Renting a car seat: should you or shouldn’t you?

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Can you rent a car seat with a rental car? In almost every case, the answer is “Yes, you can arrange a car seat rental with the rental car agency.” The more important question is should you rent a car seat when you travel.

There are lots of different considerations, and some parents sit firmly in one camp while others make a different choice based on the details of a given trip. Read on for a balanced (in my opinion) take on the pros and cons of renting a car seat.

Read more: Checking a car seat – risks to consider & the best ways to do it if you have to

3 reasons why you should consider renting a car seat

Millions of people rent car seats every year around the world. Maybe they’re on to something? Here are a few reasons why it might be a good idea to rent a car seat on your next trip.

Baby gear rental is more convenient than lugging your own stuff through airports and planes

When you’re already overwhelmed by how much gear you need to take, baby equipment rental can seem like the simplest option. After all, you have suitcases, diaper bags, kids’ entertainment, and maybe throw in some coats and a temper tantrum to top it all off?

The good news is that there are some wonderful companies that rent baby items. You can get everything from cribs to high chair to bath toys… and yes, you can even rent car seats from them.

If I was committed to renting a car seat rather than bringing my own, I’d try to rent from a company like BabyQuip. It’s a network of parents who rent clean, well cared for baby gear. The company requires them to provide age-appropriate car seats and to make sure they’re in tip-top condition. You can often arrange for the local provider to meet you at the airport with the car seat (and anything else you need for your trip). Check out the full BabyQuip location list.

Of course you can rent a car seat from the rental car company, but as you’ll read below there can be some major pitfalls.

Note that you don’t really need to ever consider booster seat rental. There are so many great travel booster seat options that’ll shove into your child’s carry-on.

An airport car seat rental will definitely comply with local laws

Whether you’re renting a car with car seats or getting one from an independent company like BabyQuip, the car seat they provide will be from the local market. In some places like the EU and Australia, it’s technically the law that your child has to ride in a locally-certified car seat.

Even though you’ll often find car seats with the same names sold in different countries, they can be completely different. Here are just a few key differences:
-American car seats are required to have chest clips, but they’re forbidden in Australia and the EU
-Australian car seats use a rear-facing tether, US car seats use a forward-facing tether, and EU car seats may not use either
-US car seats can be installed with either LATCH or a seatbelt (never both) but EU and Aussie car seats can usually just do one or the other

There are a few additional differences, but you get the point. In addition, the testing standards are different. Not better or worse, just different. Between the US and Canada, often the seats are exactly the same but the labels are different because they’re tested to each countries standards!

Long story short is your American car seat technically isn’t legal to use in some other countries. A few notable ones have exceptions for short term visitors like Canada (the exact exemption depends on the province and even whether you drove your American car or rented a Canadian one), Israel and New Zealand.

All of that said… you’re extremely unlikely to run into any problems if you chose to bring your age-appropriate car seat from home. Rental car agencies definitely don’t care. Even if you get stopped for speeding, they probably won’t care. The only situation in which it could pose a problem is if your family gets into an injury-causing car accident and a reporting police officer is astute enough to realize that the car seat isn’t a local one. In that case he or she could make a note in the accident report that gets sent along to the insurance company. Then it’d be up to the insurance company whether or not to deny your claim on that technicality. But this is all theoretical, as I’ve interacted with probably 100,000 traveling parents through Facebook groups and forums and never heard of that actually happening (though people sure want to scare the pants off of you!).

While we always bring our own car seats when we travel, we did find ourselves in Australia during our family gap year with only a Ride Safer travel vest and a Bubblebum inflatable backless booster. The Ride Safer is so far beyond the usual child restraint and definitely not similar to any Aussie car seat! The Bubblebum is actually approved (a slightly different version) in several countries, but Australia no longer permits the manufacturing of backless booster seats.

We’ve heard rumors that police in Victoria and New South Wales will give tickets for non-Aus/NZ car seats and we were spending a long time there with a rental car, so we opted to rent car seats for that part of our Australia trip. We used our own “devices” in three other Australian states without incident. If we were just going to Australia from the US, I wouldn’t have thought twice about bringing our regular car seats from home.

You might only need a car rental with car seat for part of your trip

Bus travel, no car seat required!

One final reason why many parents opt for renting a car seat with a rental car is that they may be on a multi-legged journey and only need the car seat for a few days.

For example, on our first family trip to Italy we took planes, trains and boats extensively before we set foot in a car. We spent just four days driving around Tuscany, but still had our car seat with us as we hopped on and off trains and carted our stuff over Venetian bridges.

Was it worth lugging our travel car seat around for just those days? That trip occurred before the EU’s new iSize standard for car seats (we’ve been doing this a long time!). Rear-facing car seats in southern Europe were only designed for babies up to 9 months, but we had a 20 month old with us.

We weren’t comfortable switching him to a forward-facing seat, so even though it was just for a few days we thought bringing our rear-facing car seat for travel was worth the hassle. Now that iSize has brought EU car seat standards a little closer to US standards, I’d be more willing to consider renting a car seat there.

4 (and 1/2) reasons to avoid child car seat rental

Ok, so why should you consider bringing your car seat instead of renting one?

Anytime you rent baby stuff, you don’t know the history

When you rent baby products, you’re putting a whole lot of trust in the folks who own them and take care of them. For something like a high chair or a play mat, it’s no big deal.

But let’s remember what a car seat is: a single-use life-saving device. There are plenty of things that can go wrong with a rental car seat during its life span and the last thing you want is for it to fail if your family has the misfortune of being in a serious accident. My kids were in a serious accident and both walked away totally unharmed thanks to being properly secured in the rear-facing car seats.

Perhaps a previous kid threw up all over it and a well-meaning attendant soaked the straps in a cleaning solution to clean them? That’s against manufacturer recommendations because it can weaken the fibers and cause them to break under crash forces.

Or maybe the car seat was in an accident but the rental car location manager decided it “wasn’t serious enough” to warrant replacing the car seat (if they’re even aware that many manufacturers recommend replacement after any crash).

We recently heard a report in our Facebook group from a parent who saw a row of car seats sitting out in the mid-day sun and tropical humidity in Costa Rica. That’s a quick way for materials to degrade, including the adhesives that usually hold head-protecting side wings in place.

The point is that you just don’t know.

If I was renting a car seat for travel, I’d sooner get it from a parent at BabyQuip than from a car rental agency. First off, they’re more likely to know how to car for their car seats appropriately. Second, you can read reviews of the individual before you commit to find out just how well the gear is cared for. And finally, you can connect directly with the baby gear provider to ask questions in advance!

Renting a child car seat may not meet your safety standards

NOT an appropriate age for forward-facing

Every family has different priorities when it comes to child safety and a different idea of what car seat usage should look like for their kids. Here in the US it’s increasingly common to rear-face kids until 4 years old, with many states now requiring it until at least 2 years old. After that families usually keep their children in a forward-facing car seat for a few more years until they’re mature enough to use a booster seat.

So what do you do if you show up and the car rental company offers you a booster seat for your immature 3 year old? Or a forward-facing car seat for your 9 month old (which is completely legal in Australia)? Maybe the only car seat available looks like what you rode in as a child?

There’s no sure bet that what a car rental company provides will actually be a car seat you feel comfortable putting your child in. And it’s nearly impossible to get a straight answer in advance, because it’s all “subject to availability”.

What do you do if you show up at the rental counter and are given a seat that you don’t feel safe using for your precious cargo? Your best bet is to send an adult (assuming you’ve got a spare with you) to a nearby store in a taxi to have them buy a new car seat. Hopefully something is open when you land!

Read more
You’ll find an in-depth breakdown of what to look for, reviews and recommendations in these articles:
The best travel car seats for 1 year olds
The best travel car seats for 2 year olds
The best travel car seats for 3 year olds
The best travel car seats for 4 year olds
The best travel car seats for 5 year olds
The best booster seats for travel

Do car rental companies rent car seats? Only when they have them

You thought you had a car seat waiting for you…

Can you rent a car seat at the airport? Sure, in theory. But we’ve had numerous parents in our Facebook group report that the car seat they had requested on the reservation and called to multiple times to confirm wasn’t there at all. “Oops, sorry! Just rented the last one.”

Uhhhhhhh…..

As in the situation above, you can usually figure something out if you have another adult with you. If you’re in a major city you could also try to order online for in-store pickup and send someone from TaskRabbit to pick it up for you.

But as one group member agreed, it sure was a shitty way to start off their vacation!

Renting a car seat can be just as expensive as buying a new one

woman choosing child car seat for newborn baby in shop supermarket

Renting a car seat isn’t necessarily a cheap proposition. The going rate is around $15 per day, often with a cap of $60 for the whole rental. But watch out for “airport concession fees” of up to 30%, which can sometimes apply to add-ons like car seat rentals! (Ask me how I know…)

But these days in the US, you can get some lightweight car seats that’ll cost less than renting for two trips (or even one!). Check out these budget-friendly travel-worthy car seats that you can buy for under $100:

Cosco Scenera Next DLX (best for kids under 3)
Evenflo Sonus 65 (best for kids under 5)
Evenflo Maestro Sport (best for kids under 7)
Bubblebum (best for kids over 6)

Ok, so what’s with the “1/2 reason”?

Kids under 40lbs should be sitting in a car seat on the airplane

This gets the “1/2” reason designation because parents of kids over 40lbs don’t need to worry about in-flight safety. The airplane seatbelt alone is enough, so for the littlest passengers you should strongly consider flying with a car seat.

For kids between 30 and 40lbs, the CARES harness will keep them secure on the flight (the manufacturer says 22lbs, but we’ve received TONS of parent feedback to the contrary).

Another option: delivery!

One final option to consider is ordering a car seat for delivery to your destination. You’ll find lots of inexpensive car seats on this list that are perfect for travel within the US since they’re all available with your Amazon Prime subscription.

This works best if you’ll be visiting family or friends who can meet you at the airport with the car seat, or if you’re visiting a location where you can take public transportation to your hotel or Airbnb. Hotels and hosts are generally willing to receive a package for you in advance, so this can be a great solution!

Once you’re done with the car seat, you can bring it home on your return leg or leave it behind if it’s inexpensive. If you’re visiting family it’s great to have a car seat there for subsequent visits. And we’ve left alllll sorts of things for Airbnb hosts in the past and they’re happy to be able to offer them to future guests.

So what’s the verdict on renting a car seat?

Clearly there are pros and cons on each side. And every trip may have a different calculus for your family! That’s ok.

If you decide to bring your car seat from home: Even if it doesn’t have local safety certifications, make sure that it matches that country’s age/stage requirements. If you’re visiting New York or California, make sure your 2 year old is rear-facing. If you’re visiting Costa Rica, keep your 5 year old in a high-back booster rather than a backless one.

If you decide to rent a car seat at your destination: Try to minimize as many of the risks discussed above as possible. Make sure you have a back-up plan in case something goes awry!

Read more: How to travel with car seats

Does your family rent car seats with rental cars, bring them from home or something else?

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