Valet parking in Houston: If you are going out to dinner, it's almost impossible to avoid and it's going to cost you a few bucks.
But have you ever stopped to think how much it could really cost you?
It cost Navy veteran Eric Abad more than $2,000 in damages to his beloved Toyota 4-Runner.
It happened when a reckless valet parking attendant slammed Eric's car into something, completely wiping out the rear bumper and the exhaust pipe.
"The valet wrecked my car and then refused to do anything about it," Eric said.
Accident attorney Jim Adler said the risk you take goes way beyond just damage to your vehicle.
"That valet could destroy your vehicle, drive it into a wall or even worse he could hit another person while driving your car or run into another person's vehicle and suddenly you are in a world of hurt", Adler said.
So the question is, who's regulating and watching these valet parking companies?
According to Maria Irshad, assistant director for Parking Management for the City of Houston, only valet drivers who greet you on a public street and park your vehicles on the public right of way are regulated by the city.
"The City of Houston only permits valet parking operators if they are using the public right of way for picking up and dropping off," Irshad told Channel 2 Investigates.
If a valet company is permitted, it has to maintain a certain level of insurance, employees have to wear name badges and the company logo or name on their uniform, and the operator has to go through a criminal background check.
Valet parking attendants who operate on private property, in restaurant parking lots, bar parking lots, club parking lots or movie theater parking lots, are not licensed by the city and they don't have to follow any of the city's rules.
"Those valets are not regulated by the city, and no they are not required to be permitted," Irshad said.
All of which means when you hand over your keys to that total stranger in the valet uniform, you have to protect yourself and your expensive car.
Channel 2 Investigates put together a list of the five steps to help you protect your car the next time you hand your keys over to a valet.
Step 1: Check the mileage on your speedometer right before the valet takes it.
"Look at your speedometer and see how many miles are on it.
When you get the car back, check it again to see if the guy has been joyriding in your fancy new car," Adler said.
Step 2: Remove all valuables from the cabin of your car and the trunk.
Step 3: When you get your car back, before leaving the property, check your entire car for damage.
"Once you get the car back, walk around it a couple times. Take a quick look to see if there are any scratches, dents, dings. Anything that wasn't there when you dropped it off,' Laura Adams, senior insurance analyst with InsuranceQuotes.com said.
Step 4: If you find any damage, take lots of pictures to document it.
"Take several photos. Get a close-up, a wide shot, a shot from both sides, so that you can clearly see what has happened," Adams said.
Step 5: Back up your story by interviewing several people who are also at the parking lot.
Laura Adams recommends using your cellphone to record interviews with people on the scene.
Ask them what has happened to your car.
Ask what they saw, what kind of damage your car has suffered.
Get their names and phone numbers for use later, in case you need to take the valet company to court.
Eric Abad said he learned a valuable lesson from his valet experience. He realizes the job of protecting our cars is up to us.
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