Advantage Rent-A-Car's Unsafe Car Seats

Update 28 July 2008: Despite their promises Advantage Rent A Car continues to rent unsafe car seats please click the link to read what happened to mom Barbara and her 6 month old infant when they visited the Los Angles location

original story follows

You might remember that when we arrived in San Diego and picked up our rental car from Advantage Rent-A-Car, my husband was led into a storage room where a scrapheap of car seats awaited him. A lineup of a few pictured above. Most were disgustingly dirty, with dark stains on them, cracker remains, etc.

Some close-ups:

Several were missing parts and didn't function properly. With few other alternatives after our evening flight, he selected the two newest, healthiest looking car seats, and we brought them out to the car. After installing one, we noticed that the straps didn't tighten enough to secure our toddler. He returned it and brought out another, which turned out to be missing the clip that goes across the chest. Finally, he selected a third (and dirtier) car seat that seemed to be functional and we were on our way. Obviously, we gave the seats a good once-over the next morning (as well as a good cleaning.

More close-ups:

When we returned the cars, we brought the seats inside and staff directed us to put them back into the storage room (without cleaning).

I asked the manager what their policy was regarding car seats. He claimed that Advantage buys new car seats every two months and that the car seats are cleaned thoroughly after each use. I explained that we had to install two car seats for my son before finding a working one, and while he apologized that they "might have missed something" he maintained his claim that the car seats are cleaned and inspected after each use. I then lead him into the storage room and started pointing out car seats that were obviously filthy and car seats that were obviously unsafe. He retreated quickly, offering to refund our car seat rental fee, but pointing to a few newer car seats that had not been available when we rented the car and maintaining that the company rents only safe, clean car seats.

And here is the California State Law regarding car seat rentals:

(b) Every car rental agency in California shall have available for, and shall, upon request, provide for rental to, adults traveling with children under six years of age, child passenger restraint systems that are certified by the manufacturer to meet applicable federal motor vehicle safety standards for use by children weighing 60 pounds or less, are in good and safe condition, with no missing original parts, and are not older than five years.

The fine for non-compliance is negligible, so it's not surprising that an agency wouldn't be too worried about being caught renting unsafe car seats.

(c) A violation of this section is an infraction punishable by a fine of one hundred dollars ($100).

Our recommendation: Thoroughly inspect any car seat and installation before leaving a rental car agency. If you're on site at the airport, it is easy to walk to another agency and ask whether they'll honor the rate for your reservation (if they have extra cars they're likely to). If you're off site, it's harder to walk away, but never take the risk of putting your child in a car without a properly functioning car seat.

We've never had any issues when renting from Avis or Hertz (including our international rentals).

Update Jan 3 2008

I have more information on the Fisher Price car seat shown in the pictures above. After receiving reader tip saying that her 15 year old son had used a similar car seat, I did some more research on that model. The Fisher Price 9100 & 9101 T-Shield convertible seats were manufactured between 1985 and 1995 (meaning that the car seat pictured is between 12 years and 22 years old!) Wow! No wonder it looks so worn out.

Most manufacturers suggest replacing a seat 5 to 8 years after the date of manufacture, because current safety seats may have better safety features than older seats, but in no case should a car seat be used after 10 years.

Furthermore, this car seat model has been subject to a eight different recalls (though the one pictured might have missed all of them) Do you think anyone at advantage has taken the time to check the car seats for recalls when they didn't take the time to clean them after use or remove damaged seats?

Now that I've learned more, I'd like to update our recommendations to parents:

  • Call ahead to the specific office you will be renting a car seat from and verify that they have new, well maintained car seats available for your date of travel.
  • Make sure that the seat is installed snugly and that the latch or seatbelt is threaded through the proper channels
  • Find the individual "birth date" of the seat. It should be on a computer printed label stuck to the side or back of the seat. Don't use a seat that is older than 5 years.
  • Check the seat carefully for evidence of cracking, twisting, worn harness webbing or broken buckles. Once you have latched the buckles, pull hard to make sure that they do not detach. If there is any visible damage, do not use the seat

If you are on site at the airport, it is easy to walk to another agency and ask them whether they'll honor the rate for your reservation (if they have extra cars, they are likely to). If you're off site, it's harder to walk away, but never take the risk of putting your child in a car without a properly functioning car seat.

Update Sun Feb 3, 2008

Local ABC news affiliates in San Diego and Seattle have picked up the story. They did their own "under cover" investigations, and are airing the story this week!

A reporter even came out to the house to interview me and take video of the kids. I've held off on blogging about how the story unfolded until it airs, so watch the report at 10News or KOMO and check back here next week for the behind-the-scenes story.

Schedule
3 Feb 10 News in San Diego breaks the story at 11pm PST
4 Feb Komo News in Seattle airs the story at 11pm PST
5 Feb Komo News in Seattle airs the story at 6pm PST

Here are a couple teasers from the San Diego affiliate:
Video Teaser: "Bad Car Seats"
"Behind the Scenes" Investigation Blog

Here's the teaser from the Seattle affiliate:
KOMO News: Dirty and Dangerous

Update Feb 8 2008

A lot has happened in the past few weeks, so here is a brief update.

In late January I received a very nice letter from the director of customer experience at Advantage apologizing for the experience I had. As a result of this story and the news investigations, Advantage has performed a company-wide inspection of all their car seats and destroyed any that did not meet the appropriate standards for safe operation. They've also institued a new corporate policy regarding child safety seats, including a requirement that seats be removed from service after two years of use and that parents be given a manual with each seat. Way to go Advantage!

10News aired the story based on their undercover investigation as their lead story on Superbowl Sunday. Here's a link: Video: Bad Car Seats

References and Related Links:
Update 28 July 2008: Advantage Rent A Car continues to rent unsafe car seats
CarSeat.org
Car Seat.org's listing of T-Shield car seats
Listing of Eight Recalls for the Fisher Price 9100 Car Seat
Advantage Rent-A-Car: Link
California Car Seat Law: Link
DeliciousBaby: Reserving Rental Cars, Flights, and More
DeliciousBaby: Watching Myself on the News
DeliciousBaby: Car Seats and Air Travel
Safety Tips for Renting a Carseat

[where: 3443 India St, San Diego, CA 92103]

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Comments

  1. pb

    January 1, 2008 at 3:36 a.m.

    Pretty sad. The Fisher Price car seat is around 15 years old. My son had one when he was little.

  2. Debbie

    January 1, 2008 at 5:31 a.m.

    Wow! 15 Years is well past the recommended age for a car seat. Standards have changed a lot in that time.

    Car seats that old (and in this condition) should be retired. I feel for parents who show up at the end of a busy day when only a few seats remain. It would be tough to take one of those seats, and tough to return to the airport to make other arrangements.

  3. Jill

    February 2, 2008 at 8:06 p.m.

    I'd avoid renting carseats completely and just take your own on the airplane. Then you know the history of your seat (and how to install it) when you reach your destination. Those seats look gross!

  4. Melissa Marowelli

    February 3, 2008 at 5:32 p.m.

    Not surprising and not unusual...even worse, in Phoenix at the Hertz airport rental location, the carseats are stored OUTSIDE in a carport type storage shed. They are exposed to the elements (rain, sun & UV) on a daily basis...I can't imagine how brittle the plastic is after that. I'm a CPST and I would *NEVER* recommend using a rental carseat.

  5. Debbie

    February 3, 2008 at 8:18 p.m.

    It's so upsetting to hear other stories like this. There's just no excuse for endangering kids like this. It shows what a poor job some companies do of keeping themselves accountable for child safety (and what a poor job we do of holding them accountable as well)

    Furthermore, companies like Hertz charge up to 10 dollars per day for a car seat rental, making this a big profit center for them.

    Melissa, have you taked with the manager at Hertz in Phoenix? Are they aware of the damage outdoor storage causes?

  6. Nicki

    February 4, 2008 at 9:29 a.m.

    We always take our own car seat and install it on the plane. I strap it to the stroller or a luggage cart with a bungee cord, so it's easy to take through the airport. My son is comfortable in the plane and much safer than in the airplane seat belt (see http://www.saferidenews.com/html/Airp...).
    And we have a clean, safe car seat to use at our destination.

  7. Jersey Todd

    February 8, 2008 at 10:54 a.m.

    We had an incredibly similar experience renting in Florida.

  8. Andrea

    February 8, 2008 at 11:24 a.m.

    I had a similar experience with Thrifty in Kauai last summer-- not as bad as yours, but horrifying enough. Dirty seats with broken parts that were probably 7-8 years old. uncaring management. I complained later to the company and got a little bit of money back, but they didn't seem to grasp the safety implications of the problem.

    In all fairness, I have to say I have used rental company car seats several times and have been pleased, except for that one time. But it should never be like that.

    Anyway, kudos to you for going public and getting some notice.

  9. Amber

    February 10, 2008 at 10:30 p.m.

    If this isn't a testament to what one person can do to change a big company's policies I don't know what is! A MILLION KUDOS! Hopefully you'll motivate even more people to stand up and not accept shoddy customer service. Only accept the most ethical treatment for your hard earned dollars!

  10. Amber

    February 10, 2008 at 10:32 p.m.

    P.S. I was referred to your blog by way of Z Recommends (http://zrecs.blogspot.com/) who picked it up from the Consumerist (http://consumerist.com/354104/mothers...).

  11. Debbie

    February 10, 2008 at 10:39 p.m.

    Amber,
    Thanks for your comments. Having made a positive change here was its own reward.

  12. Vanessa

    February 18, 2008 at 3:52 p.m.

    Hi everyone,
    I just wanted to introduce Travel BaBees (www.travelbabees.com) to the group. We are a full service baby equipment rental company. We rent our car seats for $5/day and guarantee they have been reviewed for any recalls and are always in excellent condition. We are also insured specifically for renting baby items - which isn't easy to come by... The car rental companies aren't in the business of babies - we are!
    Thanks! Vanessa

  13. Cindy

    February 28, 2008 at 12:59 p.m.

    I am not sure if anyone has mentioned this as of yet, but last year I was travel with my two boys and the airlines do not count you checking on car seats as luggage. I had purchased two vinyl car seats bags with wheels on one side from One Step Ahead, and we took our two car seats with us. Just another suggestion.

  14. Debbie

    February 28, 2008 at 1:27 p.m.

    Cindy,

    Some airlines count the seats as luggage while others do not. It's important to call your airline (or check their website) for their exact policy.

    I've written up a helpful guide to traveling with car seats on http://www.deliciousbaby.com/journal/...

  15. Karina

    February 29, 2008 at 4:56 a.m.

    Wow. I am amazed at how civilized a first world country can be, even with all the bad experience you had, things turned around and you made big difference: protecting who knows how many kids out there! Congrats! In my country there is NO LAW regarding car seats, so kids usually ride either unstrapped or even strapped IN an UNSTRAPPED car seat (!!!!). I have seen kids ride on the front seat alongside their parents, alone or held by another adult, lose in the backseat and jumping around. People often roll their eyes at us when we mention the seats, and even some kids have made fun of my oldest (7) for using a "baby seat": his booster. The saddest part is people will use the seats when travelling to the States because it is required, but once back here it's not cool, I guess, so they don't use them, and they don't seem to realize the seats are for protecting their kids. It's very sad to know that a kid gets hurt because a parent didn't make an effort to be consistent about it.

  16. Mary Helen

    February 29, 2008 at 7:11 a.m.

    Another thing to be aware of if your child is particularly tall--not all carseats will work. When my daughter was 3 1/2, we traveled to Kauai, and our luggage got delayed. We had to use a rental, and the agency (I don't remember which one) didn't have one that would accomodate my 95th percentile height child. We ended up with a booster (since she did meet the minimum weight). Thankfully, our luggage (with our Britax Marathon) caught up with us about 3 hours later.

  17. Cathy White

    March 4, 2008 at 1:30 p.m.

    Holy cow! Look what a difference you made! I have never trusted those rental car agencies for anything. They can't even guarantee they'll have a car when you get there, even with a reservation. Last summer, we arrived in DC after midnight, and the rental car place didn't have a car for us at all. Neither did anyone else. By the time we'd yelled at all the people we felt we had to yell at, it was 1:30 in the morning. We had to wake up my father-in-law to pick us up. Lucky for us we had that option! My advice: always have a contingency plan for both hotels and rental cars when travelling. Know what you're going to do if something falls through.

    I never rent a car seat from them, as much as I hate toting ours around. At all those rental car sites, by the way, they will never guarantee that they'll have the correct type of child seat in stock for your kids age either. Laws be damned. They couldn't give a crap. It's in the fine print when you make your reservation.

  18. Reuben

    March 6, 2008 at 10:56 a.m.

    In the article above you mention "We've never had any issues when renting from Avis or Hertz (including our international rentals)." Could you share your experience with Hertz international baby seat rentals? I ask because my wife and I are going to Italy on vacation next week with our 18mo old son and my wife is a little apprehensive about renting a car seat from Hertz in Italy. After learning about the CARES restraint system I picked one up immediately and it just shipped today. I am so glad i found out about it as I recall lugging a car seat around during our last trips to mexico and france with our son and it was a major headache. I am looking forward to avoiding the car seat issue now alltogether...

  19. Debbie

    March 6, 2008 at 2:45 p.m.

    We rented a car from Hertz in Bologna, Italy with a car seat installed. The car seat was new and in great condition. On that specific trip, we rented the car during week 2 of a four week vacation, so bringing along our own seat was simply not an option.

    Whenever you rent a car seat, inspect it cafefully. Here are some tips:
    http://www.deliciousbaby.com/journal/...

    Other than that, make sure that you have a backup plan. In Italy, the baby chain Prenatal has locations in most cities & is a great place to pick up anything you might be missing.

    I hope you'll like the CARES harness. We have been delighted with ours.

    Have a fun trip!
    Debbie

  20. JoAnne

    April 23, 2008 at 1:17 p.m.

    Please be aware that although a baby equipment rental company may state they are 'fully insured', that does NOT guarantee high quality or exceptional customer service. I speak from personal experience. I rented several items from a 'nationally chained' baby equipment rental company that is 'fully insured' and the quality of the equipment was atrocious! The equipment was old, dirty, and there were no brochures or instruction pamphlets with anything! I spent a lot of money and expected a 'fully insured' company to be better than it was. So, when you are looking for a baby equipment rental company, make sure you look at more than just insurance coverage. The insurance coverage may make a company become lazy. Next time I will support a locally owned company, after all they are more likely to have great customer service and high quality products, because it is their own company that is at risk!
    Thanks for listening-
    JoAnne

  21. Christina

    May 1, 2008 at 6:29 p.m.

    Wow.. those carseats looked so old! Like something we had for my sister when she was 1 years old and that was 14 years ago!

    They are to be retired after 6 years as well.

    Nasty and dirty eww. Its like putting your child in one of those store carseat things for shopping.

  22. Vanessa

    May 9, 2008 at 4:49 a.m.

    JoAnne,
    I am sorry to hear that you had such a horrible experience renting with a fully insured, national company. I am assuming that it was not Travel BaBees as we have been in business slightly less than two years and all of our equipment is brand new. We also have an Equipment Manager that oversees the quality and rotation (use of life) for the entire company.

    I would also like to share that each of the managers are independent operators. The advantage with a company such as Travel BaBees is that someone can start their own business without having to learn "the hard way" All of the research has been done and the system has been perfected to guarantee a superior product and service. We take our insurance very seriously and it doesn't allow us to relax. It actually makes us work twice as hard, if that's possible.:-)
    Thanks!

  23. Karen

    May 19, 2008 at 11:55 a.m.

    This company does not care about their employees nor their customers, my husband used to work for Advantage Rent-A-Car and everyone who works there is allowed to just do as they please, with no rules or regulations. There does not seem to be any intention from anyone there to actually follow the laws. I do not believe a word of it, these people will lie to you and DO NOTHING AT ALL behind your back. Don't trust them. My husband used to work for them, unless you actually SEE EVIDENCE in front of you that supports their letter of apology...DON"T BELIEVE THEM!!! We will NEVER rent anything from this company ever!!! And I have told all of my family and friends not to rent from them because I am forming a BOYCOTT against them. Thank You for seeing my comment and hopefully you will hear me.

  24. Karen

    May 19, 2008 at 2:57 p.m.

    Here is a letter that was sent to the Director of HR (Janice Bunch) at Advantage Rent-A-Car Corporate. This is a good example of how Advantage Rent-A_Car treats their employees. My husband was not allowed bereavement time for a funeral that we needed to attend. Instead, Advantage Rent-A-Car terminated him from his job and posted on his official work record, that he voluntarily resigned. He sent a paper trail back and forth to the Director of Human Resources...which we DO have a copy of for proof. He did not receive a return phone call, as promised, nor did he receive an Appeal Hearing regarding his dismissal and the reason for his dismissal. He has since then, attempted to call Janice Bunch numerous times and one month later, he has yet to receive any response: (Please See Letter Below)
    (Part One)April 17, 2008
    From The Office Of:
    Jason B. Campbell
    2536 Eaton St.
    Edgewater, CO. 80214
    (720)334-1556
    Dear Janis,
    I have spent the past 15 years of my life in the sales and customer service industry. Of that time, the past 7 years of my experience have been, in the automobile industry. During this time, I have been surrounded by less than honorable people.
    As I sit here writing this to you, I am contemplating my life and the experience that I have just had with Advantage Rent-A-Car. What attracted me to the Corporation was Dennis E. Hecker's Vision of building a company dream during a recession and his positive way of looking at things during difficult times. To quote him, "Good People Helping Good People". He goes forward no matter what adversity he faces. He helps people in all walks of life through his charitable projects in order to create a better world for everyone. I have always believed that "success breeds success" and that is another reason why I was attracted to this organization. Then to my dismay, (on April 1-4, 2008) after I had been working for Advantage Rent-A-Car, I found harsh discourse between different levels of management and a complete lack of communication. I observed that it was due to certain dishonorable individuals that this blocking or lack of communication was taking place. I was disappointed that this was taking place because I knew from experience that lack of communication causes destruction within a company infrastructure. I was also saddened that levels of management were in severe discourse with one another.
    It is my belief, that there is no I inTeam. I am disgusted that certain employees who are in positions of power are causing destruction to the Dream of a Great man without his knowledge. I am also very upset that these people are also exhibiting some of the most unprofessional behavior that I have witnessed in a very long time.
    (truncated due to lack of character space)...more

  25. Barb

    June 30, 2008 at 8:59 a.m.

    I saw this before my trip to LA, and because of it I thought things would be fixed with Advantage and that their agency would be the most likely to be improved. Boy, was I wrong. I was given several car seats without bases and told that they couldn't help tell me how to install them because of liability. The back of the car seats say to use the instruction manual to see how to install it, but they did not have any instruction manuals on site. I couldn't see how these seats could be installed without a base and kept going back in and talking to the manager who kept telling me there was nothing he could do to help. Not even a manual. It was 2 hours of me going back in and talking to them and trying different things that didn't feel safe. Finally they gave me a car seat with a base which I could clip in to the seat, and it felt more secure. It was an old and dirty car seat, but it was better than anything else they gave me. When I got to our hotel and brought it in to clean it, I discovered the back of it said not to use it after December 2007. So things with the LA Advantage office are still ridiculous and I will never rent from them again.

  26. Debbie

    June 30, 2008 at 11:41 a.m.

    Barb,

    Thank you so much for letting me know about this. I am so disappointed and upset that this happened. There is simply no excuse for this. I will be following up with Advantage.

    Readers, please avoid renting a car seat whenever possible.

    Debbie

  27. adrianne

    July 13, 2008 at 9:05 p.m.

    I can't believe this "rental" company even has such horrific seats that they actually rent to people. I also can't believe that people have not made such complaints as to the shape of these seats before you. I am horrified!!!! My mom said this is the seat she used for me when I was a baby and I just turned 23!!!!! Also, I noticed the infant carrier in the pictures. It is an Evenflo Discovery infant seat and it has been recalled because at low speed impact the seat will come off the base. Imagine the outcome of a high speed impact.

  28. Sylva

    August 8, 2008 at 3:28 p.m.

    Thanks for this story! I've read your follow-up stories and the comments and posted about it on my blog here, http://www.vitarara.org/mns/node/121

  29. IdahoSEO

    November 6, 2008 at 4:16 p.m.

    It seems that now we know the destination of recalled and thrown out car seats....the car rental companies!

    I am a mother of three and have flown many times with my kiddos in tow - and solo to boot! I always brought my seats with me on board. I have found that the airlines will provide escort service from ticket counter to gate to carry the car seats through the airport. It's proven very beneficial as the escort (I'm sure by some OSHA or union law) puts the seat(s) into a wheelchair, with which we are all then taken past the long lines through the special security entrances. It saved our bacon last summer when we otherwise would have missed our plane due to exceedingly long security lines.

    I also found that my kids were just more comfortable in their seats, they're accustomed to sitting and sleeping in them, wouldn't think of wandering out of them, and they get the lift so they can see out the windows.

    When I didn't want to wait for an escort to take us out of the airport, I used a bungy cord to stack them all on the stroller. It's quite the high pile of goods and I'm sure some of you may remember me and my pile of car seats going through the airports, as you smiled and said hi to us. :)

  30. Meghan

    July 1, 2010 at 4:03 p.m.

    Avoid the train station car rentals at Toulon, France! All the major car rental brands were there, and we reserved with Hertz. We were given a choice of seats from three seats stacked behind the desk on top of each other, two of which were infant seats without bases (the other car rental offices were even worse - one or none in some cases). As my daughter is two, we took the only toddler seat. It was terrible!! Dirty, old, the "padding" was deteriorating to the touch. It was impossible to install safely and the directions labels were ripped off. There were no other options.
    As there were two other adults traveling with us, we felt it was safer to have her ride in the back middle seat, between us, in the seatbelt.

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