The sudden acceleration issue has dogged the auto industry since the mid-1980s, following reports that vehicles from many automakers suffered from sudden acceleration. Jeeps have been singled out for criticism for at least 15 years, although no study has confirmed the problem.

The car wash association, which began warning members about the problem as early as 1995, recently sent a letter advising members how to warn workers about washing Jeeps.

"Notify all employees once a Jeep arrives on premises by honking the horn and activating the hazard lights," the letter says. "Have only experienced employees operate Jeeps. Have employees wear seatbelts when operating Jeeps."

Chrysler said it's aware that some car washes refuse to service its customers' Jeep Cherokees and Grand Cherokees because of the campaign. Bruce Milen, owner of Jax Car Wash, with six outlets in Metro Detroit, said the problem is real.

In the past 18 months, he said the company has had four incidents involving Jeeps. In March, a worker was driving a Jeep off the conveyer belt after it was washed, and the vehicle hit three other cars and ran over an employee, breaking his pelvis.

The company's worker's compensation insurance was cancelled and its new rates are higher. Now a plastic sleeve is placed over the steering wheels of Cherokees and Grand Cherokees to remind workers to take special precautions.

"My employee swore up and down that his foot was on the brake, and other employees saw the brake lights on," Milen said. "It's impossible for all these incidents to be employee error. I'm a small-business man-to go after Chrysler, forget it. I just want the problem fixed."

Vines cited dozens of studies over more than a decade that he says disprove any link between "sudden acceleration" and a vehicle defect. In 1989, NHTSA said "pedal misapplication"-mistaking the gas pedal for the brake-was to blame.

More recently, NHTSA rejected a request to investigate sudden acceleration in Jeeps in 2002, saying pedal misapplication appeared to be the primary cause of such incidents.

"It's a big mistake for the car wash industry to whitewash its failings by trying to blame the vehicles its customers pay good money to clean," Vines wrote on the blog. "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."

Vines also noted that while five of 41 recent complaints of sudden acceleration were lodged against Jeep Cherokees and Grand Cherokees, the same number were leveled against the Toyota Camry.

Mark Thorsby, ICA's executive director, backpedaled a bit Tuesday from the group's advice for washing Jeeps.

He said the advice for special precautions was applicable for all vehicles. Jeep was singled out because the number of complaints they had received "were excessive in comparison to other vehicles."

"If we got Toyota complaints, we'd say, 'Hey, look out for the Camry,'" Thorsby said. "There have been an infinitesimally small number of incidents of property damage or injuries involving Jeeps, but they got our attention."

Americans spend $24 billion annually at the nation's 100,000 car washes. About 40 percent of the washes are self-serve.

You can reach David Shepardson at (202) 662-8735 or dshepardson@detnews.com.

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