The risks of valet parking with a rental car.

If a valet parking service damages your rental, or loses it to auto theft, in the eyes of the rental company, you are responsible.

Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

Sunny Isles Beach, Florida.

I just read the fine print on a rental agreement from one of the major auto rental companies (in the United States). It took me about 45 minutes to read it all.

This is really a complicated document and to fully understand it, you probably need to take a multi-day course to know exactly what you are agreeing to.

It's really unfair to rush consumers into signing this 5 page document. I mean, I rent cars frequently. The rental agreements are presented to me as mere formalities to sign. But there are zingers in this thing.

Anyway...  

Under "Limits on use," the very first point is:

"I agree... vehicle will not be driven by ANY person OTHER THAN ME without [the rental company's] prior WRITTEN consent."

Well that's quite clear. What it means is... don't let anybody else drive it!

Under the section "Damage to, loss or theft of vehicle..." It says:

"...I accept responsibility for damage to, loss or theft of, vehicle, any optional accessory or any part or accessory occurring during the rental period REGARDLESS OF FAULT OR NEGLIGENCE of mine OR ANY OTHER PERSON or act of God."

So this says it doesn't matter whose fault it is... if anything goes wrong, you, the renter, are solely responsible financially.

Now, you might think you are protected from problems if you purchase the vehicle damage waiver from the rental company. It's expensive coverage. A typical person would probably assume if a valet parking service screws-up the car, it's not their problem since they bought the damage waiver. However, in reality, things are different. Let's take a closer look...

The fine print says:

If the optional damage waiver is purchased, "I will not be responsible for the cost of damage to vehicle, the loss or theft of vehicle or any part or accessory, or any costs [related to the matter.]" 

HOWEVER...

This section of the rental agreement also says:

"Damage waiver will be invalidated and will not apply if any of the following should happen: 

  1. If vehicle is used or driven BY ANYONE other than me WITHOUT the prior WRITTEN consent of [the rental company].
     
  2. If any of vehicle's interior components are stolen or damaged WHEN VEHICLE IS UNLOCKED OR ITS KEYS NOT SECURED."

So if you purchase the rental company damage waiver and a valet company damages the car, your damage waiver money was wasted, because the damage won't be covered.

And valet workers forget to lock car doors and roll-up car windows all the time. And sometimes people get their hands on key fobs from unlocked valet key cabinets.

Another insurance type of product offered by rental car companies is "supplemental liability protection." Suppose a valet crashed your rental and injured somebody else... According to the fine print of this 5 page document, this liability protection would not apply to "ANY LOSS arising out of the use of vehicle IN VIOLATION OF THE TERMS AND CONDITIONS of this agreement."

In adding it all up, if you hand over a rental car from this particular rental car company to a valet,

  • you are violating the rental agreement,
  • none of any optional damage or liability protection you purchased will be worth anything,
  • and you, the renter, are 100% financially responsible for any damage or theft that happens with the car.

Do you have full coverage on your regular auto insurance policy? (What's your deductible?) Maybe you might get some relief there, or through the credit card company. BUT WHO KNOWS?

Also, another issue with rental cars and valet companies is that rental cars are more likely to be given away to the wrong person.

I've seen it with my own eyes. A hotel guest comes down, sees the car, and automatically assumes it's their rental. 

And because they are acting so confident and natural about it, the valet worker, who often is a rookie at the job, assumes it's their car, neglects to ask for or look at the claim ticket, and happily wishes them well as he collects the tip and closes the car door for them.

Then somebody else comes down for the same type of rental car. Same color. Same everything. And somebody realizes that this rental isn't their's.

Yep! This happens!

Meanwhile the other car is gone.

If somebody steals your rental car from a valet parking service, usually it happens because somehow the thief got his hands on the key fob. (Valet parking services can be sloppy about key handling.)

In this exhaustive 5 page vehicle rental agreement I have in front of me...

IF you purchased the vehicle damage waiver from the rental car company and IF the rental car got stolen after you had it valet parked, and IF you do not have and cannot return the key fobs to the rental company after the car was stolen, this is one additional way your damage waiver will not be valid.

Be careful with your rental cars... And don't valet park them.