Harry here. A lot of drivers are scared of passengers puking in their car but today, RSG contributor Will Preston explains how to puke-proof your vehicle and make some extra money while you’re at it.
Last year, I made over $1,100 in cleaning fees. When I mentioned that to Harry, he said that might make for an interesting article. A warning, though… if the words puke, vomit, or barf make you gag, stop reading and go read our review of tip boxes or something. You have been warned.
At $1,100 in cleaning fees, that means I increased my take-home pay by over 10% just by being ready for pukers. Whether you are planning on seeking out pukers or just making sure you’re prepared for them when it happens, this article should help.
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Before We Get Started – Cleaning Fees 101
Uber and Lyft’s cleaning fees are meant to reflect the cost of cleaning. They are not meant to be punitive, nor are they meant to reflect the cost of downtime caused by the incident. They only exist to compensate you for the cost of cleaning.
My personal opinion is that if I do the cleaning myself, I should still be compensated the same amount. Curtis the Uber driver is being given a cleaning fee so that he can pay Curtis the car cleaner the cost of cleaning the car.
If I can just run my hand across the seat and sweep off a little dirt or even a few crumbs, I don’t say the sky is falling and ask for a cleaning fee. But if I have to open my trunk and get out my cleaning supplies, then yes. I cleaned. The cleaning fee applies. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.
That said, I allow people to eat in my car. But if you eat in my car and make a mess I have to clean up? You’re getting a cleaning fee. I don’t warn them. I assume they’re adults who understand not to trash someone else’s property. If they see they’ve made a mess and clean it up themselves, no problem. If not, I’m taking pics and sending them in.
Cleanings fees range from $25 – $150. The worse it looks, the more you get. So don’t clean up anything until you take photos. For example, I made the mistake once of pulling out my removable rubber floor mats and taking a picture of it outside my car. Even though there was quite a lot there, my cleaning fee was less. I believe it’s because Uber could see that I had removed it from my car, and it was therefore super easy to clean up.
Here are a few examples of cleaning fees I’ve received:
- Full on puke: $150.
- Chocolate on the seat from a guy who ate a candy bar while drunk: $50.
- Guy who spilled his “dip” cup in my car and on the door (yuck!): $80.
- Drunk girl who ate two Taco Bell meals in under two miles and sounded like a ravenous dog: $30.
You get one chance at this. Uber and Lyft rarely increase the cleaning fee after they have decided what it should be. Once you submit your photos and they have decided on your fee, that’s it.
In my first incident, for example, I didn’t notice a significant amount of vomit in my door jam. It was actually the most voluminous part of what happened and could have possibly increased my fee. But I didn’t see it until the next day because I was not thorough enough.
This means take your photos quickly, take a lot of them, and be very thorough. Digital photos are basically free, so get somewhere with good lighting and really look around. Look on the floor, the seatbacks, the seatback pockets, the door panels, the ceiling, the door jams, the window and the opening the window goes into. Be extremely thorough. You don’t want to miss out on part of the picture in your report, and you don’t want find dried puke tomorrow.
Do not let passengers puke out your window. If they start to do that, either pull over or give them a bag. Why is that, you ask? I have read of other Uber drivers who have had passengers that puke down inside their window wells.
Your maximum cleaning fee is $150, and that is not going to get the inside of your window well cleaned. Unless you are mechanically inclined and can do it yourself, you’re going to spend far more than $150 to clean it out. Do not let passengers puke out your window.
NOTE: If you want to avoid people from the drunk crowd leaving a “mess” in your car, the most guaranteed way to do so is to switch over to a delivery company like Caviar during the party hours. The burrito you deliver won’t be annoying or throw-up in your car and it won’t judge your taste in music 😉
You do not have to submit a cleaning receipt even though it asks for one. I never have. I just submit the pictures immediately and let them be the judge. The only exception to this is if a passenger does more damage than $150 would fix. That’s a different situation.
Related Video: What to Do if a Passenger Poops in Your Car (yes really!)
If you’re going to drive during the witching hour, I think you should pick up drunks. One strategy I’ve seen other drivers do is to cancel the ride when they see that their upcoming passenger is severely intoxicated. They literally cancel and drive off. If that’s you, then please stop driving during the bar hours.
Drunks are part of the gig. This is a job, but it’s also a public service. People need to know that if they call for a rideshare, it’s going to show up, and if it shows up and they’re drunk, it’s not going to cancel on them. So if that’s how you drive, please go home at 11 o’clock.
Let’s put you in the mind of the drunk for a moment. Before a drunk gets in your car, they’ve probably been doing all they can to keep it together. They’ve had to walk when their body says they can’t. They’ve had to use the rideshare app when they can barely see straight.
They might have had to avoid the police. In fact, I actually had the police physically put a drunk in my car once, saying “either drive her home or she’s getting arrested.” The drunk’s mind has been telling them, “if I can just get to my Uber/Lyft, I’ll be fine.”
Once they are in your car, they feel safe now because they’re in your hands. The problem is that now their adrenaline goes away, and their body sort of lets down its defenses. They don’t know that is going to happen, but you should know that. They are not in their right mind, and you have to help them out a little bit. It’s part of the gig, and it’s part defending your car against puke.
The other problem is that everyone sees puking as defeat and they also know that puking equals a cleaning fee, so everyone’s trying to fight it. So they don’t want to take the barf bag. They’ll tell you they don’t need the barf bag. That is, until it’s too late.
With 100% certainly I can say the following: if you are drunk enough to need a barf bag, you are too drunk to properly use a barf bag. Don’t be mad at them, and definitely don’t express that anger to them verbally. Just take them home, take your pictures, report the incident, and move on.
Related article: how to make more money driving for Uber and Lyft
Things Every Driver Should Have
The first thing I did as a driver was to purchase 30 emesis bags for $12. I know some people use lunch bags or Ziploc bags, but that idea scares me. I think every driver should at least have these bags. They have a nice hard round plastic ring to make it easy to hold on to when you’re drunk and give you a better chance of being successful at its purpose.
I also bought some Nitrile exam gloves on Amazon. They are about $10 for 100 gloves and take up almost no space. I also carry around a water bottle containing soapy water and some type of cloth or scrub brush for actually cleaning the mess up. Something else I picked up from a video was to carry around a plastic bag to put your yucky cleaning cloth in, so you don’t have to smell it after you used it.
If you really want to be ready for pukers, you need to puke-proof your surfaces. I have cloth seats and carpet floors. That’s as bad as it can get if you want to be prepared for puke.
If you already have vinyl or leather upholstery, you’re a lot better off than most. I have cloth, so I took a look around and read a lot of reviews about custom seat covers. I settled on these from CoverKing that were about $450 to cover front and back seats with fake leather. I probably could’ve gone with just the rear seats, but I also wanted to protect my upholstery from the hundreds of butts that were going to get on it whether they were puking or not. I installed them myself, and it was relatively simple to do. I’d say it took about one hour per row.
Then I bought this 3D MAXpider custom all-weather floor mats specifically designed for my Prius. They literally pop right in and are designed so that they don’t move around at all. I really like the back row because it is one continuous piece. That’s perfect for puke protection.
If you really want to be prepared, get one of these portable wet-dry vacuums for $30. It can also inflate your tire!
The Witching Hour
I pretty much assume everybody after about 8:30 p.m. is at least partially drunk. Most of them don’t need a barf bag, of course. But a few have surprised me over the years, so I’ve made a policy of doing the same thing the moment I smell or sense alcohol is a factor. If you do it right, you accomplish the goal without making anyone uncomfortable.
- If you smell or suspect alcohol, immediately tell them where the barf bags are. This is what I do. I suggest in a funny way that it looks like they might have been drinking. “Have you guys been drinking?” I then tell them that I’m sure you don’t need it, but here are my barf bags. I don’t just say I have them, I physically reach my hand behind the seat and touch the bags.
- 90% of my pukers have been women, and they are almost always in groups of two or more. There always seems to be drunk girl and drunker girl. Enlist the help of drunk girl to make sure that drunker girl actually has the barf bag in her hand. Drunker girl isn’t listening to you, so talk to drunk girl. Warn drunk girl about the cleaning fee and tell her to make sure that drunker girl actually has the barf bag in her hand.
- If it starts to happen, I do not pull over unless they ask me to. I just keep going on my way to the destination. I’ve puke-proofed my car and they have a barf bag in their hand. I just need to get them home as quickly as possible. Pulling over means sitting there for several minutes while they puke on the roadside. Meanwhile, many surge-time fares are going bye-bye.
- Take note of the passenger’s name as it will be helpful later.
- Drop them off at their requested destination. Do not physically help them out of the car. Harry has a great video about that if you’re curious about that situation.
- Get the heck out of Dodge. Get away from them as quickly as possible and get to a well-lit area where you can examine the damage. A good flashlight is nice, but my experiences nothing beats the full illumination of a gas station. Examine everything.
- Take more photos than you think you need. Take pictures of the damage from multiple angles. Like a good crime scene photographer, do not change the scene.
- Report the incident right away. (Details on how to do that are below.) Both Uber and Lyft require you to report it within 24 hours, but I report it right away. It takes a couple of minutes and it makes sure you don’t forget that deadline.
- Don’t drive anymore that night on the rideshare service that the passenger used. The reason for this is that if you tell Uber a passenger made a huge mess in my car and then immediately start driving five minutes later because you could clean it yourself, Uber is going to look at that and wonder how bad the mess could actually be. This will reduce your cleaning fee. Go offline with Uber and drive Lyft for the rest of the evening. This is one more reason to drive for multiple services.
- Clean the mess up as quickly as possible. Know the gas stations in your area that have those wet-vacs and use them immediately. That will get the bulk of the mess out of your car. Then use your gloves, soapy water, and cleaning cloth to get the rest.
- Just because the mess is gone doesn’t mean the smell is gone. Air fresheners are your friend. Strongest is Ozone.
Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have
How to Report a Mess in Your Car with Uber
Once you’ve taken the photos, this takes just a few minutes. Find the appropriate trip in your trip history, then click Help on that trip. Go to Earnings, Trip History, and select the appropriate trip.
Review the trip to make sure you have the right rider.
Click on Help at the bottom of the trip summary. Then click on Rider Feedback, Fare Adjustment: request a cleaning fee. Put as many details as you can in there about what happened. Include at least three photos. (I use the receipt photo as one of the photos.) It helps if you can put the passenger’s name here. Then click Submit.
If you have more three photos that will help, just to go Help and reply to the ticket, adding the other photos. To do this, go to Account, Help, Support Messages, and select the message and reply.
How to Report a Mess in Your Car with Lyft
Lyft is the opposite of Uber. (Surprise!) You select Help, then tell it you have damage. Go to the main menu and select Help. Change the subject to Damage Fee. Do not select any of the pink suggestions that show up, as they will just take you to the FAQs about that topic.
Select Driver, then Issue with a Ride, then select which ride was the problem. Then select A Passenger Caused Damage to My Car.
Fill in details of what happened. Include the passenger’s name if possible.
Upload your photos and click Submit.
With a little bit of preparation and a little bit of work, you can be ready for the pukers and other people that make a mess in your car. Also, you can turn an uncomfortable situation into some extra profit. Good luck!
Related article: Essential gear every rideshare driver should have
Readers, have you ever had a puker or some other mess-maker in your car? How do you protect your car from messy people? Share your best tips in the comments!
-Will Preston @ RSG