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Safety tips when leaving your car with the valet

Friday - 5/9/2014, 5:02am  ET

VALET.jpg
Most valets you hand your keys to are honest, but there are a few things you can do to protect yourself from the rare exceptions. (Getty Images)

WASHINGTON -- As the nice weather moves in, it may be more appealing to enjoy a night on the town. But when heading out, parking could be hard to find.

In come the valet lots.

Sure, you're uneasy about leaving your car with a stranger, but you can take some steps to make sure it comes back in the same condition you left it.

Many valets are just earning a day's pay and will take care of your car, but these tips can help put a stop to any schemes some attendants may have.

Valuables

"Never leave valuables inside the car, especially those that are in clear view," says John Townsend, a spokesman with AAA Mid-Atlantic.

Items such as wallets, checkbooks, electronics and garage-door openers should not be left in your vehicle where an attendant can get to them.

Opt for automatic

Most cars on the road have automatic transmissions.

"Young valet parkers may not know how to use a stick shift, and they can strip your gears or ... cause damage to your engine," Townsend says.

The automatic might save your car from a hefty repair bill down the road.

Inspections

As you would with a rental car, look over the car when you drop it off. Have a checklist of what you left in it.

"When you return to the car, go through it with a fine-toothed comb," Townsend says.

If you see dings, dents, black marks or items missing, tell the manager and, if necessary, call the cops.

Lay down the law

Let them know you're a driver they don't want to mess with.

"Drop hints that you're going to be looking for damage or any signs of thievery," Townsend says.

To avoid any joy rides, he says, "announce loudly that you don't know what time you are going to return."

Protect personal information

Make sure you don't leave any information that someone can use to steal your ID or rob your home.

"If they know where you live, they can have theft rings going from place to place and from home to home," Townsend says. Business cards and papers with personal information can give an attendant too much information about you.

Be a generous tipper

Tipping 10 to 15 percent of the parking price spreads the word to attendants that they should take care of your car. Ed Ryder, a former valet parking attendant, told ABC News that you might want to consider leaving a tip on the dash as your drop off the car, so you can encourage better care of your vehicle.

Use technology to your advantage

If you have a high-end car, you might have access to a valet key.

"The attendant can't open your trunk, your glove compartment or access the valuables you have stored in your car," Townsend says.

Some high-end vehicles also limit the car's speed when the valet key is used. If they choose to take your car on the town, it will be a very slow trip.

And "use anti-theft or automatic tracking devices," Townsend continues. That way, if your car is stolen, you can track it and get it back.

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