We often get asked, “Can I take my Prius through an automatic car wash?” Yes, but there are some things to consider first.
If you have a hybrid vehicle and are in need of a car wash we definitely recommend using the trackless wash version that allow you to keep your car in drive or park for the duration of the wash. The problem with track style washes is that you’re forced to put your hybrid in neutral to enter the track. When in neutral, the hybrid battery is not being charged . Batteries are known to drain quickly in certain conditions (AC running, older/worn out battery).
Lets say it’s a hot summer day and you’re in a long line at the track style car wash. You’ve got the AC blasting and pull up to the track and put the car into neutral. You glance at the battery monitor and its half way full, but you notice its draining..quickly. By the time you get to the end of the wash all the warning lights have come on and there’s a loud beeping sound coming from the dash. Panic sets in. People are honking and a simple car wash has turned into a tunnel of doom.
In the Prius specifically, the warning lights will come on when the car reaches around 25% state of charge. The lights are letting you know to put the car back into gear so that the engine can start to charge the battery again. If you have an older or worn-out battery, it may be too late though. In this instance, try and disconnect your 12v battery for a minute (Youtube links below on how to do this). When you reconnect, jump in and see if you can drive off safely with no warning lights.
Charge Your Battery First
Instead of using the track style car washes, opt for the type that allows you to keep the car in park. If you HAVE to use a track style wash, make sure that your battery is charged up fairly well and turn the AC off if its safe to do so.