This One New Car Feature Might Leave You Stuck at the Car Wash

Craig Fitzgerald

Craig Fitzgerald | Dec 11, 2015

SPOILER ALERT: If you're a Volvo XC90 owner, we're revealing something that appears on page 536 of the manual. It's a real page-turner, and if you're only 357 pages in, we don't want to wreck the surprise.

We're at an interesting point in automotive history. Even cars at the low end of the automotive spectrum are equipped with autonomous features that nudge you back into your lane, brake automatically if you're daydreaming and about to plow into the car in front of you, and even park the car automatically. But having a computer protect you from your own stupidity leads to all kinds of unintended frustrations, like the simple act of pulling into an automatic car wash.

Automated carwashes are great, assuming your car will permit you to drive into one... (Wikimedia Commons, CurranH)

We only learned about this yesterday, from Jimmy Dinsmore, a fellow automotive writer who bangs out copy for Car News Cafe and Car Fanatics Blog. He showed up at his local automatic car wash with a 2016 Volvo XC90 and tried to enter as he would with any of the hundreds of cars he's run through the same facility over the years.

With the Volvo XC90 in neutral, the rollers engaged as they would with any other cars and -- stopped. The vehicle wouldn't move. He tried turning the vehicle off and leaving it in neutral to no avail. It stayed stoically in its position at the mouth of the car wash tunnel.

Nothing he tried would get the automatic car wash to guide the XC90 through the tunnel. He eventually had to back out and figure out what was going on.

After reading this piece, we're wondering if the dusty, dirty desert is the best place to do a photoshoot for the 2016 XC90. (Volvo)

Jimmy originally thought that the issue was due to the Volvo XC90's bazillion safety sensors, such as its Pedestrian Detection feature that will automatically brake if the car senses a pedestrian in its path. The answer finally came from another automotive writer, Chad Kirchner, editor-in-chief at Average Car Guy and contributor to several Internet Brands publications. It's actually due to a feature called "Pilot Assist Auto Hold Braking," which is essentially an automatic parking brake.

If the Volvo XC90 stops in traffic for more than three seconds, the car's four disc brakes are automatically engaged as a means of keeping it from rolling away. The feature also engages when the car is parked, or in neutral. It's a feature that's arriving on more and more cars these days, all the way down to the Chevrolet Sonic. It's also incorporated on cars like:

... though you'll have to read the manuals in those cars to see if this feature works in Neutral the way it does in the XC90.

If there's one time when you'd want that feature deactivated, it's at the car wash.

These instructions are almost enough to make us just wash the darn car ourselves.  (Chad Kirchner)

Volvo provides instructions on how to turn it off, on page 536 of the owner's manual, in the Maintenance and Servicing section.

The text reads:

When using an automatic car wash in which the vehicle has to be able to roll freely, the auto-hold brake function must be deactivated. If this is not done, the brakes will automatically be applied when the vehicle is stationary.

The owner's manual provides instructions on how to deactivate the feature:

1. Drive the vehicle into the car wash.
2. Turn off the auto-hold function using the control on the center console.
3. Turn off the parking brake's automatic function in the center display's Top view (tap SETTINGS, tap MY CAR > Electric Parking Brake, and Deselect Auto Activate Parking Brake).
4. Put the gear selector in N.
5. Switch off the ignition by turning the start knob to Stop and holding it in this position for at least four seconds.

The vehicle will then be able to roll freely

Totally simple! Couldn't be easier!

(Thanks to Chad Kirchner for the Photo. Check out his blog at Average Car Guy.)

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