It turns out that the stories of valet parkers in the movies and TV are pretty much true; the wild joy-ride in a Ferrari taken by a valet parker in Ferris Bueller's Day Off, and the episode in Seinfeld in which a hygiene-challenged valet parker left a permanent stench in the car so foul that Jerry Seinfeld's character let the car be stolen.
It is convenient, especially when one is pressed for time. But there are plenty of nightmare stories. A couple of years ago, I valet parked a car at the Marriott Hotel in Detroit, and shoved my iPod into the glove-box before I handed the keys over. The next day when I went to retrieve it ... gone. And there was no way to lodge a complaint at that point, because I could not prove it was in there.
Our friends at Jalopnik.com this week have a piece written by Travis Okulski, who says he always parks his own car having been a valet parker at a suburban mall.
According to Okulski, here are the things you want to keep in mind before handing over the keys, especially to a kid who looks like he or she is not old enough to drink legally.
1. Don't hand over a powerful luxury car to a valet parker. If you throw the keys to a Mercedes S65, Bentley GT or Audi R8, you are asking for trouble. Valet parkers race these cars even in cramped parking garages.
2. A lot of valet parkers, especially the young ones, don't know how to drive a stick-shift, or at least not very well. That smell is not coming from the kitchen of the restaurant you just valet parked at; it's the odor of clutches burning.
3. If you must valet, and you can afford it, and your car is expensive, seriously consider throwing the parker extra money to park it in a good spot and look after it. But even then, says Okulski, you can get hosed if the parking crew is unscrupulous.
4. Look over your car when you get it back, especially the bumpers. Okulski recounts a story in which the car in question had a bumper nearly detach from a car and the crew hastily re-attached it so it looked okay.
5. Do not leave anything of value in the car. No cameras, iPods, smart phones, radar detectors, etc. Items like this will walk with valet parkers, and trying to get satisfaction is very difficult because of how difficult it is to prove the item was in the car when you handed it over.
6. Leave the valet key only, not the keychain with your house-keys on them. Doy. That's why they call it the valet key.