Somebody else stole a car from a valet service.

Fox News 11 in Reno, Nevada is reporting that a 24 year old man has been arrested in the theft of a vehicle from the valet department of a Sparks, Nevada casino.

According to the article, a thief reached into a valet window, snatched a key, then found the car and stole it.

My first thought was "How the hell does that happen?"

But then I recalled our valet window... we had two. One was for customers and one was for us. When a car needed to be brought out, the cashier would ring a bell and place the key in our window. One of us would then hustle up to the window, grab the key, and run for the car.

And after we parked a car we would place the key in the same window. The cashier would then eventually put the key on the key board. Sometimes keys would sit in the valet window for a long time. Often the keys would pile up in there. (We're talking nice cars here: Audis, BMWs, Mercedes, Porsches, Range Rovers, etc.)

And since the window was small, the cashier usually would only see arms and hands, and no faces—if she was even looking. Anybody walking by could just stick their arm in the window and grab a key. At that point, all they have to do is walk the garage while pressing buttons on the key fob. And presto, they find the car.

It has suddenly dawned on me that it was actually a miracle we had no auto theft incidents. 

  1. If somebody acted like the car was their's, a lot of times we'd just hand over the key... without seeing the claim ticket.

  2. We would leave cars on the driveway with keys in them—all the time. It was routine.

  3. When there was a surge of arrivals and cars were clogging the driveway, it was a battle to prevent a meltdown (and save our boss' job). That was prime time for cars to be stolen from us. The chaos of an unexpected rush is a very bad thing for a valet service.

  4. There were a few times I ran my ass off for like 45 minutes and then the rush would be over. And there would be this one car at the far edge of the driveway that I knew was there this whole time, but none of us had any time to park it. So I'd go over to it and find the car RUNNING! (With the keys in it!) Yikes...

This was a big city valet operation. Criminals, homeless people, and the mentally ill, where part of the neighborhood. It's a miracle nobody jumped in one of those cars or grabbed a key out of the valet window.

And the thing was... most of us didn't really care! Because, first of all, key security was not a demonstrated management priority—training for us was weak in this area (efficiency was more important). And secondly, we got paid peanuts and had no real stake in the business. Personally, I felt as though—in the eyes of my employer—I was a resource to be exploited to the maximum extent possible, until I reached the end of my worker life cycle.

And if we did have extra workers to provide better key security, they would be in on the cut, which means we would all make less in tip money. So why would anyone among us suggest or recommend to management that more valets be working?

Every valet parking operation is unique. No two are the same. But each has a vulnerability somewhere when it comes to auto theft opportunities.

And the thing that sucks for consumers is a typical valet parking operation that loses a car to a thief will stall and delay the claims process for as long as possible while hoping that the car eventually turns up. It can be an enormously frustrating situation for the unlucky valet customer.

The lesson?

Well, don't use a valet parking service that is overwhelmed with arriving cars. That's a ripe situation for a car thief. Like here...

I recommend you also use a codeword card or a Valet Client Photo ID Card to inspire greater care by valet workers. They will be less likely to give your car away to somebody else.

From what I know right now, I believe on-demand valet parking services like Luxe and Zirx are the safest when it comes to preventing valet parking auto theft. HERE'S WHY.