When I was a valet, I gave away plenty of cars without verifying ownership.
If the people acted like it was their car, then I just gave it to them... because that's how my co-workers taught me to do the job.
People acted like it was such an inconvenience to produce the claim check. And with a gratuity on the line, it made sense to me not to hassle them for proof the car was their's.
Plus we had surveillance cameras all over, so I thought "Who would be so dumb to steal a car here anyway?"
But then I learned that sometimes people drive away with the wrong car accidentally, and the valets help them to do it. This most commonly happens with rental cars. And I was reminded of this today by a post on the Flyertalk.com message board.
This person was in a big hurry to get to his next meeting. The hotel valet handed him the keys. He got in and left.
Thirty minutes later he noticed the fuel tank reading and was confused. He thought he had less gas?
Then he realized the radio stations were all set to different stations. It wasn't long afterwards that he realized the valet had given him a rental that was identical to his, same model, same color, same everything, except for the license plate and the electronic toll pass, which was attached to the front windshield.
This isn't a unique situation!
True professional valets, who are experienced and know what they are doing, would not hand over the car key until a claim ticket or other proof of ownership is presented.
Unfortunately, high level valets like this are unusual. Because the industry's low pay does not cultivate long term career valet workers. Valet companies in 19 states can get away with paying valets as little as $2.13 an hour. And if a valet gets a few bad shifts in a row (where the tip action is weak), they are already thinking about getting another job.
Right now, some of them are on Twitter complaining about the extreme cold. It was 9 degrees in Philadelphia this morning. I bet there are some new valet openings in Philadelphia right now as a result.
What I'm trying to say is the industry, overall, has a high churn rate with their workers. The life cycle of a valet attendant is short.
In my situation I had valets with not much experience telling ME,
*Ed, the brand new rookie*
...that I should check the claim ticket, but if they act like a car is their's, I'm probably okay.
As I gained more experience and confidence in the work, I began to more often hold up the guests while waiting to see their claim tickets... though I STILL did not check every time, because sometimes I didn't have time to verify ownership.
Sometimes things on the driveway were critical. Crowds of impatient people were waiting for their cars. The longer they waited, the less I would make in tips. In these situations, my co-workers and I would simply have to take RISKS in order to speed-up the delivery of service.
We weren't alone in cutting corners with ownership verification. I see it on Twitter, and in the news reports about criminals who tricked valets into handing over keys without proof of ownership.
Valets services really could give your car to somebody else.
So what can you do to better defend your car from this sort of sloppy valet work?
Scroll down this page a little bit. In the right column you will see my "Codeword Method" cards. You can download the graphics for free and make your own card. Just print it out and attach it to the ONE KEY you will be handing to the valet.
I also recommend you read: "What to do when valet parking..."
It's an excellent, quick tutorial about how to wisely use valet parking services.