How to intelligently use valet parking services.

Here's a review of how valet parking should be done.

  1. Prepare the car. Empty everything out of it, especially items of value. There are valets who will steal anything, even your Sun Pass or EZ Pass or whatever they call that toll booth transponder in your area. Don't leave your garage door opener in there either, or your GPS device... because even if the valet crew is honest, they still might screw-up and leave a window down or a door unlocked.

    You're taking a real risk if you leave something valuable in the car while valet parking it.
     
  2. Separate your keys from your vehicle key or fob. You NEVER give the valet service more than the one key necessary to operate the vehicle. Why? Because valet services lose keys all the time. And this will be a nightmare for you if they lose all the keys to your life.

    I also recommend bringing a spare key with you for just in case the valet service loses your key.

    In addition, you should have an ID tag of some sort attached to that one key you give them, with a way for people to call or email you if they happen to find your key.

    Sometimes valets leave keys in other valet parked cars, and those other car owners might find somebody else's key in their car.
     
  3. Upon arriving, roll up all of your windows except your driver's window. Leave that down, if possible, to avoid your car key accidentally being locked inside. (It happens!)
     
  4. If you want to try an experiment, leave 3 to 5 quarters in your cup-holder. Let's see if those coins are still there when you get the car back.
     
  5. So you are about ready to begin your interaction with the valet service. Take out your smartphone and start recording video.

    First, aim the camera into the cup-holder, showing how many coins have been placed there. 

    Second, aim the camera at the odometer. Make sure you get a clear reading.

    Third, I recommend tipping on arrival. Place $2 to $5 on the dash in front of the driver's wheel. More is better. The idea is to influence the quality of care. Of course, many people think this is outrageous and that valets should just do their jobs. Reality is many valet workers are paid very poorly and they are tipped employees who are not there for the wage, but the tips.

    (In 19 states valet workers can be paid as little as $2.13 an hour.)
     
  6. Turn the car off and keep the key in your hand.
     
  7. When the valet approaches, make it very obvious you are capturing video of them. Get their name tag and their face and ask them what day is today (the date) and approximately what time it is.

    Keep the video rolling.

    Block the path to your driver's seat. Stand in their way.

    Ask what the cost is.

    Ask what the procedure is for getting your car back.

    Ask if you can call ahead to have the car waiting for you.

    Ask how long it will probably take to get your car back today

    (Keep the video rolling.)
     
  8. Step 7 is all about verifying that you are dealing with an actual valet worker. There have been incidents where criminals portray themselves to be valet workers, and they end up getting car keys handed to them.

    Sometimes they aren't smooth. Sometimes they will just rush into the car as soon as they see a clear path to the driver's seat. This is why I advocate turning the car off and getting out with the key in your possession, blocking access to the driver's seat, pointing your smartphone video camera at the valet's face, and asking a series of questions. If the valet is a phony, he'll probably run away.
     
  9. So now you are satisfied that the valet is legit. Say that the tip on the dash is for the valet who parks it. But first you are going to document the condition of your car. At this point you take your time, capturing video of all exterior areas. Do each wheel. Do each corner. The sides. The back. The front. Under the front air-dam. Everything.

    It doesn't matter if they are busy. Don't be rushed. (And actually, if they are too busy, it is better to just drive away and park elsewhere, because the chances that things will go wrong very much escalate in driveway chaos situations.)

    If you don't have a video capability, then download my "vehicle damage assessment form." You will see it on the right column of this webpage.

    Hand that form to the valet and ask them to document any damage the car might have. They should initial it when they are done. Double-check the marks. Make sure you understand where the damage is that they found. Have them point it all out to you.

    Write their name on the form. Write your odometer reading on it, and put the completed form in your pocket.

    If the valet is a rookie, that form is going to freak them out. Good! That's what you want. They will call over somebody more experienced. They will see your tip on the dash, and then they should gladly fill it out. The seasoned valet will be likely to park it themselves upon seeing that you know what you're doing and are fussy. They will see that you are high-risk. A sophisticated valet customer will probably inspire them to be extra careful, especially with a pre-tip on the dash.

    This might sound like overkill, but it is imperative to document the condition of your car at the moment you hand it over to them. Because if you can't definitively prove that they are at fault for any damage they caused, then they will deny your damage claim.

    ONE EXAMPLE: According to a brand new Trip Advisor review, somebody parked their rental car at the Hyatt Place Waikiki Beach Hotel in Honolulu. They noticed damage immediately upon getting their car back. Here is what the poster wrote:

    "When we pointed it out the valet guy was like.. 'ohhh dang.. another one!! That's our second one for today!' The other valet then proceeded to tell me "I bet I know who did it..'"

    Amazingly, the valet service ended-up denying their claim and the hotel said it wasn't their problem, since an outside company handles the valet parking. You can read all about it HERE.

    To be best protected, you really need to have bulletproof evidence that your car was in better condition when you gave it to them. Video evidence will provide the best evidence.

    You need to take this step to protect your interests.
     
  10. When you get the car back, record video. Capture the valet's face. Take the camera straight to the odometer, then to the cup-holder. Are your coins still there? If they aren't, tell the valet to go get the manager.

    It is absolutely crucial that you do a vehicle damage audit before you drive away. Withhold the departure tip until you have completed this step. It doesn't matter if they are super busy. They have to wait until you are satisfied that there is not one new scratch on it.

    Focus your attention on each rim. This is a common area for sneaky damage. Look at each corner of the car. Look at your tail lights. Look under the air-dam.

    Be certain they did their job perfectly before handing over the departure tip ($ 2 to $5).

    Once you drive away, that's it. If you find new damage later, your leverage against the valet service will be far less. They will tell you that since you drove away, a fair determination of where the damage actually happened cannot be made. And they will refuse to cooperate with resolving the matter... UNLESS you videotaped your vehicle damage audit and for some reason you missed seeing new damage, but the video captured it. In this situation, your leverage would be greater. But don't delay too much. Get back there ASAP to file your claim and explain how they are at fault. 
     
  11. If the coins are missing from the cup-holder, tell the manager that it appears they have a thief in their midst, and show the proof (your video footage). 

    Tell the manager you want your missing coins back plus a refund of your parking fee.

    Any time something has gone wrong, be quick to say that you want your parking fee refunded immediately. And this should be just the beginning of bleeding compensation out of them, (depending upon the severity of the matter).
     
  12. If you have a video data recorder of some type, know that in some states it is illegal to tape audio of people without their knowledge. So before hitting a valet service with wrong-doing that you may have secretly recorded, be sure you are not giving them a sledge hammer to use against you.
     

And now for your viewing entertainment, here is a valet worker parking a Tesla in a tight area of a parking garage... Unfortunately, the valet bashes it into a support pillar. (It happens.)