Squirreling Gone Wild #35: The Car Wash Scam

washOn a really nice day here a few weeks ago, I decided to get a car wash.  This wasn’t a case of me being frugal and taking a garden hose to wash the car at home. Rather, I went a local car wash place and decided to pay to have them do it.

The cost was supposed to be $15, but I got a $3 discount which brought the price down to $12.  Not too bad for an outside/inside wash.  After dealing with winter and a soggy spring, the car could use a nice cleaning, and I thought this would be it – and for a reasonable price.  The price itself is not what makes this worthy of being a Squirreling Gone Wild post, but the actions of the some of the people working there.

Anyway, once I left the car with them and paid, I sat in the waiting room for about 15 minutes.  It was one of those places where they have windows that allow you to see the car going through the automatic wash, having the exterior cleaned.  Then, afterward, they wash the inside.  When that’s done, the guys outside hand dry it.

It’s those guys outside that were a little bit tricky, so it seemed.  For the most past, I don’t care to watch them – nor do I usually need to.  This time, I just happened to be looking outside and saw one guy taking care of my car, and two others on another vehicle.  They finished that car up, and were then standing around as the one guy was finishing up my car.

The one guy got done, and then walked toward the waiting room where I was, about 50 feet away.  Before he took more than a few steps, I got up from my seat and made eye contact from behind the window.  He waved to come on out, signaling that my car was done.

Now, this is the time where the thought will come to mind, “oh, I should probably tip the guy”.  So as I walked out, I opened my wallet and thankfully I had a few singles – 3 to be exact – that I could use to tip the guy.  $3 is kind of a generous tip, but since I saved $3 up front, I figured what the heck.

However, as I approached, I saw those other two guys slide toward my car.  Then, they moved toward the other guy as they all saw me with the dollar bills. This is probably a terrible example, but it was like I was at a petting zoo, and feeding an animal – then the other animals notice the human has feed and race over to get their feed too.  That’s how these grown men acted.

The only thing is, those two other guys were working on the other car, and not mine.  Yet, it sure seemed like they were trying to act like they helped out even when they really didn’t, and thus were in line for a tip! What a scam, I thought!

It happened kind of fast, so I just impulsively handed the guy who actually did help the entire $3.  Then, I told him thanks, while looking at all of them with a smile and saying that they could divide it how they saw fit.  Then, I got in my car and left.  I could see one of the guys though my rear view mirror muttering something as I  drove off.

I probably should have just given it to that one guy and left, but in that split second I guess it just felt uncomfortable doing that.  Even though it would have been fair all around.

My Questions for You

Have you ever seen someone try to point blank scam you, even for something minor like this?

How would you have handled this little “situation”?



  1. says

    We don’t have this problem over here in UK because we don’t tip, simple as that. When overseas I am expected to tip but I find it often poses all sorts of confusion, is it too much? too little? Being British, i’m useless at this. Turns out i’m not the only one as now when I go abroad and they figure out im English thery don’t even bother to ask for a tip. Think they got the message.

  2. says

    I think I would’ve likely done the same thing -especially considering you got the discount. At the end of the day, the other guys did nothing to your car and do not deserve anything as a result. I’ve seen this happen before myself, and just give the tip to the person it should go to and go on with my day.

  3. Amy says

    Assuming only one guy worked the car, only one guy should be tipped.
    Is it possible the other two did work on it and you did not see them from your position?
    If so, they all deserve a tip.
    Tipping is EXPECTED for many services as the employees providing the service are only
    Paid a servers wage such as $2-$4 per hour.
    Those that don’t tip should not use these services.
    When service employees are not tipped or not tipped properly they must
    Work for very low wages. All people of all countries should be required to work
    For these services wages on a regular basis -maybe one day a year- it would keep everyone appreciating those that serve us.

    Ps- my college age daughter enrolled in college- works at Sonic drive in. She is paid only $4.00 per hour to carhop- deliver your good to your car. The rest of her pay is tips. No tips- means she works for $4.00 per hour minus taxes and FICA.
    Tips are accepted and appreciated. She works with many
    Moms with families. Imagine raising a family on $4.00 per hour these days!

    • Squirrelers says

      I agree that wages that you mention are low, and that tipping is right in many instances. It would be very difficult to get by on those wages. That being said, if I’m not sure someone actually did the work, it’s fair to question the validity of a tip. At least I think so. I would never stiff anyone of a tip they deserve or would customarily get.

  4. says

    I take my car to a hand-wash in my country. It costs me around 8 bucks (the wash itself) and I always give the guy 2 bucks as tip. We’re talking here someone who’s working on my car for 30-40 minutes, carefully cleaning it outside and inside. If I went to a car wash similar to the one you went to, I’d probably just say thank you and leave

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