Workin’ at the Car Wash

July 19, 2011

Today's post is part 9 of chapter 5 of my book, A Day of Hope: Leading Volunteers to Make a Difference in Your CommunityI realize that some of these posts might not be exactly related to "leadership," but I believe they are relevant. Feel free to pass them on to someone you know who works at a nonprofit organization or church.


Since I have an extreme amount of experience leading car washes, I’m going tell you how you can do a fundraiser car wash.  I use the following procedure and I recommend you use it if you decide to do a car wash to fundraise for your project.


The most important element of a car wash is its location.  No location, no car wash.  Find a busy intersection or busy road and start asking businesses with large parking lots if you can hold a car wash there.  We hold our car washes at a local bank parking lot.  Some cities require you to have a permit for a car wash, so make sure you check with your city government before you hold one.


Recruiting volunteers is key.  You can’t have a car wash without lots of volunteers to actually wash cars.  Start by calling people you know who might like to volunteer.  My friends with kids are always a good place to start because parents can drop off the kids to volunteer and kids love to wash cars.  Anytime they can do something other than homework and chores they are ecstatic!  Plus, parents love to get their children involved in volunteering to serve people in need in the community.  Kids get to be outside playing with water, and parents get to feel like they are teaching their kids the rewards of helping others. 

I’ve found that I need to have at least eight volunteers there at all times to wash cars.  We do our car washes from 9:00 AM to 7:00 PM at night.  So if I want to have eight people there at all times, I need to have at least fifteen volunteers committed to come help for a few hours of the day.  Not everyone will be willing or able to wash cars for ten hours.  So we often have people who come for five or six hours, get tired, and go home. 

There also is the “flake factor” which says you’ll need to assume at least 10 percent of the volunteers who commit to come and won’t show up. You’ll talk to them the day before the car wash and they’ll say they are going to come and volunteer.  Then the next day they never show up.  Plan for those unexpected changes in people’s schedules that keep them from volunteering that day.


To run a car wash you’re going to need a source of water, hoses, nozzles, buckets, soap, sponges, signs for the road, and a bag to keep money in.  The most important material of all is—lunch!  Washing cars burns a lot of calories, so get lunch for the volunteers along with sodas and snacks.


I underestimated the importance of fun when I first started doing car washes.  When people volunteer, they want to have fun.  I had to make car washes an enjoyable experience for everyone who was attending.  I made sure that we had positive, up beat music playing the entire time.  I noticed that if I kept my energy level high, stayed positive, and kept being encouraging and passionate, that seemed to translate to others who were at the car wash too.  Soon I found myself being the life of the party and was an energy maniac who was always saying something to someone and always doing my best to keep the troops energized. 

Car washes can be a great way for you to fundraise.  It raises money for you, allows you to talk to volunteers who might be able to help with other projects, and it’s a time to tell normal, everyday people about what you’re trying to do.

Question: Have you done fundraiser car washes in the past? How did they work? What tips do you recommend for holding a fundraiser car wash?

Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor's degree from Fresno Pacific University and master's degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I also may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."

10 responses to Workin’ at the Car Wash

  1. I recently graduated college and I was planning to invest on a car wash business as my initial income generator. Well, I’ve learned so much from this, thanks.

  2. Good luck with your business.

  3. Jolandi Kerstetter September 15, 2011 at 6:56 am

    Fun is indeed important. It really does help, giving that jolt of energy to work on washing those cars. It can be very good exercise, too. And it’s always satisfying to have a smile on for a job well done.

  4. Very true, fun makes work go faster and do better work.

  5. Sebastian Gaydos January 18, 2012 at 10:13 am

    Raising funds in a car wash service would definitely be a great idea. I’ve been to a friend’s event, which clicked in his neighborhood since he made sure that he gave quality service. He chose a busy road for his location and it’s a blast! I also helped him in the cleaning and gained friends.

  6. Thanks for stopping by Sabastian.
    Yes, car washes can be very fun. 🙂

  7. Laurence Modithre January 24, 2012 at 9:31 am

    Come to think of it, car washes are easy to set up since all you need are pretty much basic resources to get one started. It’s also something the kids can do as a summer job, sort of a more grown-up alternative to those summer lemonade stands. What do you think?

  8. Wheel Alignment Equipment July 7, 2012 at 5:04 am

    It’s not an easy job. But then I admire those who works on a car wash, they’ve been a very skillful person.

  9. Laurence, I agree that car washes are easy to set up. And they are great ways to teach kids work ethics and how you have to actually “earn” money.

  10. Yes, it is a lot of work to produce car washes, however it is worth all the effort. Thanks for stopping by.