Now that lockdown is beginning to ease you might be heading off on holiday, but we urge you to take extra care if you’re organising car hire that includes a rented car seat for your child.
Shockingly, nine in 10 parents* (85%) told us that they had encountered issues with their baby or child car seat when they came to collect their hire car.
A safe car seat will protect your little one in the event of a crash, so it’s vital that parents are given a suitable one at the time of booking.
Read on to find out what issues parents experienced, our tips on how to handle it if it happens to your family and three lightweight car seats that could be good for travelling.
Go to our child car seat reviews to see more than 200 crash-tested car seats
Common issues with car seats in hire cars and how to handle them
Below are some of the most common issues that parents we surveyed encountered when booking a car seat.
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No advice or instructions with your rented car seat
No one wants to spend ages grappling around in a hot hire car after a long flight trying to install a car seat, especially if it lacks any instructions on how to fit it.
Yet, 32% of parents received no advice from the car hire company or any instructions on how to fit the seat.
If this is the case, the internet is your friend. Once you’ve collected the car seat, check YouTube or the manufacturer’s website as many will have videos or downloadable manuals to help you install it.
You can also take a look at our car seat fitting videos for further help.
Car seat is missing parts or the seat is damaged
If you can tell that a car seat is missing a vital part (for example extra head padding for a newborn) or it’s damaged, it’s really important that you let the car hire company know.
We found that 15% of parents spotted missing parts and 14% noticed damage to the car seat.
Worryingly, 54% of parents admitted they would still use the car seat even if it was damaged.
We’d urge caution as you may be putting your child in danger. Go back to the front desk and request a new seat.
Incorrect age or stage car seat for your child
Some 23% of parents were given an incorrect size of car seat.
If this happens, you really should request a different one, as if your child is too big or small for a seat, it may not protect them sufficiently in a crash.
You can tell if your child should be in the next size up of car seat if they’re too tall for the adjustable harness (the top of the harness should sit 2cm above the shoulder), or if they’ve outgrown the head protection, which means the top of their head is no longer protected.
Check out our guide to car seat laws in the UK, Europe and the world
Only offered a backless booster seat
Our tough crash tests have proved time and again that using a backless booster seat doesn’t provide adequate protection in a side-on impact, compared with a high-back booster seat.
However, 18% of parents state that was the type of seat offered when hiring a car.
We’d always recommend opting for a high-back booster seat, and we’d encourage you to request this when booking and again on vehicle collection if it hasn’t been provided.
More than 50% of parents we surveyed chose not to use the hired car seat if it was provided with a backless booster seat.
However, a backless booster is better than no seat at all, so if there really is no other option, then use the backless booster seat.
No car seat provided
Our survey found that 20% of parents had hired a car but there was no car seat in the vehicle when they came to collect it.
If this happens, your first stop should be the front desk to find out where it is – it’s possible the seat is being kept in the main office for safe-keeping.
If the car hire company can’t guarantee that they will provide a car seat when making your booking, we’d advise you to either bring your own car seat or choose a different car rental company that can guarantee a car seat for every booking that requests one.
The price of hiring a child car seat
More than 25% of parents said their main issue was the price of hiring a car seat.
The cost can vary across different companies, countries and cities, but among the bigger car hire companies it can be between £7 and £12 a day.
This means you could end up spending more than £150 just for the car seat and double that if you have two children.
If it’s not possible to bring your own car seat with you, one option is to see if there are any large supermarkets or shops near your car rental centre that you can go to buy a new car seat from.
Sometimes the cost of buying a car seat is cheaper than hiring it for two weeks.
Car seats to take on holiday with you
Whether you bring your normal car seat or buy one for your trip, some airline providers will let you stash your car seat in the hold for free, while others can be folded so they’re small enough to be hand luggage.
It’s worth getting a car seat bag to help protect it in transit, but it should be stowed with other oversized luggage, so it hopefully won’t get damaged.
The car seats below are compact, foldable or lightweight, so could be a good choice for your holiday – but make sure to read our reviews to check how well they fared in our tough crash tests.
Joie i-Snug, £90
This infant carrier is approved to the latest i-Size regulations (R129) and weighs just 3.2kg (not including the Isofix base), so should be very light to carry around or take on holiday with you.
It’s suitable for babies measuring up to 75cm, which is around a year old, and it usually costs less than £100.
Read our review of the Joie i-Snug car seat to find out if it’s easy to install and safe.
MiFold HiFold Fit and Fold Booster, £155
This is a foldable, travel-friendly high-back booster seat. It’s suitable for children weighing 15kg to 45kg, which is around four to 12 years old.
There are 243 individual settings, so it can be adjusted to grow with your child, and when folded it measures 25 x 34.4 x 34.4cm and weighs 4.4kg.
Read our review of the MiFold HiFold Fit and Fold Booster to find out how it scored in our tough crash tests.
Chicco Fold & Go i-Size, £149
This is another foldable high-back booster seat, although this time approved to the newer R129 regulations.
It doesn’t fold down quite as compactly as the MiFold, but it measures 46 x 22 x 61cm and has a carry handle to make it easy to pick up.
Read our review of the Chicco Fold & Go i-Size to discover how it scored in our tests.
*March 2020 Which? survey of 1,800 parents with a child under the age of 12 who hired a car seat along with their rental car.