Intro: Build a Cheap Car Seat Roller for Use at the Airport
Build a rolling frame for a car seat so it can be rolled around the airport.
It costs less then $15 using some PVC pipe, and a thrift store suitcase. It looks and performs professionally. It's light weight with telescoping handle and nice roller wheels. It only takes an evening to hack together with simple tools. This really does make zipping though the airport with a small child in tow much-much easier.
Going on the airplane can be a pain. Stroller, car seat, diaper bag, a bag with snacks and toys. So much stuff! The car seat is especially bad because it's an awkward size to just lug around. I've often found myself dashing from terminal to terminal with one balanced on my head, or jabbing me in the side as we try to make the next flight.
With this simple frame, you can not only haul the car seat along as easily as a wheeled suitcase, you can also do it with your child strapped into it. Thus getting rid of the need for a stroller entirely. If you're actually taking the seat on the plane (instead of gate checking it in the case where the kiddo is going as a "Lap Child") you can even roll it down the isle of the plane. There's also the added benefit that the child is strapped in during much of the process, and at least my kids seem to love zipping around in the thing.
What's more our happy band gets lots of looks in the airport and people ask "where'd you get that?" and I get to say "I made it!"
Step 1: Tools and Materials
The thing that makes this project SO simple to make is the availability of used luggage with wheels and telescoping handles. It's easy to go to the thrift store and find a bag that's a bit past it's prime but still has working wheels/handle. Maybe you already have one collecting dust in a closet some place.
Drill (with 1/4" and 3/32" bits)
Hand File (optional)
1 Used suit case with wheels & telescoping handle
1 2' length 3/4" thick walled PVC (Easy to get at the hardware store)
1 4" 1/4-20 carriage bolt
1 1/4-20 wing nut.
2 Zip ties
some black gaffers tape (optional)
Step 2: Getting the Suitcase and Extracting the Useful Parts.
We got our donor bag from Good Will for $9. (It was a black Samsonite bag)
I didn't have to go hand pick some special bag. All these bags are going to be a bit different, but they're actually quite standardized in terms of size because airline regulations about maximum carry on size. So any bag of this type with a decent handle/wheels is going to work. Only the fine details of ripping it apart are going to vary from bag to bag.
The main goodies we're trying to extract are the wheeled section at the bottom of the bag, and the telescoping handle parts which run up the "back" of the bag.
Some parts of the bag are only cloth and can be trimmed with scissors, other parts have a stiff wired embedded in them, which will need a little bit of sawing with hacksaw to cut/remove. You may have to hack around a rivet to two, but the good news is that you don't have to be careful with any of this stuff. Hack away!
Although not strictly necessary I tried to preserve about a 1" strip of material around the solid section at the bottom of the bag which contains the wheels. I did this so I could fold those areas over to make a hem, and things would look better then just having frayed cloth at the edges, but if you don't care how it looks it's not really important.
I just stuck this hem down with matching black gaffers tape and that was a fine quick fix. If you'd like to actually sew the edges down that would be nicer, but I was doing this as a one night hack.
If you really want to make things fancy you could try and preserve a pocket or compartment from the original bag to sew on back there. The donor bag certainly has a lot of zippers/material that is a bit of a shame to waste, but it's best to keep this simple. That other stuff might just get in the way whilst trying to navigate airline security.
At least on our suitcase the bottom part with the wheels was was able to pivot at the bottom of the telescoping handle part. (Now that the rest of the bag had been cut away) So I used two large zip ties to go around the handle rails and though the wheeled section.
Other bags may differ a bit, and may not need this.
Step 3: Building the Frame-to-Car Seat Mount.
Now the bag has been mostly cut away what's left is a bit like a little hand truck, for your car seat, and the only thing left to do is make a way to firmly mount it to the back of the car seat.
To do this I used 2 pieces of PVC clamped together with a bolt/wing nut.
The two pipes are notched. One to hooks into the back of the car seat, and one hooks around the telescoping handle rails. The bolt then goes though both pipes and locks them together.
You want to use a wing nut for this because you'll need to take the rack off/on the seat to get it though security. Car seats are designed to JUST squeeze though the X ray, so at least with our seat we had to take the rack off to get it though.
I was doing this on a Graco Marathon seat, but I'm sure most other seats can be fit with a bit of sawing/filing of the PVC. The exact spacing of the notches will need to be adjusted to match your car seat/luggage frame, but nothing has to be a tight fit so just mark with a pencil, saw them with the hack saw, and file them if anything is too tight.
On the Graco the gap between the two structural bars of the seat was 8" wide, and the rails of the telescoping handle were 4" apart.
To drill the holes for the carriage bolt you first drill 3/32" pilot holes where you want the holes to be, and then drill them out to 1/4" This pilot hole makes it much easier to drill the 1/4" holes where you want them since the drill bits tend to wander a little bit before biting into the curved surface of the pipe.
I filed one of the bolt holes to a square so the carriage bolt would engage properly and not spin. That way it doesn't twist and makes tightening/loosening the wing nut a snap. (See the attached closeup of the hole.)
You want the pipes to be as far up on the car seat as you can get so the leverage being applied when you tilt the seat back is as low as possible. I was only able to locate the pipes about one foot up from the base, but these things are tough, and even with 50 lbs of kiddos in the seat the rails were fine.
Step 4: Tips on Using the Seat Roller.
The roller works great. I've even used it with both our children sitting in it! (Our 4 year old holding onto the 21 month old.) Simon like it because it's both "fun" and it's his very familiar seat which he's used to sleeping in so he's more able to take a snooze.
However we did run into one snag with the seat. One time while going through the X-Ray machine I put the PVC tubes and wing nut in one of those little round change bowl style trays instead of the big gray bins.
The tubes stuck up out, but I didn't think much of it. However when it went though the X-Ray machine the tubes were knocked out of the bowl by those leaded cloth fingers that block the X-Ray machines entrance when nothings going in.
So I ended up having to fish the tube/wing-nut off the floor at the exit of the X-Ray machine. Not a huge deal, but I was realizing that if the wing-hut had gotten lost all the advantage of the Seat Roller would have been lost and we'd be back to Square One. (Or at least I would have had to lash something up in a hurry with some twist ties or plastic bag or something.)
So here's my one piece of advice:
- Use the wing nut to clamp the two pieces of tubing to the rolling frame so they can all go though the X-Ray together without any danger of the tube/bolt/nut falling out of a bin inside the machine.
The seat roller works great. Have fun with yours.