Mother's Blog Spawns Investigation Into Unsafe Car Seats

When mother Debbie rented a car from Advantage Rent-A-Car she was surprised to have to paw through rows of shoddy, dirty, car seats, some missing parts, to find one that worked. When she complained to the manager, he insisted that the car seats were thoroughly cleaned and inspected after each use. Her blog post about the issue caught the eye of the local news station, who did an investigative report on the matter. Following the report, Advantage-Rent-A-Car conducted a company-wide inspection and cleanout of its seats, and instituted new policies to make sure they rent only clean and safe car seats. ” This was a huge change for the company and a fantastic and very satisfying result from my perspective,” writes Debbie. Inside, her 10 tips for working with a local news team to resolve your consumer complaint.

1. Try to work it out with the company first

Make a good faith effort to work with the company to resolve your issue. If they do resolve the issue to your satisfaction, you win. If they don’t, your story will be stronger and more attractive to a news reporter.

2. Document everything

Keep a diary of exactly what happened, who you talked with, and what they said (including dates and times). Whenever possible, take pictures and audio recordings. In my case, the pictures turned a story that could have sounded like paranoid parental wining into something with teeth. Looking at the pictures, it’s practically impossible not to be disgusted. The details in my diary also helped me review my story with the reporter.

3. Do some research

Were any laws broken? Did the company’s action go against commonly accepted best practice? Have they done the same thing to other people?

4. Make a written report

Now that you’ve gathered all your information, write it up in a well organized written report. Start with a high level summary stating why the issue is important and the high level details of the story. Attach details, pictures, and research. Most importantly, be completely honest. Don’t overstate what happened, don’t be tempted to add details that aren’t true. If the news reporters cannot substantiate your story, they won’t run it. If they catch you in an untruth, the whole story is compromised.

5. Share your story

Find out whether the problem has happened to anyone else or whether the internet community has any other information to add. You can post your story on news groups and send it to related blogs or websites asking them to share it with their readers. Comment on relevant stories with information about your issue. In my case, the detail that substantiated the story was learning that one of the car seats pictured had been discontinued 12 years ago (and could have been as old as 22 years). That detail came to me by way of a reader who commented that her teenage son had the same model car when he was a baby (which drove me to research the exact make and model).

6. Contact the News

Most TV news stations have a tip line and an email address (or web form) where viewers can submit their issues. While it might seem easiest to call on the phone, your full written story is likely to be more effective than a short phone call. For each news station that you submit your story to, pitch the story with an angle you think makes it interesting for them. Consider the News station’s home city. The local news where your issue happened, the home city for the company, and your local news stations each have an interesting angle to report. In my case, I reported the story to the San Diego news (where the story happened). The story ended up being a joint collaboration between my local station (Seattle) and San Diego. Most of all, though, keep trying. You may need to try several stations before you find the one that is excited about the story.

7. Be easy to work with

Be responsive, easy to work with and professional. Even though you are upset about your issue, you’ll want to sound clear and articulate each time you talk with the reporter (and especially on camera). Expect to get lots of phone calls and emails asking about different (and sometimes minute) details of the story. Details that may not seem important to you may be important to a reporter trying to figure out where to place a hidden camera, how to masquerade as a customer, etc. Offer to do anything you can to help, and expect to make yourself and your home available for an interview on short notice.

8. Be secretive.

The news station is investing considerable time, effort and money on researching your story. They don’t want to get scooped just before the story airs. It might be tempting to get some short term mileage from telling people that you’re working with the news, but it’s better to let the story play out. Having that news story on the air is what will drive the most far-reaching changes and improvements. In my case, I know that other rental car agencies have similar problems to the ones I experienced. . . I’m hopeful that they’ll start to clean up their act after seeing ABC’s expose.

9. Keep your eye on the end game.

My goal was to get Advantage to clean up their act throughout their branches, not just in the San Diego location. Beyond that, I believe that all rental car agencies should be held accountable for the safety and cleanliness of the seats they rent. It took nerves of steel to stop myself from blogging about it when I started to see visitors from the company viewing my website, but any sort of immaturity on my part would have really compromised the effectiveness of the story.

10. Expect to wait.

My original story was posted on Dec 22. 10News started working on the story on Jan 7. Lots of pieces had to fall into place before the final story was complete and went to air on Feb 3. Among other things, the reporter needed to conduct her own investigation, arrange to have the California Highway Patrol inspect the seats, have the seats swabbed for bacteria (and wait for the results), and then contact the company and give them a chance to respond. A month seems like a long time to wait, but experiencing the unfolding story step-by-step was its own reward.

Debbie Dubrow is a mother of two (ages 2 1/2 and 1) living in Seattle, WA. Her blog, deliciousbaby.com, is about traveling with babies, toddlers and kids, and is filled with personal travel stories, family-friendly city guides, and lots of tips and advice for traveling with kids.

RELATED:
Advantage Rent-A-Car’s Frightening Car Seats [deliciousbaby]
10 News Car Seat Investigation [10 News]

Comments

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  1. Elvisisdead says:

    And that’s why we travel with our own car seat, and check it at the gate. Airlines don’t count it with the 3 bag limit, and you can fill it with a ll of the little one’s supplies (diapers, wipes, etc.).

  2. foghat81 says:

    interesting. i never once thought of using *their* car seat as opposed to my own when traveling & renting a car. As elvisisdead mentioned, I always bring ours.

    I guess it’s a good thing. Who knows how good some of the other companies are at this!

  3. copious28 says:

    I rented a car in Indiana and rented their car seat. While the seat was clean, I had to go back in for that piece of metal that pinches the seat belt. Three of the four people looked at me like I was high. Luckily, one of the reps knew what I was talking about.

  4. Nighthawke says:

    I’ll have to inquire about this with my local Enterprise dealer that I do regular business with.

  5. Frank Grimes says:

    For $30 you can buy a car seat carrier and never have to put up with that.

  6. MissTic says:

    That’s just nasty. And being a parent, I’m not surprised. Even the most fastidious parent will miss something when trying to clean up after a kid. No way, I’d ever consider choosing a rental car seat. That’s like renting a toothbrush.

  7. LatherRinseRepeat says:

    That’s disgusting. Why would a parent not bring their own car seat? If I had a kid, I wouldn’t want him/her sitting in something that’s been used by hundreds or thousands of other babies. Drool, pee, poop, puke.. it’s a breeding ground for germs and illness. I’m sure the car rental employees just take the car seats out back and hose it off after every rental. Yuck.

  8. SexCpotatoes says:

    Step 1: SUE!!!

    How in the hell are you supposed to make money with a 10 step system like that? You could probably take them for about $2000 + the cost of the car rental and court fees in small claims court.

  9. SexCpotatoes says:

    and Bad Consumerist! Promoting a baby cannibalism site like “deliciousbaby.com”

    Really, you should know better than that.

  10. Xerloq says:

    When renting a car, I follow the mantra “Bring it with you.” Car Seat, GPS, insurance, etc. The only thing a rental car company will ever sell me is a car rental.

    Seriously, you rent a car for a week, you’ll have paid enough to buy their GPS, car seat and insurance with what they charge.

    Check your seat at the gate. Babies items (car seat, stroller, diaper bag) don’t count against checked baggage or carry-ons. Follow the earlier tip and stuff extras inside them if you need to.

  11. Amelie says:

    @SexCpotatoes: Because suing them in small claims court would do nothing to protect the safety of other children.
    P.S. You’re not funny.

  12. brendanm14 says:

    Bring Your Own Car Seat. I would rather deal with the hassle of checking a car seat than getting ripped off for $10 a day on a crappy, germ infested car seat. Plus, I have never even heard of Advantage Rent-A-Car, therefore I don’t think they would have the latest and greatest (and safest) car seat selection.

  13. FightOnTrojans says:

    At $10/day, after a few days it would just make more sense to buy a brand new one from Tar-jay at your destination and skip bringing yours from home, let alone renting the bacteria-infested one from the car rental company.

  14. Propaniac says:

    @brendanm14: According to Wikipedia, Advantage has over 150 locations in the U.S. alone; it’s hardly some tiny podunk operation, whether you happen to have heard of it or not.

  15. FightOnTrojans says:

    @brendanm14: Ha! Reminds me of a car-rental outfit back east called “Rent-A-Wreck.” I don’t know if they are still around, but, as a consumer, you could not complain that they falsely advertised their product. Their cars were crap, they were definitely no frills, but if you needed to get from point A to point B relatively cheap, they were the way to go.

  16. wickedpixel says:

    To everyone singing “bring your own,” remember they have 2 kids under 3, requiring them to bring 2 car seats. One I can see as manageable, but I’d imagine traveling with 2 kids plus luggage plus 2 car seats would require either a superior amount of coordination or sherpa.

  17. Vanvi says:

    I can’t believe that most of the comments so far are variations of blaming this consumer. The issue isn’t whether she should bring her own car seat. It’s that if she wants to rent a car seat, the rental company is required to provide a clean, functional product. Good for her. Though I don’t get the “deliciousbaby” blog name either.

  18. pemarsh says:

    Anyone silly enough to “rent” a car seat needs some education. You would trust your kids to some car seat you have no idea if the seat even has ever been into an accident or not (in which case it has to be replaced). You have no idea if it has been damaged to tampered with.

    When we travel, we bring our own car seats–all three of them. All kids have their own seats on the plane, and they all use their own car seats. It is a pain in the a$$, but it is also what is best for them.

  19. pemarsh says:

    @wickedpixel:
    We have three kids, and we have been to Hawaii, Nevada, Michigan, Florida, California, and Washington.
    And on all trips, it was just the two us and and the three kids…it is possible, but once again, its a pain in the a$$…but it is what is best for the kids.

  20. Gopher bond says:

    Ew…That’s like renting underwear. Babies are filthy. I don’t care how much wou clean and maintain a used car seat, it’s always going to be filty and you should never trust one.

  21. peymano says:

    Two things:

    1. If you bring your own car seats, be sure to it onboard with you (don’t check it) because your seats can become damaged by rough handling if checked, crushed by other luggage, etc.

    2. Car rental companies charge a pretty penny for car seats, so they should be held accountable for providing a clean and safe product. You wouldn’t tolerate a filthy car interior or a loose wheel bolt. It should be the same with car seats! Also, they charge something between $5/day to $15/day a car seat, so it doesn’t take them very long to recoup their costs. Car seats are a profit center! They should be held accountable.

  22. scarletvirtue says:

    @wickedpixel: True – attempting to juggle two suitcases, a baby bag (or bags) and two kids would be enough as it is!

    And given time, people will start making snarky comments about her having two kids under 3 years old.

  23. Frank Grimes says:

    @wickedpixel: True, but the 2 yr. old HAS to have a seat and can not go in a parents lap, thus 2 more bags to check if you want to and they tend to travel light. Personally, I love checking the car seat because the bag is huge, relatively light and you can pack all sorts of crap in there that you will need. Also, give most parents their due, traveling with (2) kids under three sounds like some horrible frightening experience but when you are there, as a parent, you learn to deal. It’s not really that bad.

  24. wring says:

    BRING YOUR OWN CARSEAT.

  25. juri squared says:

    Wow, ew.

    Honestly? If I were traveling and was planning on renting a car, I might use their car seat if it was available. I mean, there’s a reasonable expectation of cleanliness. It’s not hard to wipe one of those suckers down and toss the seat pad in the wash.

    Now, though, I know better. Ew ew ew.

    And to the “bring your own carseat” crowd – I’m sure you’ve lugged two car seats through an airport and can speak from experience, right?

    I am so sick of the “blame the consumer” mentality in the comments here. What is so wrong with a consumer thinking that the company will follow the law?

    From the linked post:

    (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.

  26. Nicococure says:

    Perhaps if you have not traveled domestically or internationally with children, (or have no understanding of same) you should reserve your judgmental criticism. Often those who know the least about a topic tend to have an answer for everything about it. Meanwhile, the rest of us (both parents and non-parents) rightfully commend the mom in this story for having a expectation of functionality and at least minimal cleanness in a carseat that she’s PAYING to rent. Obviously, if the car seats were free, this would not be an issue. But the rental fee should include a fairly clean car seat, just as it should include a fairly car. Wouldn’t you complain if the car you were renting had waste, spills, and unknown substances all over the seats??

  27. Nicococure says:

    …”a fairly CLEAN car.”

  28. CumaeanSibyl says:

    If the car companies can’t manage to rent out clean, functional carseats, then they shouldn’t offer the service in the first place. And no consumer should be lectured for wanting to pay for a standard service that a company offers.

    I’d bet money that some of the people saying “well, of COURSE rental carseats are too disgusting to touch and you shouldn’t expect more” are the same people who decry other parents’ attempts to keep their children in plastic germ-free bubbles all “germs are part of life, get over your OCD already!”

  29. erica.blog says:

    @wickedpixel: do they sell Sherpas at Toys R Us? Oh I wish…

    The fact is that there are times when you will need to rent a car seat when renting a car. If the company is not able to provide clean and safe (i.e. has never been in a crash) car seats, then they shouldn’t claim they can and shouldn’t offer it to the customers.

  30. SexCpotatoes says:

    @zouxou: P.S. I’ve checked out a few of your comments, and it seems like you do nothing but criticize, like a dime store Simon Cowell.

    You wouldn’t know funny even if you looked in a mirror.

    You fucking troll.

  31. Karen24 says:

    I do not believe that Advantage Rent-A-Car cares about how they treat their customers or their employees (Based on recent experience). My husband worked for them recently and we have both realized that they allow their employees to do or say whatever they have to in order to place the consumer in an illusion. Basically, they do nothing about it. I would not believe them if they say that they will provide anything in working order, at this point. They would have to prove it to me and show me. Everyone who chooses to do business with a business such as this one, when they have this type of attitude, is just paying their hard earned money for trouble in the long run. The only time that they actually DO anything about it, is when they are FORCED to. Meaning, “They Don’t Really Care”. Please Read Below:

    Hello,

    I thought I would share this recent experience that we had with Advantage Rent-A-Car during a very unfortunate time in our family’s life. My husband recently worked for them and was terminated due to Advantage refusing to allow him time off of work to attend to a recent death in our family (a funeral, travel time, grieving time) refusal of bereavement time (which according to federal law, is 7 business days). He was terminated from employment after 5 business days. It was placed on his permanent employee records that he voluntarily resigned from his job, or basically, “he quit”. Which is not true.

    He filed a complaint and was referred to the Director of Human Resources. He emailed a paper trail of communications back and forth requesting an Appeal Hearing (which is part of the Employee’s Rights included in Advantage Rent-A-Car’s Company Policies). After the Director of HR received his written appeal letter, he was told by Janis that she would call him back, he also has contacted her by phone numerous times requesting her to call him with no response and a month later, he has not received a callback or an appeal.

    After some research over the internet, we have found out that Advantage Rent-A-Car has been in serious violation of child car seat laws in the past and numerous other incidents. You can read the letter that has been posted about the comments above, at the following link:

    [www.care2.com]