Tipping Adventures: The Car Wash

car wash tipping, tipping etiquette, giving tips for services

Does it seem to anyone else that tip jars are showing up in more and more places these days?  While I generally have no problem giving a tip to someone working in the service industry for a job well done, it seems harder and harder to determine when you’re in a situation where a tip is acceptable or expected and how much of a tip is appropriate.  In an effort to share information and help us all, I share with you my tipping adventures.

A few months ago I had my van detailed after the smell of crab legs had seemingly been ingrained into the interior of the vehicle. One of the employees walked me through what they had done and invited me to look around inside the vehicle, which I did. My van was immaculate and smelled brand new. It felt like a situation where I should give a tip for a job well done. The problem was, there was a crew of at least four people that had worked on my van. Do I tip all of them, or just the person that was walking me through the results? I felt uncomfortable, so I just got in my van and drove away.

I didn’t tip for the service, because it wasn’t clear how to do so.

In retrospect, I could have asked the person at the counter, or even the person that showed me the van whether tips were accepted. But quite honestly, I feel that the path to tipping should have been made clear by the business.

These sort of things tend to work their way into my stream of thought when I’m not busy. So when I went back to the same car wash for a simple wash and express interior service (vacuum and wipe down) I was more observant about what was occurring around me.

As I exited the waiting area and approached my van, I noticed a container attached to a pole with a sign that basically encouraged tipping the staff for their hard work. I don’t know whether it was present when I had my van detailed or not, but I was happy to see that the path to tipping was clear. But I wasn’t ready to put my money in just yet.

I didn’t tip immediately, because I hadn’t seen whether the job was done well.

Even if a tip is socially expected in many instances, I still believe that at the core a tip is for a job well done. Before deciding how much of a tip I would need to see the interior of my van.

The van looked and smelled great. The dust was gone from the dashboard, and it was well vacuumed. I could tell by the shine that the interior had been wiped down.

I exited the van, walked back over to the tip container and dropped in an appropriate tip. As I walked back to my vehicle, the employee thanked me and wished me a great day.

When I had my car detailed it was out of necessity due to the smell of crab legs. The interior service I had done this time was purely a time saving measure as we prepared for our trip (normally I’d do it myself). These aren’t services I have done every day, therefore tipping in these situations wasn’t something I normally deal with. By staying observant, and and ensuring the job warranted a tip, I was able to adhere to social norms and stick to my principles.

Do you tip for car wash services? Do you wait until you’ve inspected the job done before handing over a tip?  Have you ever been in a situation where you weren’t sure whether a tip was appropriate or not?  What did you do?

Brought to you courtesy of Brock

About the author

Brock Kernin


  • The car was that we go to has two locations. They have two different washes that we typically get, the cheaper of which does not include hand drying. We don’t tip here. I typically will on the option that includes a hand dry. Same deal, there’s a mailbox at the end of the area where you can put your tip.

    One time recently I didn’t tip, and it was because I wanted the air dry option, but they told me that this didn’t meet the minimum amount to put it on my credit card (the other location has no such limit…weird) and so I was basically forced to the higher priced wash. But since that’s not really what I wanted, I didn’t leave a tip.

    • One car wash that I frequent also has the hand dry option as well….and I always feel like a tip seems appropriate – but there’s 3-4 people that dry each vehicle, and there’s no mailbox. So……even though it feels strange, I don’t ever leave a tip. Maybe one isn’t expected in that specific scenario? Thanks for sharing your experiences!

  • For situations like your first one, where it’s a group of people and you’re not sure if a tip is appropriate, I sometimes tip with something other than money.

    For example, one time there was something hanging from the bottom of my car (like a cover piece or something come loose). It was Sunday so most places were closed, so I took it to one of those quick oil change places and asked them if they could take a look at, or fix it.

    They did, three or four of them working together to figure out the best way. They didn’t charge me anything, so I didn’t think a tip was proper, so instead I went to a nearby doughnut shop and bought them a big box of assorted doughnut holes to share. It shows your appreciation, and may be enjoyed more than a tip split between all of them.

    • That was very nice of you Jenny…although I’m not sure I’d feel comfortable handing over some food items. Hmmm, something to think about!

  • I generally throw a couple of bucks in at our local wash. The kids are always busting their humps, get minimum wage, and consistently do a great job.

    • Good for you, Dan – I’m sure they appreciate it! As long as there’s a clear path to tipping everyone involved, I do the same!

  • Don’t worry too much about it. Tipping will become a thing of the past as our country adopts a more world-style compensation system. Basically no one in the world tips besides us…and as people push for higher minimum wages, tips will be the first thing to go.

  • Along the same lines as what Eric said…this is what really bugs me about tipping. You are paying a certain amount for a certain job. Presumably, your car will be adequately cleaned for the money they are charging you. What if the car wasn’t cleaned to your satisfaction? Wouldn’t you be upset that you PAID for something that you didn’t receive? So if you get what you paid for, why should you tip the person/people who delivered it? Of course there are exceptions for things like pizza delivery, where the tip even though it’s voluntary is basically a convenience fee. But more and more, I feel like a tip is almost a tax on service. Raise the price and get rid of the tip jar.

Leave a Comment