BUYER’S GUIDE: 5 Tips for Buying a Family Car

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There’s a time in your life when you can buy a sporty little two-seater with no room for cargo. Once you have a family, that two-seater is impractical and you have to make the move to a larger family car.

It’s not a move everyone is happy to make, but there are lots of options out there so you don’t have to ride around in something you hate. Here are tips to help you choose a family car that you and your family will both love.

Safety First

Safety matters more than ever with a car full of kids, so do some research before you buy to make sure the car you purchase is safe.

Check both the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and the National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) to see how a vehicle rates. Review crash test results on both sites to make sure there are no issues.

You’ll also find information on safety features like the headlights, autonomous technology, and car seat anchors (LATCH). If you’re not familiar with the latest safety technology, then now is the time to read up and make sure you understand what’s available.

Pay close attention to a car’s lower anchors and tethers for children or LATCH. This is how you secure a car seat safely. There is nothing so maddening as standing in the cold or rain trying to move a car seat into your vehicle. Anchors that are difficult to find because they’re buried in the seat cushions or easily confused with other hardware should be avoided.

Whenever possible, head to the dealership with your car seats and kids in tow. We know it’s not an appealing idea, but it will give you the chance to try installing those seats in your new car to see if it’s really easy. It will also let you see how well your kids fit in the car before you buy.

Make sure everyone is comfortable. This includes your kids and your spouse. There should be enough creature comforts to make everyone happy and enough room for you and the kids. Make sure the car is going to work for your family’s needs.

How Much Car Do You Need?

The assumption is that the second you have a kid, you need a gigantic car to carry them and all the assorted strollers, diaper bags and toys they include. That’s not always the case.

A small family can easily get away with a smaller car. No, not that two-seater of your dreams, but a small sedan or crossover is fine for little kids or for a smaller family.

Smaller cars are often more affordable than minivans and full-size SUVs. They also have better fuel economy, which makes them more affordable when you start running all over town for play dates and lessons.

Don’t get sucked in by the idea of buying a 7-passenger SUV that will spend most of its days carrying just two or three passengers. That’s a waste of your money.

While you don’t need to go big or go home, make sure you buy the right size car for your family today while planning for the future. If it’ll be awhile before your family grows, then smaller makes sense.

If you’re planning on growing that brood quickly to more than two kids, then make sure you get enough car to handle kid number three and four.

Consider Your Lifestyle

Think about who and what you’ll be carrying in your car.

If you’ll often have lots of kids for multi-family adventures, then a minivan is worth considering. There’s a reason they’re so popular with families even if they’re not the coolest cars on the block. They do the job.

Minivans are easy to reconfigure for people or cargo. They can haul 6 kids or bags of bark mulch with equal ease. They also include family-friendly features like entertainment systems and have those big sliding doors that make it easy for kids to climb inside.

Those doors also make it much easier for you to reach inside to buckle in squirming children. This is something you should definitely try with your car seat and your kids to make sure you can easily do the job.

If you’re more about off-road adventures, then minivans aren’t as good a choice. Those who want to drive through the dirt on the weekend might want an SUV with better ground clearance and the ability to tackle off-road challenges.

There are SUVs of every size that offer plenty of capability along with passenger and cargo space. Remember, it doesn’t need to be the biggest SUV on the lot to be the right one for your family. An SUV is also a good choice for those who live where the snow flies. You really don’t want to know what it’s like to get stuck in the snow with a car full of tired kids.

Take a test drive with the whole family including the kids in their car seats. Make sure everyone is comfortable and that everything is within easy reach. Think about your lifestyle when you think about the car you need and shop accordingly.

Where Do You Live?

Those who live in snowier climes would do well to consider something with all-wheel-drive or four-wheel-drive. It will help make sure you can get the kids to school or soccer practice and reduce the chances of finding yourself stuck in the snow with a car full of children.

It’s also important to consider your home and how much room you have in the garage or driveway. A giant SUV might not fit in older garages that aren’t as long and have lower ceilings.

Where you live will also matter when it comes time to choose features. Heated seats are a welcome luxury on cold winter mornings when you live up north, but those down south will want to consider ventilated seats.

Those living in cities should be particularly aware of the size of their car. You may need more space for the kids, but a huge vehicle is a parking nightmare on city streets.

Watch Your Budget

A budget is important any time you buy a car, but with a new family, it’s essential.

Your expenses are hard to nail down and all those dance lessons, karate lessons, braces, and random trips to the ER will take a huge bite out of your monthly budget. Make sure you don’t buy more than you can reasonably afford.

Take into account how much you’ll spend on gas, insurance, and registration fees. Leave plenty of room for the unexpected that is the norm when you have kids. It’s tough to budget with a growing family, so don’t set yourself up for failure by stretching yourself thin when you buy the family car.

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