into the world of auto writing while working as a ski-town journalist, and has not looked back since. A childhood spent dealing with the eccentricities of a 1976 MG Midget has made any subsequent auto experience a more safe and reliable drive. He has been blessed with nearby mountain trails and snowy roads in Colorado to do TV-adventure-styled test drives on a weekly basis.