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,, 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.

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