Friday, August 6, 2010

In a perfect world... rental agencies would provide CURRENT, CLEAN, UNDAMAGED car seats INSTALLED AND/OR INSPECTED BY A CERTIFIED SAFETY INSPECTOR.

But I guess that's a lot to ask. Really, though, should it be?

Parent are constantly urged to have their car seats checked out by a certified inspector, given the shockingly high percentage of car seats that have been found to be incorrectly installed. Yet, when traveling, we are expected to either: (i) haul our own, bulky, awkward car seat with us through the airport, then re-install it at our destination, without any assurance as to whether we've done it properly; or, even worse, (ii) rent a seat from our car rental agency, who may or not install it for us (but probably won't), may or may not provide a manual helping us to install it, and, in the worst case, may provide us with a car seat that is malfunctioning in some regard.

I learned this lesson the hard way this past weekend. Trying to travel "light" for a quick trip to Atlanta for a family event, we opted to leave the car seat in our car and rent one from Hertz. Which, I should note, wasn't exactly cheap. Upon arriving in the roughly 100-degree heat, hubby and I had to take turns trying to entertain Monkey while the other worked up an immediate and unpleasant sweat trying to get the car seat installed and secured. That, as it turns out, was the easy part.

Our return flight was canceled, forcing us to fly to another city, about two hours away from home, and rent ANOTHER car to complete our trip. Setting aside the fact that the airline wouldn't cover the rental (in lieu of a hotel), we arrived, again sweating like there's no tomorrow, only to get to our car and find no car seat. So we tracked down someone, and about five minutes later, an employee drove by and uncermoniously dumped a car seat in front of our rental. Upon trying to install it, however, I quickly discovered that it was completely missing the lower LATCH hooks. Now, I know that you can also install car seats using the lap belt, but the thing is, I have always used the LATCH system, as it is fairly simple, I'm familiar with it, and I figure there's probably a reason that LATCH is mandatory in all new cars. So, in my mind, a seat without LATCH hooks is defective. Upon again tracking down an employee (I suspect they were all hiding out in the AC somewhere), we explained the problem. Another 5-10 minutes trying to entertain Monkey, who, I have to say, was really being a champ through all of this ordeal, and a new seat was delivered. This one had a LATCH hook... well, one of them. The other one apparently was chewed off by an angry toddler (probably his way of venting about customer service), given the appearance of the threads where the hook was supposed to be. Again, I demonstrated to the employee the flaw in this particular car seat, at which point I was advised that he'd look, but he wasn't sure if they had any more car seats!

Ultimately, the third time was the charm, we got a bare-bones, but functional, car seat, and were on our way, 2000% more exhausted and frustrated, but with Monkey safe enough to complete our trip.

Upon arriving home, I wanted to immediately provide Hertz with some constructive "feedback," but for some reason I held back... Was it unreasonble of me to expect that the LATCH system be in place on the seats, when I could in fact have installed the seat using the car's lap belt? Did I, as a parent, have some unknown "duty" to be fully proficient in ALL manner of car seat installations, in any car, with any seat, with or without instructions, and was it somehow my fault that I couldn't make do with the seats they offered me? Upon reflection, I think not. And, after some brief Goggling, I found many similar vents, including car rental agencies that promise to install seats, but don't follow through, some that install seats, but perhaps not properly, and a host of other complaints, most of which have led parents to the conclusion that the best choice is either to drive your own car or haul your own seat. I find this very sad. I understand that things like quality car seats come at a cost, an that safety training and inspections can come at a cost, but itsn't it worth it to protect our children??