We’ve all heard the horror stories: missing iPods, dents and dings, Ferris Beuller-style joyrides. And while not all valet drivers are thieves or joyriders, let’s be honest, there are bad apples out there. Plus, your car is probably one of the most valuable things you own, and leaving it in the hands of a total stranger can be a little nerve-wracking. So next time you decide to valet, protect your possessions with these simple steps.

1. Lock up your stuff

Before you leave home, take anything valuable out of your car. If you plan to leave any expensive items or important documents (like registration and proof of insurance) in the car — lock ’em up. Many car key sets include a valet key to help you do just that. This key allows the valet to open the door and start the car, but doesn’t give access to the glove box or trunk (genius, right?). If you don’t have a valet key, consider stashing a small lockbox in your backseat for the important stuff.

2. Check your odometer

If you’re anything like me, you may have trouble remembering the exact mileage on your odometer. Consider texting the mileage to yourself before you get out of the car. You can also set your trip odometer to zero, but keep in mind that a joyrider can easily reset it. (Trust me, I did it all the time in my mom’s car during my rebellious teenage years, but that’s a story for another day.)

3. Get to know your damage

Be familiar with any scratches, dings, or dents before you hit the valet stand. The valet will sometimes mark existing damage on your ticket or take pictures to avoid liability, so it’s good to be aware of any damage in advance.

4. Inspect your car & tip the valet

When the valet pulls your car up, take the long way around to the driver’s side so you can give it a quick once-over for damage. Check the odometer again, and if it’s more than you expected, ask the valet how far away the parking spot is. Unlock your glove box, lockbox, and/or trunk to make sure your valuables are still safely where you put them. Finally, make sure the valet didn’t leave anything behind (like a half-consumed can of soda — it happened to me once). Don’t let them rush you through this process — if you don’t address these issues before you pull away, it’ll be a bigger headache later.

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about Jonathan

Jonathan is a word nerd, a food freak, and a travel junkie. By day, you'll find him weaving words for Esurance as a Senior Copywriter. But in his off time, he'll likely be digging into a new restaurant in his home base of Denver, Colorado, or white-knuckling his way down a mountainside on a weekend road trip.