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Drivers claim automatic car washes damaged their vehicles

The International Car Wash Association doesn't keep track of how many cars are damaged in car washes. However, Better Business Bureau complaints reveal damage claims from automatic car washes across Central Texas. (CBS Austin)

Julyssa Roel has sworn off automatic car washes. Last year, she took her brand-new car through a car wash she's used dozens of times, except this time she heard a strange noise and noticed a dent on her bumper.

"You work really hard for your things -- and then for this to happen -- you just don't even think about it," says Roel.

After alerting employees, the car wash manager allowed Roel to take cell phone video of her car going through the wash.

She's glad she did. "You can actually see in the video where he has to tell them to stop the machine and he has to pull it off my vehicle," says Roel.

Roel says the manager acknowledged the machine malfunction and agreed to cover the cost of the damage. However, because it's not always easy to determine who's at fault, some drivers have to foot the bill themselves.

Sarah Ortiz claims an automatic car wash took off the light bar on her jeep and scratched her hood. "We just chalked it up to $450 down the drain," says Ortiz.

Joe Sessler with Jeff's Auto Body says he services about four to five cars a month that have sustained damage from a car wash. "Mainly it's cosmetic damage, scratches and stuff like that the chemicals are definitely harsh, they [brushes] do get debris, dirt, and rocks that cause damage to the paint," says Sessler.

David Swenson, car wash owner and member of the Car Wash Association says damage claims aren't all that common. "The chance of incident is quite small," says Swenson.

He says the cases he's seen have been primarily caused by driver error rather than machine malfunctions. "The biggest issue is when people are pulling on to the track. They don't get the car in neutral and try to ride the breaks so the car doesn't roll easily through the wash," says Swenson.

The International Car Wash Association doesn't keep track of how many cars are damaged in car washes. However, Better Business Bureau complaints reveal damage claims from automatic car washes across Central Texas.

Timothy Gilmore, a marketing representative at Capital City Insurance has processed car wash claims for 40 years. He says the best thing drivers can do to protect themselves is to record what's happening during the wash, and never wait to file a report. "There's a saying in the insurance business -- 'if its old it's cold.' If you come back two days later and allege damage it's not going to be taken very seriously," says Gilmore.

Despite potential risks, statistics show more and more drivers are using automatic car washes. However, Roel and Ortiz say they'll stick to hand-washing in the future.

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