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Car Rentals & Car Seats

Travel with the little one can be difficult, but do you have any experiences with rental cars and car seats that you can share with Sarah?  She writes:

Hello, I'm the mom of an eight-month-old and I'm preparing take a plane trip with her -- alone -- later this month to surprise her grandparents. Because it's a surprise visit, I am renting a car to drive from the airport to granny's house, and I had a question I would like to put out to other traveling mamas who read your blog. I was wondering if you might consider posting it.

...What kind of experience have you had with rental car companies that provide infant car seats? I'm planning to rent a car with a car seat at O'Hare in Chicago but I'm worried that the seat might be difficult to install, substandard, or have other problems. Has anyone had good luck doing this? Can anyone recommend a rental company that provided particularly good service regarding the car seat? Right now I have a reservation with Budget.

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I'd say that if your kiddo is still in an infant seat, it could be worth it to haul that with you. Perhaps you will be lucky enough to score a (free) extra seat on the plane and have a place for baby to nap. Some airlines will check your stroller at the gate. We used to take the stroller/carseat combo to the gate - if there wasn't an empty seat on that flight then they could still check the carseat with the stroller. (We gave up on traveling light). If there was an extra seat, GREAT, baby would nap like she does in the car. I miss those days now that she's a toddler and won't nap on a plane. I realize that doesn't answer your question but perhaps it's an option for you??? It's worth looking into. I've also found that car rental companies won't always guarantee a carseat (first come ...) but that's been in smaller cities than Chicago!Good luck!

I was nervous about counting on the company to actually have a seat available when I got to there. I ended up borrowing a convertable car seat/stroller from a friend, and I highly recommend them if you think you may make more trips. This cool thing is a stroller with retractable wheels and handle. You wheel through the airport, check it at the gate and pick it up when you deplane. Kid goes back in to get to the rental place. I'd never heard of them before my latest trip with the girl, but once I used it I started to see a bunch of them.

I took my then 9-month old on a plane trip from Oregon to San Antonio, with one transfer. It is soooooo worth it to bring your own seat. You have to carry it with you, and you have to pay half price for a plane seat, but it makes the flight soooo much easier to be able to set the little one down (and strap him in) while you entertain with both hands free. There is not enough space on a plane for you to keep a baby on your lap comfortably. Not to mention, a little jostle from turbulance may not always be expected, and a car seat provides an extra measure of security. Plus, it eliminates the whole car-seat rental component.

I can not recommend bringing your own highly enough. It saved our trip, and I marveled at the thought that I almost didn't bring mine.

Anders and I have done 15+ trips in the last 20 months, with the majority of them just the two of us. When he was very small and still in the bucket seat I brought it along with me and several times was able to score the free seat on the plane. If not, I just checked it with the stroller at the gate. (This also assures that the seat will be there when you get to your destination--I'm always paranoid that the seat wont make it if we have layovers.)

We did two cross country flights last year when Anders was 8-10 months old, and those were probably the easiest flights I've had with him. He was not so little that he had to nurse every 2 hours, but he wasnt walking yet either, so he was very content to just sit on my lap and enjoy the ride.

Depending on what airline you're flying, you might be able to check your seat and still check 2 other bags. (We just flew on SW and I was able to check the seat, plus 2 other bags which was great--lots of other airlines count the seat in their 2 bag limit.)

Good luck!

When my little guy was 9 months old I trekked down to LA for a few days, and rented a car with a carseat. I can't for the life of me recall who I rented from (life is still hazy from those days) but I remember they would not install the carseat. I think that was a liability issue. Luckily, I was meeting my mom at the airport so we both went to the rental together and she watched the babe while I installed the carseat. The carseat was pretty new, looked almost unused. Because the cars they rent ARE so new they have the latch system, which I find relatively easy to install. If you're concerned about not having it installed correctly, you can always ask where the nearest police station/fire station is and have the local service guys double check your work. I think it was a great relief to have Andrew in my lap for the flights since he was still nursing and going up and down he needed the "pressure equalization." I wish you the best of luck! I'm sure it will go fine... do be sure and call a couple days before and ensure they did reserve the car seat for you.. I can imagine a car rental place letting something like that slip but if you force them to double check, hopefully it will be less likely.

I've been on a dozen or so trips with my 23 month old and we've used Budget, Hertz and a few others from places like Spokane to Minneapolis to Oakland. 99% of the time the car seat appears to be brand new or recently cleaned. I do bring a light blanket to line the seat should I get a not so clean looking one. We call the company prior to the trip to ensure there will be a carseat available for us and so far have had great luck.
You do have to install it yourself but to me it's worth it as I become a stres case having to haul too much stuff with me.
good luck!

My folks were in town last week and we ended up renting a car seat from Avis for their rental car. I was a little concerned that it might have been an older seat, because it didn't have a latching chest restraint, it had the kind you have to pull through a clip kind of thing. It did have the LATCH system to connect to the car. It was nice to have so I didn't have to keep switching out seats, but I really enjoyed travelling with my baby when she was still in the infant seat and I could carry it on to the plane. Only one out of 4 legs of my first trip did I need to check the seat and hold her the whole time. Good luck!

We have traveled with Mila extensively and have rented countless vehicles. Based on our experience, I would recommend bringing your own carseat.

Rental car companies are required to offer car seats but often do the minimum to fulfill this requirement. In our experience, the rental companies often lack the instructions for installation of the seats they provide and will not assist with the seat installation. Additionally, there is usually an additional charge for "renting a car seat" and it can be excessive.

Overall, we have found it is safer and cheaper to travel with a seat with which you are familiar. Something we recommend for traveling with your seat is the Mighty-Tite Car Seat Belt Tightener:

http://www.mighty-tite.com/Pages/mightytite1.html

This simple device ensures a safe and snug seat installation in any vehicle. You can find the Mighty-Tite and most major retailers (we picked one up at Target).

Enjoy the trip!

We traveled a few times with our little one. We brought our own carseat and gate checked it each time. This way we knew it was going to be there when we arrived and also knew how to install it. If you are still using a bucket carseat, I highly recommend using it with your stroller and gate-checking both of them. It is much easier for you to travel that way. If you are no longer using the bucket car seat, you can buy a cover/carrier for your carseat that has either wheels to roll it or straps so you can wear it like a back pack. This will help you get around the airport with your babe. Or you can buy an attachment that converts the carseat into a stroller. Again, this will help keep your hands free. Since you are going with just the two of you, I suggest checking all other luggage except your purse and diaper bag. Make sure to have snacks, diapers and a change of clothes for the babe in case your luggage doesn't make it. Good luck on your journey.

My son and I took a trip to CA in May. When I had the car seat technician walk me through how to install our Britax vs. our Graco (in order for me to determine which one to take on the plane), I knew I couldn't deal with the Unknown Car Seat from a rental place. (I ended up taking the Graco). It was easy to bungee it on to the stroller and carry my then 9-month old in the Ergo on my back. I bought him his own seat and he was pretty content on the plane. Be sure to find out how to install for an airplane -- it can be different than car installation. For mine, we had to do it forward facing and pull out this little plastic stand on the bottom. Good luck!

If you decide to take your own carseat, One Step Ahead (and probably others) sells a contraption (that sounds daunting -really it's just a strappy-thingy) that allows you to strap the carseat to your back, if you're using one of the ones that doesn't have a handle. Link: http://www.onestepahead.com/product/86211/363756/117.html I discovered it when I was 8 months pregnant and facing a trip alone with my almost-3-year-old. I didn't want my daughter to fly without being in a carseat, but couldn't see how I was going to carry one & I would have had the car issue on the other end also, so this seemed like a life-saver. I ended up not going, so I can't vouch for the product, but the reviews are positive.

We live in Chicago and travel to Portland frequently with our toddler, so we are very familiar with your situation! I have found that car rental companies generally *do not* have car seats available, and instead recommend renting them from companies that lease out baby equipment. I've been told many times that not enough people request them (arrrgh!).

In Portland, I *love* Babies on the Go Rentals. Find them at www.rent4baby.com or at 888.677.BABY. We rented a carseat from them and had it delivered (oh so easy). Even better, the carseat was brand new. We were very happy with the experience. We've chosen to travel with our car seat since that time, but would definitely rent from them again. They have tons of baby gear and have excellent customer service.

In Chicago, I am sure there are similar, Google-able rental companies.

I also give a big thumbs up recommendation for the car seat carriers you can strap on your back. These are worth every single one of the $30 you will shell out.

Best wishes and safe travels!

My husband and I flew to MSP last year and rented a car with carseat from Hertz for our 10 month old. The seat seemed to be brand new and was solidly installed when we picked up the vehicle. Our experience was great but I'm sure each rental franchise has different standards.

I was happy to see the post by Sarah because we rented many times from Hertz and it was always installed and in good condition. It was so easy and convenient and we did it with both our girls until they were just about a year. After that we were lugging so much stuff anyway that it was worth it to buy a lesser expensive seat from Segals and drag them with us. When we rented the seat from Hertz it was $8/day. Good luck. :)

I would recommend not getting your carseat from the rental company. We did this once for our toddler and had a horrible seat. It was dirty, old and she could get out of the straps in mid drive. We could not get it tight enough for it to feel safe. Since then we have lugged both huge Britax carseats to ensure safety. Its a pain, but worth it. I'd say take your seat or borrow a stroller/carseat combo from someone. Totally worth the hassle to know your babe is safe away from home. Good luck!

We rent from Hertz all the time and we always rent carseats. We reserve them with the car rental. I'm not sure if it helps that we're Gold members but we've never had a problem with seats being unavailable. They carseats are always clean and have the instructions. However, it can get spendy. This last time it was $25/day per carseat, so it added a couple of hundred dollars to our tab. For us, traveling with two in toddler seats, it's worth it.

My concern reading these posts about renting is how do you know the seat hasn't been in an accident or other incident? I have always been leery of renting simply because you never know where a seat has been, or what has happened to it with a rental situation.

We bought Britax Marathon's for our babies because we wanted the very safest seat we could buy. So for us, bringing it with us was no question.

However, after my husband had lugged our seat on his back through a few airports, we heard about a set of wheels called "Go go baby". You attach it to your carseat and it becomes a stroller that you pull behind you. BEST invention EVER!!! My almost 3 yr old still loves to sit facing backwards, and at security they will hand check the seat+wheels so you don't have to take it off. My husband doesn't have to carry the seat anymore, my son is contained, we have the seat for the plane, and don't need to bring a stroller. It's greatly improved our travel. We wish we had it when he was younger. Segal's in Beaverton sells them. Everytime we use them we get stopped by other parents (usually with carseats on their backs) asking us what it is. I can't recommend it enough!

We opted to purchase an inexpensive, very light convertible seat just for traveling. We bought the Scenera ($49 at Target) because of the weight and the carseat travel bag for it.

Before we leave on a trip, we put our little one in to adjust the height of the straps, etc. We have the installation instructions & as many others noted, car rentals are new models that almost always have LATCH.

I stuff the carseat travel bag full of all the stuff that won't fit in my suitcases, including extra diapers, blankets, etc.

On the way home, I don't have to even worry if the carseat makes it home because our Britax is still installed in our cars. That's never happened, though.

I vote for buying a Cosco Scenera or Touriva and skipping the rental.

http://www.deliciousbaby.com/journal/2007/dec/22/advantage-rent-cars-frightening-car-seats/

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