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August 06, 2008

Danger For Rent: Should You Rent a Car Seat?

Advantage_lax_infant_overview As I mentioned previously I recently went to San Francisco with my 8-month-old son in tow. Because I was traveling alone, I chose not to drag a car seat along with us. So my child sat in my lap on the plane. But it left us with a quandary once we got to SFO. How do we get to Union Square from the airport? Rent a car or call a car service that offers car seats? You may change your mind about those alternatives after you read this.

Have you ever traveled solo with a baby? It’s not exactly easy. And in California if you take a taxi, bus, or shuttle, you must have a child safety seat. There are no exemptions for this type of transportation. However, BART (Bay Area Rapid Transit) is exempt, so guess which option we used? Yes, I took a fast-moving train and sat my child in his stroller during transit. We managed, although it wasn’t easy to push a stroller and drag a suitcase.

Bracket Debbie from Delicious Baby tells us the story of Barbara’s car rental experience, and she has asked for help in spreading the word. What if you needed to rent a car and had been assured that the company would have adequate car seats? Would you still take your own? Barbara didn’t, based on a car rental agency’s strong promises that they could provide a safe infant car seat. But when she got there, she found her choices severely lacking. In fact, she wound up with a car seat so old that it should have been destroyed.

In addition, she couldn’t get the information she needed to correctly and safely install the seat. And of course, the key to keeping your child safe is making sure the seat is installed according to the manufacturer’s instructions - but the car rental agency didn’t have manuals. And they hide under the guise of “liability” when asked for help. It’s ridiculous.

Latch So Debbie decided to go to LAX herself to find out how bad it is. And it really is bad. The agency promised clean, safe seats. What she found was appalling. Dirty seats had been bagged as if cleaned. One seat even smelled strongly of vomit. Her entire experience is alarming, especially the reactions and unhelpful attitudes of the agency staff.

As for the rest of my story? When it was time to leave for home, I really didn’t want to face going down a steep hill with a stroller and suitcase. My child is almost 25 pounds, so I didn’t feel I could carry him several blocks to the train. I could, but not with a stroller and suitcase. I tried to find a taxi or car service that could take us. None of the taxis or shuttles would even offer a car seat due to liability. And the car services the hotel used that had car seats were already booked. So I had to schlep down to the train anyway, but the hotel concierge was nice enough to help.

It was nearly impossible to find a car seat, but I did have alternatives available to me. What if I hadn’t, though? I could have been in the same situation that Barbara was.

Our recommendation? Take your seat with you. On airplanes, you can check it as luggage (or use it to seat your child on the plane), and at least you’ll have it waiting when you arrive at your destination. With a seat you’re familiar with, you’ll be better able to install the seat in a rental car and won’t have to wonder at the condition of the company’s seats. Don’t trust the safety of your child to someone else if you can at all avoid it. And if you must rent a seat, demand clean, safe, recent child safety seats.

Becky_headshot_2 By Becky Scott
Contributing Editor

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