[This guide was put together by valet parking expert/Jalopnik commentator M0L0TOV for your edification - ed. note] Once again, the holidays are upon us, parties, shopping, and other social events loom overhead. Some of us that are impatient or don't have the time will see the signs for "valet" and cough up the money to save us parking stress. However, if proper steps aren't taken, the convenience can be more of a headache than its worth.
For over a year and a half, I was in charge of the claims department at a valet company. I was in charge of handling claims in over 13 different states. If your car was damaged, stolen, or if items were taken from your car, you either spoke or yelled at me. I believe the best way to avoid any of these tenuous situations is prevention. But if the worst does happen, there are some tips included for how to deal with an incident.
1. Please be sure that you are handing the keys to the valet.
Please don't give us the chauffer/FOB keys, or else it will be hard to start the car later. Most valets uniforms are as follows: khaki shorts or pants, a polo t-shirt with the company logo, and finally white sneakers. Valets are required to wear uniforms of this sort and if you are doubtful, look for other valets dressed in the same or similar uniforms to confirm the person you are speaking to is a genuine valet.
2. Visually inpsect your vehicle before handing the keys to the valet.
Those 30 seconds you spend inspecting your vehicle may save you the headache of noticing a scratch that had previously been there.
3. Remove any portable electronics of value from the car.
Ipods, GPS recievers, and radar detectors are popular targets, take the item with you. Expensive sunglasses are also a prime target of theft. No one cares about your change. You can lock the items in your glovebox but if the valet has the keys or left the vehicle unlocked, it's pointless to leave the items in there. Thieves primarily go after small expensive items that can be stored in their pockets.
4. If you must leave expensive items in your trunk(i.e. laptop or Christmas presents), COVER THEM UP!
Theft from cars is a crime of opportunity, if they don't see or notice it, they won't steal it.
5. Never mention any expensive items in your car (i.e. I just got a new GPS for my car) because you're practically begging to having your items stolen.
6. If your car has weird quirks, (i.e. door has to be opened a certain way or the window can't be rolled down) please tell the valet ahead of time, it'll save you a headache.
At the end of the night, please be sure to visually inspect the car and check your vehicle for valuable items before leaving the property. If you fail to notice damage to your vehicle until you get home or the next day, the valet company will simply say all claims must be made before leaving property, you will be S.O.L.
The reason is because it's difficult to pin the damage on the valet company when the damage could have been caused by another party after leaving the property. Always keep all the tickets given to you by the valet company just in case there is an issue.
So you notice there is damage to your vehicle or there are missing items from your vehicle.
1. Ask to speak to the valet manager.
The manager will fill out an incident report and forward it to the claims department, you should get a copy for your records, and you should be contacted within 1-2 business days. In case of a stolen vehicle, contact the authorities and more than likely, your insurance company will be dealing directly with the valet company.
2. If your keys are lost, usually the valet company offers the claimant a ride or pays for a taxi.
If you live far away, it may be cheaper to rent a vehicle than take a taxi. I know it sounds FUBAR but trust me, valet companies are cheapskates.
3. If the vehicle cannot be driven, under most circumstances, you will have to rent a vehicle with your own money until the valet company can send you a check.
Most valet companies adhere to the same standards as insurance companies, so the highest amount for a rental is usually $40.00. If you rent something uber expensive, you're going to have to eat the difference yourself.
4. Never let a valet company try to strongarm you into going to an autobody repair facility they suggest.
The law dictates that you have the choice to go to any facility of your choice. More than likely, you will be asked to get 2-3 estimates (go to facilities you trust) and fax it to the valet company. If the estimate exceeds a certain amount, an independent appraiser will be sent(at the expense of the valet company) out to verify the damage to the vehicle. If the damage exceeds the value of the car (80%), the car will be written off as a total loss and you'll be paid the market value of your vehicle.
5. Do not drop off your vehicle for repairs until you have the check in hand.
The reason I say so is if the valet company only pays for the five days it takes to repair your vehicle, that's all they'll pay. So if you jump the gun on dropping off your car and you don't get the check until five days later, you have to pay the five extra days yourself.
6. In the case you have items stolen from your vehicle, it's almost next to impossible to get reimbursed for them.
My best advice is most valet companies are subcontractors at the facility you're at. So for example, if you stay at a hotel, bring the claim to the attention of the hotel and not the valet company, the hotel is the real customer here and they will put pressure on the valet company to reimburse you. If the valet company tries to tell you their policy is written on the ticket, just ignore it. The policy written on the ticket will not hold up in court so you can tell them to back off. If you have home owners insurance, your vehicle is covered for theft as long as you have the reciepts for the items in your car.
On a final note, most valets are just college kids trying to make ends meet. The wages for valets are tip-based so if you're dealing with a kind and courteous valet, please give them a tip as a token of your appreciation (my suggestion is $5.00). If you drive an exotic, $20.00 makes sure the car is parked up front and there will be no hooning in it since usually the manager will park it him/herself.