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Things to know before handing keys to valet

December 31, 2010 12:00:00 AM PST
Handing over car keys to a total stranger has become part of the process of dining out for many people.

Automotive website Edmunds.com did an extensive interview with a former valet parking attendant who worked for several different companies. He spoke freely about what can happen to people's cars.

"We could hardly stop our confessor from talking," said Philip Reed, Edmunds.com editor. "He talked about racing in the parking garages, testing out the cars' stereos, taking revenge on poor tippers. I mean, he went on and on and it would make your hair stand on end."

What can you do to make sure your car is taken care of? Like any service business, friendliness and a gratuity will go a long way.

"As far as the valet is concerned, cash is king," said Reed. "But there is also a human element. These people want to be recognized as real human beings, so we recommend that you look them in the eye and treat them decently if you want your car to survive this experience."

Don't assume that the owners of the most expensive cars are the best tippers.

"The people with the lower-end cars are very sensitive to low-end jobs and are good tippers. The high-rollers in the fancy cars are not particularly loose with their money," said Reed.

You'll also be a big help if you explain any quirky features of your car upfront, such as an alarm system or a keyless start. Remember to leave that wireless key.

"It's very easy to walk away with a smart key in your pocket and then they're stranded and they have to come and find you," said Reed.

Be sure to check your car before you leave. If there's any damage, notify the manager. The hotel or restaurant doesn't want any problems with the service from a contract valet company.