Rental companies advertise that they offer safe and clean car seats. But how do you really know if the unit you’re offered is up to snuff? To decide, consider what we’re calling the four Cs: condition, cleanliness, certainty, and cost.
Condition: The FAA posts its standards for a CRS (Child Restraint System) on its website. When the rental car company hands you a car seat, you should check its label for the safety certification of the place you’re visiting. But even if you find that, it won’t be easy to tell if the model has been recalled. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration also recommends replacing a car seat if it’s been involved in a significant accident—you can’t know for sure whether the rental seat has been in one, but you can examine it for cracks and damage. Other deficiencies, however, may not be visible. And if you ultimately decide the rental company’s seat isn’t satisfactory, you’re left with the problem of how to find a good one before driving away. Bottom line: Your own seat is a safer bet.
Cleanliness: One’s own dirt is acceptable, but a stranger’s? Not so much. Many American companies claim they fully sanitize car seats between rentals. Kids have a way of inserting crumbs in every crack and fold, though. Bottom line: You know how clean your own seat is.
Certainty: Most big agencies guarantee a car seat if one has been reserved. However, glitches occur. The request may have disappeared from your reservation or take longer than anticipated to fulfill. Although carrying your own car seats is a schlep, your kids can sit in them on the plane ride, or you can check them at the ticket counter without a fee. Bottom line: Your own seat is a surer bet.
Cost: Both rear-facing (infant) and forward-facing seats for older children rent for about $14 per day each. Many companies limit charges to around $100 per car seat per reservation. (AAA members who rent a vehicle from Hertz receive the use of one free child seat per trip.) But nearly every U.S. and international airline will allow you to check car seats for free both at the check-in counter and at the gate. Bottom line: Your own seat is a cheaper bet.
So yes, you can get car seats from a car rental company. But for peace of mind and to save money, it’s wiser to bring your own car seats with you on a trip.