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How Can I Avoid Valet Parking?

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author photo by Doug DeMuro May 2017

Hello and welcome to another rousing round of everyone's favorite column, Ask Doug, which is this thing we do where I take a question from a reader each week, and I usually respond to it, but sometimes I berate that reader for spelling and grammar errors.

If you'd like to participate in Ask Doug, you can! Just e-mail me at OversteerDoug@gmail.com, and I will be happy to read your letter, or at least make fun of you to my friends if your question has something to do with the fact that your first-generation Audi allroad won't start.

Anyway, this week's question is a very simple one that was sent to me without even a single bit of praise for my brilliance, which I find highly troubling, or even the smallest level of greeting. I have named the writer of this letter "Henry." Henry writes:

How do I convince the valet to let me self-park my car at a place that only offers valet parking?

Thanks,

Henry

This is an excellent question, Henry, and it's one I've pondered for many years, as I've been to many hotels and restaurants that insist on valet parking, and I've always hated it. With that in mind, before I get to an answer, can we discuss just how stupid valet parking really is?

I understand why many people might want valet parking: Because it just makes life easier. You show up in your dented 2006 Toyota Avalon, you hand the guy your keys and you just walk right into the restaurant. No problem. This is a simple solution to the serious, major, dramatic societal issue of having to walk for 25 seconds through a parking lot.

But for those of us who have nice cars, this is absolutely stupid. It's truly one of the most idiotic things you can imagine. You show up at a restaurant or hotel in a car worth $70,000, or $100,000, or $300,000, and you're expected to hand the keys to some random stranger just to save you 30 seconds of walking? Some random stranger who is almost undoubtedly interested in cars, and wants to get the most out of the 45 seconds he's behind the wheel of yours? Some random stranger who's going to floor the accelerator the moment the car is out of your sight, and Snapchat an image of your interior?

Valet parking is truly the single stupidest practice I've ever personally experienced, and I can't believe more people don't revolt against it. Even people with normal cars shouldn't want to deal with it: I'm expected to pay five bucks, 10 bucks, 20 bucks, just so some random person can adjust my seat settings? I give some guy five bucks, then another three bucks in tip, just so I can wait nine minutes when I walk outside of a restaurant for him to retrieve my car, an object I've parked countless times, and walked to countless times? It's so stupid, and I avoid valet parking in every single possible situation, sometimes to the point where I become confrontational about it.

So now let's go back to Henry's question, which is: How do you avoid it at a place that insists on valet parking?

The answer is simple: You just ask. One of the things I've learned, over time, is that valet parkers are approximately the lowest level of employee on the employee totem pole; they're often 19-year-old kids who have been hired specifically for this event, or for this season, or for summer weekends, and they aren't in the position of saying "no" to anyone.

So you roll up at the valet stand in a 911, and you see the valet sitting there, eyeing the car, eager to drive it, and you simply say to him: I'm going to park this myself, OK? You don't say "Can I park this myself?" You don't need permission. You tell him what you're going to do, and then you do it. You do it in an "asking" way, so you don't come off as a jerk, but you also make it clear the answer to this question will be "yes," because you simply won't have it any other way. You're parking this car yourself. You will not be leaving the keys.

Sometimes, the valet will insist that you leave the keys "in case of a fire." This is one of those situations where you set the odometer to zero, and you make it pretty clear that you don't want the car moved. You can also ask if there's a spot in back where you can self-park it, where you'll be out of the way. Years ago, on the Ferrari forums, I heard of a Ferrari owner making up a fake key to give to valets for this exact situation.

Of course, you can't always avoid valet parking, because in some cases you simply have no other choice. The best example of this is in New York City, where even the parking garages are valet-only, so they can stuff in as many cars as possible. In this situation, I have a different solution: Get a different car. I mean it. If you live in a place where you plan on frequently driving into a valet parking situation, and you don't want your high-end or special car to be valeted, get a car you don't care about. The last time I stayed at a valet-only hotel in Manhattan, I debated bringing my Dodge Viper or my Land Rover Defender -- two cars that would be enjoyable to use in New York City, if only for a day or two -- but ultimately, I brought my scratched, dented, high-mileage Range Rover. If the valet were to mess it up more, I'd barely even notice.

And so, those are my strategies when it comes to dealing with valet parking. Let's hear yours.

Doug DeMuro is an automotive journalist who has written for many online and magazine publications. He once owned a Nissan Cube and a Ferrari 360 Modena. At the same time.

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How Can I Avoid Valet Parking? - Autotrader