How Tesla Car Wash Mode Works – And Why You May NOT Want to Use It

By Zac Ludicrous •  Updated: 07/02/22 •  7 min read

Many car wash places have banned Teslas for not being “car wash friendly”, and Tesla has dozens of warnings on the subject in their manuals.

Yet the company releases a “Car Wash Mode,” confusing us all as to whether it’s safe to use a car wash in the long term.

Are automatic car washes actually harmful to your Tesla? And does this Tesla Car Wash Mode feature actually help the situation?

Read on to find out.

Should Teslas Go Through Automatic Car Washes?

In a press release, the International Carwash Association said they have “received numerous reports of driver concern about Tesla’s recommended cleaning procedures for the Model 3 sedan.”

In a nutshell, the Model 3 (and Model Y) owner’s manual cautions against:

❌ Hot water
❌ High-pressure water
❌ Detergents
❌ Brushes

No surprise owners are complaining!

Automatic car washes can misalign your Tesla’s sensors and damage charging ports, not to mention scratch up that nice paint job.

So how the heck are you supposed to clean your car? Handwashing all the time? No way!

The only option Tesla advocates is touchless car washes, but even then, the cautions continue:

“Some touchless car washes use caustic solutions that, over time, can cause discoloration of decorative exterior trim. Avoid exposure to soaps and chemicals above pH 13. If unsure, check the product label or ask the staff at the car wash. Damage caused by improper washing is not covered by the warranty.”

As a result, the consensus from the Tesla community is as follows: 

Teslas can go through an automatic car wash, but a touchless one preferably. If not touchless though, you can still consider the occasional car wash at your own risk.

Though a car wash once in a while shouldn’t cause permanent damage to your car, it’s best not to make it a habit.

And if you’re the type of person who doesn’t really care about exterior trim and paint experiencing some decoloring, then you’re free to go frequently if you want.

If that’s the case, you’ll want to use Tesla’s Car Wash Mode.

What Does Tesla’s New Car Wash Mode Do Exactly?

In a nutshell, Car Wash Mode performs a set of protective actions that had to be done manually in the past. 

Owners basically had to go through a checklist to make sure no damage was done to the car during a car wash. Now the car is smart enough to take care of that full checklist with one button.

Here’s BigC Vlogs walking you through what Car Wash Mode actually does as he prepares to test it out himself on his Tesla Model 3:

At just past the 1:20 mark, he shows the disclaimer text box that pops up when you enable Car Wash Mode with what’s about to happen to your Tesla.
tesla car wash mode

Lots of things close and disable when Car Wash Mode kicks in, including all your windows, locks, and sensors. 

Here’s the handy checklist that pops up right after you engage Car Wash Mode:

tesla car wash mode

How to Enable Car Wash Mode

Here are the quick steps to put your Tesla into Car Wash Mode:

  1. From the car icon or quick controls pop-up on your main screen, select Service.
  2. Car Wash Mode pops up on the right.
  3. You’ll see that disclaimer text box and then hit Enter Car Wash Mode.

That’s it. You’re in.

How to Disable Car Wash Mode

Now your vehicle is all scrubbed up and shiny, you’ll want to exit Car Wash Mode.

Once you’re exiting, press the brake, put your car into drive, and hit Exit Car Wash Mode once your vehicle is out of the car wash.

Or if you’re in a hurry, once you’re driving over 10 mph, Car Wash Mode disables itself.

Additional Options: Folding Mirrors, Screen Cleaning, and Free Roll Explained

Aside from the list of actions listed when Car Wash Mode is turned on, a few other options appear on the same screen for Car Wash Mode.

Folding Mirrors

One that many drivers choose to enable when they’re about to enter the car wash, the “Folding Mirrors” button will automatically bring your mirrors into the vehicle. 

As you’d expect, sometimes the car wash can bump and push in the mirrors, so best to get those out of the way before going through.

Conveniently, once activated, the button will now show Unfold Mirrors so you can bring them back out once you’re done at the car wash.

Putting Your Car In “Neutral”: Free Roll Explained

For automatic car washes where you’re on a track or conveyor belt–type system, most non-electric vehicles shift into neutral to go through. 

Instead (since there isn’t a neutral “gear” to shift into), you’re going to want to enable Free Roll in your Tesla. 

To do this, simply press the brakes and shift to D to enable Free Roll.

This is the safest way to get your Tesla onto the conveyor belt and keep the car gliding through.

It’s the same as putting it into neutral, and the screen even shows that your Tesla will remain in neutral while it’s in Car Wash Mode. 

Once your front tires reach off the belt, you can disable Free Roll just as quickly.

Screen Clean Mode

Not really a part of the car wash experience but rather a menu feature in the same screen as Car Wash Mode, you might be interested in cleaning your navigation screen at the same time.

Smudged fingerprints are a nuisance on your phone screen, so they inevitably irritate some drivers too as we use touch screens in the Tesla.

Screen Clean Mode will activate once you’ve entered Car Wash Mode, but you can also access it from the Quick Controls menu under Display settings.

This feature will turn your screen all black, and you can use your soft microfiber cloth to wipe down the smudges. 

Because the screen is all black, you won’t risk wiping and scrolling all around in your settings, messing things up. 

If you’re a bit of a clean freak, it’s useful to get a clean slate on your screen. 

Is Car Wash Mode Available on All Tesla Models?

As of April this year, new Model S, Model 3, Model Y, and the redesigned Model X all come with Car Wash Mode available.

Pre-2021 Model S and Model X unfortunately do not come with Car Wash Mode. 

For those older models, you can still manually turn off the features and functionality that Car Wash Mode disables automatically if you’re keen to go through a car wash.

Final Thoughts

Enter at your own risk. Car washes have long been both a reward and a punishment for vehicles as you take on liability for a lot of the damage they can potentially inflict.

If you’re willing to risk it, Tesla has definitely made it easier for your vehicle to ready itself for the wash to limit any dings and dents. 

Zac Ludicrous

Mechanical engineer by profession. TSLA shareholder before the hype. EV enthusiast all day long. Zac enjoys learning about the future of battery technology, autonomy, and EVs. He considers Tesla Model 3 the most important vehicle of the 21st century -- and is in a quest to improve the ownership experience of every Model 3 owner he possibly can.

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