Every time my wife and I make plans for a trip that involves air travel and a rental car at our destination (which is to say, at least once or twice a month), we ask ourselves the same question: Do we rent car seats or bring our own?
Inevitably, we opt to bring. Three major issues factor into that decision: safety, cost and convenience. Here’s how our thinking shakes out on each.
Almost all car rental companies guarantee the safety of the seats they offer. But from our perspective, why should we believe them? Carfax doesn’t offer reports for car seats, and the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against using previously owned car seats because there’s no way to know if the seat has been in a serious accident. We tend to err on the side of caution, and go for the solution where safety is never a question: Our own.
Unless you’re a member of AAA, which entitles you to the free use of one car seat with every rental through Hertz, renting a car seat is bound to cost you something. Most major companies charge between $10 and $15 per seat per day, and cap those fees at a maximum of $60 to $70 per seat per rental. For us, this would mean a vacation-length surcharge of at least $120 (for two kids). That’s no chump change for us 99-percenters. We opt to save the cash.
There’s no question that lugging car seats from the parking lot to the ticket counter is a pain. That said, most airlines let you check one seat per child free. For parents who choose to bring seats on board (the Federal Aviation Administration recommends car seats for passengers under 40 pounds), a variety of detachable wheelboards let you wheel seats (kids and all) like roller bags. In our world, the pre-departure schlep isn’t enough to make us leave our seats at home.
Personally, I grapple with a fourth issue on the car seat question; a minor point, but an irksome one nevertheless. Let’s call it “Ickiness.”
You see I’m sort of a germaphobe, and I hate that the current system offers no way to track how or where company employees clean and care for the seats between rentals. Did the previous customer’s child vomit all over the seat? Did he/she have an accident? Was he/she just sloppy? I know some trusty seat covers would placate most of these neuroses. Still, if I’m going to go through the effort of bringing those, I’d rather just bring my own stuff.
I’d love to get your take on this issue. Do you rent or do you bring? What informs your stance? Please share your thoughts; I’ll include the best replies in a future post.