Traveling with kids is an exciting and, admittedly, challenging experience. When we as adults travel, our necessities can all fit in a single luggage bag. But kids have a lot more gear and essentials. So, if you’re a family flying with kids, you’re probably looking over your “must-have” list and searching for ways to cut some extra weight and hassle. 

One item parents often prefer to leave at home is the car seat. They’re heavy, bulky, and difficult to remove and install—let alone take on a plane. These parents then rely on a car seat rental service while they travel around the new city or country. However, there are many drawbacks to this process that make bringing your own car seat a much better (and safer) option. Here’s what you need to know about car seat rentals:

What You Need To Know About Car Seat Rentals

Can You Rent Car Seats?

Yes, you can rent car seats. There are baby gear rental services in major cities that allow you to rent everything from infant car seats to boosters. Some of these are standalone companies with their own warehouse of inventory, while other rental businesses allow moms to rent their unused gear to people traveling to their cities. Often, these companies also rent other baby essentials like playards, high chairs, and strollers. 

Do Car Rentals Have Car Seats?

Many major car rental agencies also allow you to rent a car seat as an add-on to their vehicle loaning service. Car rental offices often have a limited supply, especially when you’re renting from a smaller airport, and depending on the deal you get, the prices can be steep. 

Are Car Seat Rentals Safe?

Car seat rentals of any kind are not safe. Having a car seat at your destination that’s all ready for you when you arrive feels like a dream, but it really is too good to be true. You have no way of knowing if these car seats have been stored, handled, and cleaned safely, so it’s a gamble every time you use one. Why take the risk when bringing your own seat is an option? Maybe when you’re traveling, you’re a little looser on your child’s snack choices and their bedtime—but we never recommend getting lax on their car seat safety! 

Why You Shouldn’t Rent A Car Seat While Traveling

They may not have a car seat that fits your needs and child.

A lot of car seat rental options have a really limited car seat selection. They typically offer a set of bare minimum options: infant car seats with 22lb limits, forward-facing harnessed car seats with 40lb limits, and backless booster seats. If you’re wondering about a convertible car seat for your rear-facing toddler, well, you might just be out of luck. A high back booster for your six-year-old? Another pipe dream. Rental car companies keep a basic supply on hand to cover just the bare minimums of each car seat stage. This can leave parents scrambling for a different solution, even if they reserved car seats with their rental car ahead of time. And for families traveling internationally, the options that fit their child’s age and stage will probably be even more limited.

You won’t have access to the manual.

Most of the time rented car seats don’t come with manuals. Sometimes you can find manuals online, but if it’s an older model or a model with a lot of variations, finding the right instruction manual can be harder than you think. Without the right manual, installing the car seat correctly and using it properly could be a challenge. 

The cleaning and storage processes at rental facilities are questionable at best. 

Car seat rental companies may have published safety standards, but often the storage and cleaning processes at these facilities are damaging to the seats. The disinfectant and cleaning solution that’s sprayed at high pressure onto the seats is usually not approved for use by the manufacturer. (Learn more about how to clean a car seat here.)

Additionally, warehouses are often damp and leave the seats somewhat exposed to critters and the elements…if there is a warehouse at all! Some companies store car seats unprotected outside for long periods to save space. All of these things could cause significant damage that may not be obvious just by looking at the car seat! 

There’s no way to be sure the seat was used properly by former renters. 

Speaking of proper use, you can’t be sure the car seat was used properly by the last renters. Even if you feel like the person loaning you the car seat is credible and takes good care of the seat, the previous renters could have cleaned it with harsh products or reassembled the seat improperly in a way that will keep it from effectively doing its job in a crash. There is simply no way to know! 

You don’t know if that car seat’s been in a car crash.

Car seats don’t come with a carfax like vehicles do. You can hope the seat was never in a car crash, but if it was, you wouldn’t know. The seat could have easily been in a fender bender that the rental agency didn’t take seriously enough to even examine the car seat, let alone contact the manufacturer for guidance — if the renters even disclosed the crash to the rental company at all! All in all, renting a car seat is gambling with your child’s safety! 

It’s cheaper to get an inexpensive travel seat.

When you add it up, after just 2-3 trips, you’ll have paid more for car seat rentals than it would cost just to buy an inexpensive travel seat. You can find really inexpensive and lightweight convertible seats as low as $60 that work great for travel! Most infant car seats are already light and compact enough to fly! And, of course, you’ll know how to install and use your seat correctly. For a full list of travel-friendly car seats, check out our top airplane travel car seats.

You’ll need your car seat to safely fly anyway. 

The FAA recommends that children under 40 lbs be in a car seat while flying. Yes, even though you’re allowed to have the child on your lap, it’s really not a safe or comfortable place for your child during a flight. In extreme turbulence or a rough landing, your kiddo needs the safety of a child restraint system fastened in their own seat! 

Plus, checking a car seat can cause damage equivalent to that of a car crash. And we should mention booster seats can’t be used on planes, but you can bring them as a carry-on. Just never check your car seat or booster seat, and always opt to use approved restraint systems on flights. You can read more on flying with a car seat and airplane travel safety at the links.

Car seat rental options aren’t safe and shouldn’t be used. 

Though the convenience is tempting, you should always bring your own car seat with you when you travel. You can have all the confidence your seat’s in the best condition, and there’s nothing in the seat’s history that could keep it from doing its job in a crash. Grab an inexpensive travel seat, and prepare for the flight using our Wheels Up: Airplane Travel Course. You can relax knowing your child is safe in their seat! 

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