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Car Wash Blues

I have a 2002 Mazda Tribute with 149,000 miles on it. Bought it new, have done usual maintenance with it and in general it runs great. Wonderful Daughter in college has expensive tastes so do not recommend I replace the car, not up for that at present.

Odd problem is this…when I go through an automatic car wash (the kind you drive through and it shoots water up under your car as you drive in and then you stop and a big overhead arm washes your car) my car runs AWFUL when I leave the car wash…the check engine light comes on and the car idles awful and runs very rough for about 30 minutes. If I keep driving or let the car sit, it is “cured” in about 30 minutes and in a day or two the check engine light goes off. This problem has occurred with car washes for about a year and is much worse when it is cold (which is when I want to wash my car due to salt on the roads). I live in Virgina so it is not frigid here but we do get cold weather and not washing my car is a hassle, so I wash it and put up with the mystery problem. My guess is the water shooting up under the car messes something up (the catalytic converter? could water somehow get into the gas tank?). Solution?

Appreciate the help. Thank you!


It’s something electrical, not the cat or the gas tank, and it take a while to dry out, longer in the winter. Not sure what you can do about it though. Have you replaced the distributor cap and wires? sometimes they deteriorate to the point where water can short out the spark.

The catalytic converter gets wet every time you drive in the rain. It’s not the problem. Nor is the gas tank. Water does not get in the gas tank when you go through a car wash.

The most likely culprit is the crankshaft position sensor. If the front splash shield is damaged this is a common problem.

I suggest finding a car wash that does not shoot water up into the engine compartment.

Have the spark plug wires ever been changed? If not this is a likely sign they are going bad or will go soon when it rains.

It’s an ignition component problem. Plug-wires, plugs, coil>???

I had a car that was hard to start when it was damp in the morning. New plug wires fixed it.