One person's trash is another person's treasure and who doesn't love hunting for bargains? Running a car boot sale is a popular PTA event and a great fundraising activity. Be mindful of requirements though.
- Two to three months before: Once you have a date in mind, contact your local authority to see whether you need a permit and to check costs. Calculate how many cars you can fit on the premises, allowing space between vehicles. Identify access points, and discuss how, where and when sellers and buyers will arrive and depart – using separate gates if possible. Assemble your team and delegate tasks accordingly. Agree what to charge – usually around £5-10 per pitch.
- One to two months before: Send a letter to parents with a tear-off booking form, asking for the seller's name, address and car registration number. Spread the word with flyers, posters, banners and via social media. Provide sellers with an advice sheet when they register and make it clear that they bring their cars onto the premises at their own risk. Include guidelines on trademarks, copyright and trade descriptions (see below). Confirm that any commercial traders have their own public liability insurance.
- Two weeks before: Contact sellers with an outline of arrival points and times. Draw up a rota, appointing stewards, litter pickers, and volunteers to collect entry fees and serve refreshments. Purchase walkie-talkies so team members can communicate with each other during the event.
- On the day: Set up early, and check that everyone knows what they are doing and where they should be. Hand out walkie-talkies, hi-vis jackets and copies of your floorplan to stewards. Welcome sellers as they arrive and distribute a brief reminder of any rules – such as 'no smoking', 'no dogs', 'no knives', etc. Hand out guidance notes to buyers on arrival, advising them to inspect what they are purchasing, and if buying expensive goods, to take contact details of the seller.
- After the event: You might come across a few problems prior to or during the event – take a note of these for next time to ensure mistakes aren't repeated. Have a post-event debrief with your team to discuss what worked well and what didn't. Be sure to thank your sellers for taking part, and ask for feedback. Cultivate relationships with sponsors by sending thank you letters detailing how much the event raised and how this has contributed to your fundraising goal.
Download a print-friendly PDF version of our step-by-step guide to a car boot sale
Tips and advice for running a car boot sale
- Licences: Contact your local authority to see whether a licence is required – this varies from authority to authority. Where a licence is required, the process is simple but fees vary considerably. The average notice required is 28 days, but it's worth checking. Some local authorities have other stipulations.
- Trading Standards: As the organiser, it is your responsibility to ensure nobody is breaking the law. Speak to your local Trading Standards office or Consumer Direct for guidance on trademarks, copyright and trade descriptions. Electrical goods, furniture, bicycles, prams and pushchairs all have specific legislation. Customers have the same consumer rights when purchasing second-hand goods as they do for new, though factors, such as age, should be taken into account in the price. Read our FAQs on selling second-hand goods.
- Insurance: Commercial stallholders won't be covered by your school or PTA insurance, so will need their own public liability insurance. Contact your insurance provider to check what and who is covered and to verify any other stipulations.
- Wet weather: Hopefully you'll have a dry and sunny day, but work on the assumption that the weather will be poor! Decide whether you will postpone the event and set an alternative date, or go ahead whatever the weather. Consider asking sellers to pay in advance, so even if the weather turns bad at the last minute they won't pull out. Read our wet weather contingency plan advice.
- Dealers: Because of the informal nature of car boot sales, professional dealers can sometimes attempt to get involved and use aggressive sales techniques. Ensure that you have some assertive volunteers who will act as security if necessary.
- Facilities: Sellers will appreciate having access to some facilities. Wherever possible, make the pitches within easy walking distance of the toilets. If you plan to use the school's facilities, consider security issues (and mud being walked through) within your pre-event risk assessment.
- Boost profits: Set up some PTA stalls selling second-hand games, books or toys. If you haven't hired a caterer, sell hot drinks, bacon butties and hot dogs. Read our catering FAQs for more advice. Bear in mind that sellers may not want to leave their pitches, so have a mobile tea and coffee cart if possible, providing refreshments to thirsty sellers!
Car boot sale success stories
'Planning began a few months in advance. We contacted the local council for a permit and, as our event fell within the terms of a "non-commercial market of up to 100 vendors", there was no charge. Our event was run on a Sunday and lasted two hours. We calculated that we could fit approximately 24 cars into the playground and car park. With a week to go, we hung large laminated letters spelling out "car boot sale" (with the date and time of the event) on the school gates to drum up excitement and bring in extra support from passers by. People were queueing outside the gates half an hour before opening, which was encouraging! When we opened the gates, people flooded in, but in a very orderly, British fashion! Adults were charged 50p for entry and children were free. Over 300 people attended and we made £189 on entrance fees alone. A few stewards guided cars to their spots, allowing one and a half parking spaces each so that nobody felt cramped. We planned-out numbered spaces on a map of the playground beforehand. Our only outlay was for the bacon butties we sold, and poster printing, bringing our costs to £56.89. We all had a lovely morning and raised £405.'
Christine Ellin, chair, St Thomas of Canterbury School, Sheffield, South Yorkshire (217 pupils)
'We have run a car boot sale once a month for twenty years. We have up to 400 cars and vans, and around 50 people carrying items for sale. Success often depends on the weather, but we have only cancelled once due to heavy snow. Otherwise, if it rains, we get wet, and people selling plants do better than people selling books! We have a good relationship with a caterer, who sells burgers, bacon sandwiches and chips, as well as coffee, cakes and ice creams. We also hire portaloos, as using the school's facilities requires too much clearing up. Vehicles start arriving from about 2am, parking in the streets around the school ready for the car boot sale to open at 6.30am. Playgrounds and sports fields work well as venues, but when it's wet, people walking around can create a muddy mess. We are in no doubt that we wreck the field on a regular basis, so we pay £2,500 a year for repair and reseeding. We have three shifts for volunteers during the day, and others manage the queues in the night – usually in exchange for a pitch. We have about twenty helpers during the night shift. We charge £15 per car, £10 for people walking in to sell and £60 for vans and trailers. To promote the event we hang banners on the school railings and advertise in local papers, on Twitter, and via our school website. Sundays work well for us, and the event runs until 12.30pm. Over the years this has become a real community event. The best bit is meeting with the school to help decide how to spend our £80 to 100k-a-year profit!'
David Wilkins, PTA treasurer, Chiswick School, London (1,250 pupils)
The above is intended as guidance only. We recommend that you contact the relevant organisations with specific reference to insurance, legal, health and safety and child protection requirements. Community Inspired Ltd cannot be held responsible for any decisions or actions taken by a PTA, based on the guidance provided.