Car washes unfairly target Jeeps as dangerous

The Chrysler Group's Jason Vines is not one to bite his tongue when he discovers reports about his company that a lack a certain degree of truthiness. Today Vines has called out the International Carwash Association (ICA) on the company's media blog for alleging that Jeeps are more prone than other vehicles to suddenly accelerate as they move near the end of the car wash process.
No doubt the ICA is recalling the controversy surrounding the alleged tendency for certain Chrysler products to suddenly accelerate when being shifted into Reverse or Drive. In fact, its own internal investigation and inquiries made by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration showed that almost all reported cases of vehicles experiencing unintended acceleration were due to pedal misapplication rather than mechanical defects.

Of the 41 incidences of sudden acceleration reported to the NHTSA, the Jeep Grand Cherokee against which these allegations have been predominantly charged was involved in five. The Toyota Camry was also involved in five and many other makes and model comprise the remaining 31.

Despite finding no mechanical fault with its vehicles, DCX did offer to retrofit Jeep Cherokee and Grand Cherokee models back in 1997 with a 'brake-park' shift interlock that would prevent pedal confusion while shifting.

Vines then turns the mirror towards the car wash industry itself, pointing out that its workforce is comprised mainly of unskilled laborers who often drive customers' vehicles wearing big boots with one ass cheek on the seat while hanging out the door. Clearly no vehicles are intended to be operated that way.

You can check out Vines' fulmination in full after the jump and make up your own mind.

[Source: DCX]

Sudden Exaggeration
by Jason Vines

The International Carwash Association (ICA) is attempting to pull a stunt that stinks as strong as those pine tree scented air "fresheners." The organization, which represents the nation's thousands of car washes, is singling out Jeep® Grand Cherokee, alleging it is more prone than other vehicles to suddenly accelerate as they move near the end of the car wash process.

That's hogwash. If a vehicle suddenly accelerates in a car wash, it's generally because some dude "workin' at the car wash baby" is dancing with two left feet-stepping on the gas pedal instead of the brake. That's not my opinion, that's the conclusion reached in studies conducted by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and other government and independent agencies.

In fact, claims of sudden acceleration have been leveled at virtually every make of vehicle.

Of the past 41 incidences of (alleged) sudden acceleration at car washes reported to NHTSA, five involved the Grand Cherokee. A lot? Not if you look behind the unusual hype coming out of the ICA. You know what other vehicle was the subject of five sudden acceleration reports? It wasn't even an SUV, but the Golden Child Toyota Camry! The other 31 incidents involved many other makes and models. (Psst, there's nothing to Camry sudden acceleration claims either, by the way.)

Instead of looking realistically inwardly at the hiring and training of its members, the ICA would rather close its eyes while pointing a misguided finger outwardly toward the dirty vehicles that provide income for carwash operators.

In a July 10th letter to one of our engineering specialists, the ICA executive director Mark Thorsby informed him that the industry has launched an initiative they call "We Care," which is really nothing but a synonym for unwarranted hysteria (and abbreviated, WC, reminds me of what it really is.)

"We Care" calls for the following steps to be taken when a Jeep enters a car wash, according to an attachment to Thorsby's letter:
1-Notify all employees once a Jeep arrives by honking the horn and activating hazard lights.
2-Have only experienced employees operate Jeeps.
3-Have employees wear seatbelts when operating Jeeps.

What this comes down to, quite seriously, is a transfer of blame in order to cover up inadequate employee training, the hiring of illegal workers and a disturbing increase in crime at carwashes.

What do we know about this that allows me to make such charges?

Consider this: isn't it interesting that all of these alleged sudden acceleration stories sound the same?

"The car just took off by itself. I tried to hit the brake, but it wouldn't stop!"

"The harder I pushed on the brake, the faster it went!"

There are a few immutable truths in life. One is that the brakes always win. You could be standing on the gas, but if your other foot is on the brake the car is going nowhere. No kidding, do it yourself.

Need more proof? Consider just a small sampling of what we found out about car wash industry from carwash industry journals.

A story in "Professional Carwashing and Detailing Magazine" points out how a "full service carwash requires a lot of unskilled workers," causing the industry to rely on unskilled and often illegal labor. That scenario can lead to a situation where vehicles are not operated in a safe and professional manner.

Here are some other recent news stories illustrating how the actions of car wash workers who were apparently poorly trained or simply out of control, led to injury or death.

· North Plainfield, New Jersey – A car wash employee moving a van hit and dragged his co-worker, killing the man.

· Tampa, Florida – A car wash owner was in critical condition after being run over by an employee driving a Lincoln Navigator, which also hit a Walgreens store. Charges are pending against the carwash worker.

· Syracuse, New York – A car wash employee driving a van equipped for a driver with disabilities crashed through the front glass doors of the car wash offices. According to the Post Standard, the employee accelerated instead of braking.

· Longmont, Colorado – A car wash worker moving a customer's Ford F150 pickup truck leveled a bank sign and careened off an SUV carrying a holiday-bound family before plowing into the bank itself.

· Fairfield, Connecticut - A Jaguar sedan accidentally left in drive was sent careening through a carwash injuring three employees who tried to stop it along the way, police said.

We could go on and on. A simple Internet search doesn't take long to find a laundry list. Interestingly, investigations have shown what many of these car wash crashes have in common – big boots on the driver and half a butt cheek on the seat with the operator basically riding the vehicle side saddle.

The fact is no potential product defect allegation has been as exhaustively investigated as sudden acceleration. Allegations years ago almost put a fine company out of business. In every case, whether or not it occurred in a carwash, it was operator error, not a mechanical defect that triggered the incidents.

It's a big mistake for the car wash industry to white wash its failings by trying to blame the vehicles its customers pay good money to clean.

Make no mistake, DaimlerChrysler offers its sincere sympathy to the victims and their families, but it's important they know their injuries were not caused by any mechanical failure on the part of a vehicle.

We are asking the ICA to direct its members to stop unfairly singling out Jeep or any other brand without any credible facts and for goodness sakes, train and supervise their employees.

Since the ICA's smear campaign against Jeep doesn't appear to be reaching the end of the line, we had no choice but to wring out the situation in public through this blog. I encourage you, as journalists, bloggers and industry analysts to dig in and see for yourselves that the car wash industry is attempting to muddy the reputation of dozens of well-made vehicles in order to hide its own dirt.

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