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Damage to a vehicle caused by a car wash – But who is liable?

As a rule, your car wash will not cause any damage if you use high-quality technology that has been properly adjusted. If, however, damage nevertheless does occur, it is necessary to clarify who is to be held liable. It is extremely unpleasant both for you as the operator and for the customer if their car is damaged in the car wash. In some cases it is not so easy to prove who is to blame. Here we show you what you should always look out for.

Clearly display the rules

Display the rules that apply in your car wash on large and clearly visible signs. For example, do drivers have to retract or unscrew their aerials or should they fold in their wing mirrors? As an alternative to large and easy-to-understand signs, you can also instruct your employees to explain the rules to each individual customer. You are not legally obliged to explain to your customers that they should not operate the windscreen wipers or open the windows. But it won't do any harm, especially if a customer is visiting your car wash for the first time and you cannot judge how familiar they are with using one. Some car wash manufacturers, such as WashTec, also offer entrance gantries, which allow you to display the most important information and which are clearly illuminated with LEDs for the customers to see before entering the car wash.

If damage occurs in your car wash because a customer has not followed the rules you have clearly displayed, you are on the safe side – under these circumstances, you will not be liable to prosecution. However, you cannot simply rule out every kind of damage.

These limitations of liability are objectionable

It would be easy to simply exclude torn off mirrors, aerials or trims in the liability restrictions as well as possible paintwork damage and scratches resulting from this. However, you are not allowed to do this because the law says that customers have a right to have their car washed without having to accept any damage to it.

If the vehicle is not suitable

Train your employees to look out for any special features of each vehicle that may not survive the wash cycle in your car wash. These can include spoilers or roof racks, for example. Even lowered cars have problems in some car washes. Courts have often ruled in favour of customers in such cases, so it is important that you advise customers with such modifications to their cars before using your car wash.

Who bears the burden of proof?

If a customer complains about their car being damaged in your car wash, the first thing you need to do is to find out whether the damage actually occurred in your car wash. If this cannot be traced back to the car wash, the burden of proof initially lies with the customer. In most cases, an independent expert is called in to determine the origin of the damage. If this expert opinion is to your disadvantage, the burden of proof lies with you to prove that the damage did not occur in your car wash. If you are unable to provide proof, you or your insurance company will be liable. Always ensure that your system is regularly serviced and kept clean. In this way, possible sources of trouble can usually be eliminated quickly, so that no problematic situations arise in the first place.

Consider the negative publicity

If a customer is convinced that the damage to their car came from your car wash but cannot prove it, you are not liable. However, you should keep in mind that any disgruntled customer poses a risk. Especially in times of online review sites and Facebook, the angry customer can vent his or her anger in a way that many other people notice. Under certain circumstances, your image may take a knock. It is better if you treat the customer calmly and friendly and look together at whether there is any way in which you can mutually resolve the dilemma and to each other's satisfaction. But that doesn't mean that you should accept responsibility for every damage you might be accused of!

Summary: Prevention and checking – the number one priority

Generally, vehicles are not damaged by going through the car wash, but it may occur. However, you can minimise the likelihood of this happening by clearly displaying the rules that apply in your car wash or by having them explained by your employees. Thanks to the disclaimer, you cannot be held responsible for damages caused by the carelessness of a driver who ignores these rules. If you then keep the system up to date with the latest technology, damage to your customers' cars will rarely occur.

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