In your youth you counted down the days to vacation; as parents you’re more in tune with the airport hassle countdowns: four suitcases, three plane distractions, two energetic children and one stuffed diaper bag. Pacifiers are sacrificed to the dirty terminal floors while diapers try and jump their way to freedom. With no arms left, the diapers win — except on rare occasions when the car seat, heavily dragging behind you, miraculously catches it.
But one good catch a vacation isn’t worth it — so when the rental car company asks if you’d like to add a car seat, it’s tempting.
Don’t do it. Don’t rent that car seat.
Would you buy a car seat from a garage sale? Perhaps it’s outside a mansion and they’re giving away never opened car seats out of generosity. Or, perhaps it’s from the neighbor whose child just upgraded to a booster. Either way, it’s a risky and potentially life-threatening decision. For starters, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends against using previously owned or used car seats.
This scenario isn’t too different than deciding between a rental car seat or your own. How so?
Consumer Reports’ sent child passenger safety technicians to two large rental car companies to analyze the car seats available for rent that day. One agency, the mansion of garage sales, kept their seats in clear plastic bags with owner’s manuals zip-tied to the covers. The second, the neighbor, stored their seats outside in the parking lot shed, actually appearing to be thrown in rather than placed down. Upon closer inspections, the technicians found almost none came with the owner’s manual while some had missing or broken pieces, infant seat carriers separated from the base or were altogether expired. Consumer Reports’ did not name the rental car companies.
Safety should be the number one factor in foregoing the rental car seat. Yes, you could happen upon company A, but is it worth the risk of dealing with Company B? And it’s not just about avoiding the risk factor.
How do you use this darn rental car seat?
From understanding how to install and secure your child inside to ensuring it’s properly cleaned and knowing it’s not in recall, there’s safety in familiarity. For example, did you know some Evenflo car seats were recalled this September? Chances are, the rental companies are not keeping tabs on this either. Nor is “proper car seat inspection and installation” listed as their need-to-know skills of employment, respectively.
But as parents, it’s important to feel confident and safe with your child’s car seat every time you use one; this may be impossible even with a nice- but unfamiliar- rental seat. Springfield personal injury attorney Douglas Heidemann specializes in child injuries; he says while child (under 13) fatalities from car accidents have steadily decreased since the 70s, they’re still responsible for one of every four unintentional deaths. Some parents may be familiar with those numbers. But Heidemann says most parents overlook one factor: car accidents tend to be more common in popular vacation destinations. From visitors navigating new and unfamiliar streets to dealing with more road congestion, the safest option for the child and parents’ peace of mind is bringing along the reliable car seat from home.
Of course, rental car seats aren’t free either. Averaging around $10 to $15 per day, receiving a faulty seat probably isn’t how you want to start off those vacation vibes. Depending on how many children require car seats and the length of your stay, these daily charges can quickly add up to the cost of buying a new seat.
What to do instead of renting a car seat when traveling?
On the contrary, most airlines allow parents to check car seats for free (and don’t count it as one of your bags). If your child is under 40 pounds you can bring the car seat for the plane. This is recommended by the Federal Aviation Administration. If your child is over 40 pounds, you’ll need to check it. (SR4K note: Many airlines do allow for children over 40 pounds to use car seats on the airplane, especially if they are children with special needs.) Money saver, yes–but there is one strong argument against this.
The car seat may come out of baggage claim slightly damaged from either the airport’s notoriously tough treatment of luggage or while stowed under the plane. To help diminish the chances of surprising damage, however, bring the car seat with you to the gate. From there, the airlines will check it for you, seriously reducing the amount of time the seat travels without you. When you de-board, the car seat will be waiting for you at the gate. If this seems like too much of a hassle, pack the car seat in either its original packaging or a padded box.
Understandably, bringing your own seat is not convenient or reasonable for all families, especially those embarking on a solo-parent family trip. Still, there’s a few safe, inexpensive and convenient options left to forego the safety risks of rental car seats.
- Wheeling Devices: Multiple companies can turn your car seat into a rolling suitcase by attaching the seat to a sturdy set of wheels. Parents can even place their child in the seat while rolling the suitcase through the airport. It may not provide an extra set of hands, but it does restore some normalcy to the airport navigation process. Plus, these devices aren’t like car seats – borrow or takeover one from a friend to save money.
- Travel Vests: These wearable car seats, like the RideSafer travel vest, are lightweight and can easily fit in your carry-on backpack or in the overhead bins. It meets or exceeds all federal safety standards. It’s also a safer alternative to the rental car seat for children who weigh at least 30 pounds. Plus, depending on the length of your vacation, the rental price and the vest may be similar in price; if not, monthly payments through some manufacturers make this a solid option for frequent travelers or even frequent carpoolers.
- Buy a car seat at your destination: This may not seem like a solution, but it will spare your home car seat from incurring any serious damages and ensure there’s no accident history the rental dealership overlooked. Ideally, a friend in the area could pick up the car seat for you and meet you at the airport. Without help, this may not be a serious solution. It’s never a good idea to drive even short distances with your child not in a car seat. However, this way allows parents to handpick their car seat and know it’s in perfect condition. If it’s a place you visit often, you could store the seat with friends or families. Then it’s available for future trips, eliminating hassle indefinitely.
We’d love to hear your thoughts on rental car seats or any of the three alternative options mentioned above. If you’ve rented a seat before, was it a positive or negative experience? Let us know in the comments below.
Guest post: Jenna Murrell is a digital marketing specialist for Safer America, a safety advocacy organization. Our mission is to raise awareness and make our communities safer through beautiful, shareable and relevant data visualizations.
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We originally published this post in October 2016. We updated the article for accuracy and comprehensiveness.