For years, on the rare occasion when I noticed my car needed a wash, I would get it done manually, for example by the team of guys in the local supermarket car park.  Then, one day, I rather rashly decided to go to an automatic mechanised car wash. You know the sort? Well, lucky you as it seems, apparently, I was not as familiar with them as one might expect.

The car wash was located at the Shell Garage in Putney, where I then lived. I drove up to it, got my payment token and entered the washing bay. Parking roughly in the middle. So far so good.

Then I noticed the sign. Actually, there were three of them. All telling me to make sure I parked between the lines. Given there were three signs telling me this, I took it to be a very serious instruction. Surely I was ‘between the lines’? Best check. I looked out of the window. And here’s the problem. The car I was driving at the time was a Toyota MR2 – a sports car, so quite low to the ground. Plus, I am not the tallest person, so my angle of vision was, shall we say, a bit limited.

Obeying the Rules

Looking out of my side window, I could see the ground to my right and there, at the edge of the bay, was a parallel set of metal lines about two or so feet apart. Like a narrow train track. I looked to my left but could not see the ground due to my low angle of vision. Therefore, I could see no lines.

Now, as you all know, there is in every car wash of this type another track on the left hand side of the bay. But, due to my unfamiliarity with car wash layouts and, not forgetting my low angle of vision, I could not conjure up an image of this other set of tracks. And those three signs setting out that vital instruction were playing on my mind.

‘Gosh,’ I thought, ‘They must want me to position my driver’s-side wheels inside that track to my right. To be between those lines. How odd.’ But undeterred, and always anxious to obey the rules, I dutifully reversed out of the bay, and slowly re-entered it with my wheels centred inside the right-hand track. ‘How strange,’ I thought, ‘I’m very far over, but it is what the sign said.’

Time for a Wash

So, the wash began. Foam sprayed all over the car and that huge white horizontal brush descended from above to wash the front of the car. It came up and over the bonnet,  up the front window screen and then started to make its way over the roof. Woosh!  Whir!  Whoosh! How exciting, and far more effective than those chaps I’d been paying.

Meanwhile, the vertical brushes were doing their job along the side of the car. Whoosh! Whir! Clunk!  Everything stopped. The right-hand vertical brush was jammed against my car door. ‘Mmnn,’ I thought. ‘Not good. How did that happen?’  Hard to tell when everything was covered in foam. I turned on the ignition and put on the windscreen wipers to get a better look. I peered to my left and noticed that the left-hand vertical brush, also halted, did not seem quite so close to the car as the one on my side.

Then I worked out why. My driver’s-side wheels were parked inside the track down which the right-hand vertical brush travels, and it had jammed against my door when it could go no further. Oh. Dear. As the brush was stuck, I was trapped in the car. Plus, there was another notice telling me not to exit the car while the car wash was in progress. Double, oh dear.

To the Rescue

Luckily, the Shell garage is opposite a newsagent. Various people were coming and going. I sounded my horn. No reaction. More people. I sounded my horn again. Finally, a youngish man looked my way. I waved urgently at him. Seeing a foam-covered car, with the brushes at a standstill, he worked out there was a problem. He signalled that he’d tell the garage. I smiled my eternal gratitude.

A moment or so later the man who ran the garage appeared. Shaking his head in disbelief, he pulled and pushed various controls and put the brushes in reverse. With the driver’s door now brush-free, I lowered the window to receive his verdict on my incompetence. Plus his irritation that to finish the wash they would have to give me a free wash and start all over again.  But, obviously, not until I was parked in the right place!

I then had to endure the humiliation of carefully reversing the car from between those lines and re-parking it in the middle of the bay where I had begun. The car was then completely re-washed, and I returned home.

Counting the Cost

It was only when I got home that I ventured out of the car and surveyed the damage. In jamming into the car door, that brush had made quite a dent. I decided not to claim on my insurance, as I couldn’t face having to say how it had happened. I’d end up on one of those lists of the stupidest insurance claims ever. So, I paid for the damage myself. £400. A costly little error!