You’re hand­ing over the car keys to a stranger – who could be a crook

The Star Early Edition - - FRONT PAGE -

IT’S SAFE, con­ve­nient and ef­fi­cient. Your car’s col­lected be­fore your de­par­ture from the air­port, stored se­curely and re­turned freshly washed at the drop off zone.

Valet ser­vices from the air­ports are widely ad­ver­tised and used, but how can you be sure about the ser­vice you’re get­ting. Or even, how safe is it?

On De­cem­ber 6 last year, San­dra Nolan handed her car to a valet ser­vice at OR Tambo to store while she was over­seas. Al­most a month later, when she re­turned, she dis­cov­ered it was in a state.

“Con­sumers must be warned about us­ing these ser­vices. I’ve been lucky in the past, hav­ing used them more than a dozen times with great suc­cess.

“In De­cem­ber, I thought I’d try some­one new. I searched on Google, saw quite a few list­ings for valets at OR Tambo, and se­lected Air­port at Best Care Park­ing.”

They promised a “stress­free” ex­pe­ri­ence and “awe­some ser­vice”.

The owner, Tshidiso Mo­qhoishe col­lected the ve­hi­cle and off Nolan went, con­fi­dent in the ser­vice be­cause it op­er­ated off air­port grounds. Or so she thought.

“With­out any dis­clo­sure from the com­pany, I dis­cov­ered that, in my ab­sence, the car had been driven 1 935km, there was a chip in the wind­shield, the front bumper had been ‘fixed’ and there was a hole in the un­der­car­riage.

“I no­ticed these trans­gres­sions as soon as I re­turned home from the air­port, and spent the next three weeks email­ing quotes for re­im­burse­ment and call­ing Mr Ju­naid Tshidiso Mo­qhoishe, who is the owner of the com­pany. He in­sisted that an em­ployee used my car, yet Mo­qhoishe’s name de­tail was saved in my car’s Blue­tooth de­vice.”

While Nolan was away, some­one seems to have had quite a party in her car over the fes­tive sea­son, not only dam­ag­ing it but caus­ing a se­ri­ous dent in her 30 000km main­te­nance plan, ef­fec­tively rob­bing her of more than a month’s worth of driv­ing cover.

She’s cau­tioned not all such ser­vices can be trusted and that there’s crooked valet park­ing at the air­ports “and by crooked I don’t mean they don’t know how to park straight or in a des­ig­nated space”.

Mo­qhoishe claims the damage was “a mi­nor scratch on the bumper”, blamed a staff mem­ber for caus­ing it, and that Nolan hasn’t pro­vided him with proof of the mileage.

He had col­lected the car him­self (which ex­plains the Blue­tooth), that valet ser­vices op­er­ated freely at the air­ports as they’re “public roads” and that he was in talks with Nolan to ar­range for a pro­fes­sional panel-beat­ing on her ve­hi­cle.

What he couldn’t ex­plain was the al­most 2 000km on the clock. He claims Nolan has no proof of the odome­ter read­ing, when it is clear on the in­voice and in “be­fore” and “af­ter” pic­tures.

He’s also plan­ning to open an op­er­a­tion at Cape Town In­ter­na­tional Air­port.

Where he parks the ve­hi­cles is any­one’s guess. Air­port at Best Care gives a com­pany ad­dress as be­ing on Plataan Road, Edleen in Kemp­ton Park.

But from the street, it looks like a res­i­den­tial home that doesn’t seem to have un­der­cover park­ing and no clear stor­age fa­cil­i­ties.

Nolan told me last week: “I fi­nally met the owner, Tshidiso Mo­qhoishe on Sun­day, and while he seems earnest about pre­serv­ing his com­pany’s rep­u­ta­tion, he is not com­mit­ted to re­solv­ing the prob­lem.”

I ap­proached OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port about the valet ser­vices. They said they were well aware of the pick-up and drop-off ser­vices: “These are in­de­pen­dent op­er­a­tions that are en­ti­tled to meet pas­sen­gers at the drop-off and pick-up points out­side the air­port, which re­main public ar­eas that are freely ac­ces­si­ble to all.

“Un­for­tu­nately, it is not within the au­thor­ity of the air­port to reg­u­late or con­trol these ser­vices. As in all matters in­volv­ing the pur­chase of a ser­vice, we would ad­vise con­sumers to take rea­son­able steps to ver­ify the stand­ing and back­ground of these com­pa­nies, par­tic­u­larly con­sid­er­ing that the ser­vice in­volves hand­ing over your car keys to a per­son you have most likely never met.

“Con­sumers should ex­er­cise par­tic­u­lar care with any com­pany or ser­vice that has ‘OR Tambo Air­port’ in its name. Use of this name can pro­vide a false sense of se­cu­rity and the im­pres­sion that the busi­ness is some­how of­fi­cially as­so­ci­ated with the air­port.

“In this par­tic­u­lar case, we must em­pha­sise that the com­pany that pro­vided the ser­vice to this con­sumer is not as­so­ci­ated with or au­tho­rised by OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port to pro­vide these ser­vices on be­half of the air­port or from the air­port premises.

“As OR Tambo In­ter­na­tional Air­port has no con­trac­tual or con­ces­sion re­la­tion­ship with this provider of valet ser­vices, we are not able to intervene on the con­sumer’s be­half. The com­plaint would thus need to be taken up with the South African Po­lice Ser­vice or through the pro­vi­sions of the Con­sumer Pro­tec­tion Act.”

Granted, it’s not oc­cur­ring on air­port prop­erty (which is why the Ekurhu­leni metro po­lice are sta­tioned on the road out­side OR Tambo to po­lice speed­ing and lengthy drop-offs so en­thu­si­as­ti­cally) but how about putting up no­tices to warn drivers?

Then again, it’s al­ways ad­vis­able to ex­er­cise cau­tion: don’t trust ev­ery busi­ness that crops up in a Google search; check for ref­er­ences/re­views; don’t hand over your car keys to a stranger – he could be a crook and you’ve just given him your car; and al­ways keep ev­i­dence by tak­ing pic­tures of your odome­ter. If ever, you need proof.

AF­TER: The owner of the car valet ser­vice can’t ex­plain the dif­fer­ence and how the car did an ex­tra 1 935km.

BE­FORE: The odome­ter on San­dra Nolan’s car clearly shows the mileage.

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