Treasure Hunting Car Washes: Lost Coins, Recovered Money & Collectibles

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Car washes can yield all types of treasure, including lost coins, paper currency, casino tokens, rings, pendants, jewlery, foreign money, collectibles and valuable scrap metals.

Car washes can be a bonanza for lost money and other treasure. Paper bills, coins, collectibles, scrap and other items of value are routinely lost and/or thrown out, making the car wash one of the best sites in the urban treasure hunting field.

Car Washes: Lost Money for the Taking

One of the easiest ways to treasure hunt a car wash is to simply walk through the stalls and vacuuming stations. People are in a hurry, and often leave behind coins and paper money after washing their vehicles. It's not unusual to find stacks of quarters – or, occasionally, entire containers of coins – carelessly abandoned by their former owners as they hurriedly reentered their dripping wet vehicles and blasted off into the horizon, never to return again until their next car wash.

It's sad to say, but some people leave coins behind on purpose, as they don't want to be "bothered" with pennies, dimes and nickels, which can't be used in the car wash's quarter-eating machines. Thus, there the abandoned booty sits on the ledge, just waiting for the urban treasure hunter to scoop them up and take them home.

It pays to look on the ground inside the stalls as well. Here, coins are dropped and/or washed into the center near the drainage grate. Look closely, as they could be mixed in with the dirt and other grime resting there.

Paper money can also be scored at car washes. Customers carelessly abandon or lose bills of various denominations all the time. But don't limit your search to the car wash proper only, but expand it to nearby fences and other surroundings where paper money can congregate after being tossed about by the wind. Personally, my best paper money score were two $20 bills resting near a coin changer. The pair of Andy Jacksons were folded so small that I would have overlooked them had I not placed one of my size eleven shoes directly on the money.

U.S. paper currency recovered at a car wash - William J. Felchner

Car Wash Vacuuming Stations: Piggy Coin Banks

An integral component of any car wash are the vacuuming stations, where patrons deposit their coins and go to work, cleaning up the interiors of their dirty vehicles. Well, people are as careless inside their vehicles as outside, with coins, paper money, rings and other valuables ending up on the floor. And what happens to these items? They are sucked up by these industrial-strength vacuum cleaners and deposited inside those big, silver cylinders, never to see the light of day again until they are cleaned out.

Many car washes simply service their vacuuming stations every few weeks or so, then toss away the mounds of dirt that have accumulated inside. Check out this discarded debris and, upon closer examination, one will generally find lots of dusty, sucked up coins and occasionally other items, including paper currency, casino chips, rings, pendants, keys, earrings, small toys and even illegal drug paraphernalia such as marijuana pipes, roach clips and miniature bongs.

Generally speaking, one will find lots of pennies, coupled with dimes, nickels and quarters in that cumulative order. From one small mound of debris, I was able to pluck out $7.62 in lost coins, which weighed in at slightly less than five pounds of treasure. That find totaled six quarters, 31 dimes, 19 nickels and 207 pennies. I've enjoyed much larger finds, with more dirt translating into more coins.

Peace Silver Dollar Find

When searching through your coin yield, pay attention to what is there. Examine each coin individually, as wheat pennies, silver dimes and quarters, silver war nickels, Sacagawea dollars and other collectible coins can be lurking in the trash. My best find to date is a 1922 Peace silver dollar, which apparently had been used as some type of pendant given the pieces of masking tape crisscrossing both sides of the coin. Dusty, heavy and a little bit worn, this great find was worth at least $30 given current silver prices. 

It's not unusual to find jewelry as well, though much of it is of the inexpensive kiddie variety. Nonetheless, some of the good bling – gold, silver and diamond rings, earrings and necklaces – can wind up in the slush pile.

Discarded car wash vacuuming piles are often left there for the taking. So do just that, loading them up in a cardboard box and taking them home for further, detailed examination. For those treasure hunters with metal detectors, run your machine over the pile and it sounds like a Geiger counter from one of those crazy 1950s science fiction flicks. You may want to don a pair of rubber gloves when searching through the pile, as it can get a bit messy. And save those gloves for later, when you have to clean your coins in soapy water in order to roll them and make them presentable to the bank.

Recovered car wash clad coins: Washed, rolled and ready for deposit - William J. Felchner

Car Wash Dumpster Treasures

Car washes attract a lot of trash as people dispose of all sorts of items from their vehicles. A quick gander into car wash trash receptacles can often yield some good finds. Personally, I've found rolled coins (that's right, coins still neatly packaged in their bank wrappers), unused $5 postage stamps, rings, gambling boat tokens, unopened packs of sports cards, drink tokens, unused golf balls still in their boxes and lots of bagged collectible fast-food restaurant premiums.

Some of my best finds have come in those little white envelopes banks use to dispense money to their customers. On several occasions I've hit paydirt: a $10 dollar bill in one envelope and $92.97 in another. In addition, I've also found foreign currency – foreign to the United States, that is – including paper money and coins from India, Canada, Panama and Jamaica. My theory contends that returning travelers intentionally toss this foreign currency, thinking it has no value to them anymore as it can't be spent in the USA. Their loss, my gain, as foreign money can be exchanged for the Yankee dollar or anything else.

For those with an eye towards scrap metal, car washees also discard this as well. Copper has soared in value in recent years, with many scrap dealers now paying over $3 a pound for both grades #1 and #2. Look for copper wire, tubing and pipes, as it has become the new gold in recyclable metals.

Copper wire: Cut, rolled and ready for the scrap metal dealer - William J. Felchner

Uncashed Lottery Tickets

Given the odds it's often difficult to win anything in the lottery. So why do people toss out or abandon winning lottery tickets? I'm not sure, but carelessness and simple ignorance are two factors. Car washes are excellent sites to score winning, uncashed lottery tickets as many of them apparently wind up there. To date I've found over 60 winning lottery tickets, most of which came from car washes. All of them – save for one – were scratch-off tickets from various games, with prizes ranging from a free ticket to $12. Many of the tickets were $2, $3, $5 and $10 winners, trashed by their owners who apparently didn't read the fine print as to what constitutes a winner.

Some people's luck is apparently so bad that they don't even bother to scratch off the tickets in the first place. I've found unscratched lottery tickets which have yielded both winners and losers – but for cryin' out loud you have to actually scratch them off in order to determine your fate! Maybe they were employing some kind of ESP a la the Great Kreskin to mentally visualize what rests beneath those unscratched spaces? Go figure...

Recovered Illinois Lottery ticket worth $5. None of the numbers match the winning number, but the three like prize amounts – apparently overlooked by the owner – qualified for a $5 win - William J. Felchner

Best Car Wash Treasure Finds

Here is a selected list of some of my best car wash treasure finds. I'm not telling all, but you get the idea. "Ooh, Ooh, you might not ever get rich/But let me tell ya, it's better than diggin' a ditch/Workin' at the car wash..." Rose Royce (1976)

  • 1922 Peace silver dollar
  • Bank envelope with $92.97
  • Illinois Lottery Turkey Tripler $12 scratch-off winning ticket
  • Bank envelope with Alexander Hamilton inside ($10 bill)
  • Two $20 bills neatly folded into small wad
  • One Andy Jackson ($20 bill)
  • Illinois Lottery Feelin' Lucky $10 scratch-off winning ticket
  • Scrap copper wiring $50+ value
  • Woman's silver ring
  • Two gambling boat tokens worth $20

Copyright © 2013 William J. Felchner. All rights reserved.


Val Mills
Posted on Mar 19, 2011
William J. Felchner
Posted on Mar 19, 2011
Leslie Pryor
Posted on Mar 19, 2011