Most of us go through several cars in our lifetime. From the excitement of buying our first set of wheels to upgrading to something shiny and sporty in our footloose and fancy-free days, there are different considerations for different times in our lives. And then, if you choose to start a family, priorities shift again over time. Suddenly, safety comes much nearer to the top of the pile as you naturally want to protect your children. Space is also an important consideration, and babies and kids tend to come with a whole heap of accessories! There is also fuel economy, which maybe more of an issue when there’s a growing family to support. The game has changed, and so your considerations when buying a new or used car need to change as well. Here’s a few pointers on what to consider when shopping for your first family car…
You may never have thought much about boot space before. As long as you could throw a few bags of shopping in the trunk you were good to go. But the amount of storage space you have in your car becomes more and more important when you have a family – and all of their many possessions – to drive around. And it starts early on. When you first bring a baby home from the hospital, you have the immediate need of taking a pram in the boot – and a lot of smaller cars simply do not have the rear storage space to cope – cars like a Mini or even a Range Rover Evoque only house certain types of pram chassis, and you can even struggle with something like a BMW 1 Series. That is before you add in all the other items – changing bag, car seat and other miscellaneous supplies. The pram will travel with you every time you and the baby go out, so you need to be sure you can transport it and your other items safely and comfortably. Models like a Ford Focus, Citroen DS4 or a Nissan Cashqai come into their own when looking at storage capacity.
Number of Doors
Again, this might not be something you had on your list of car buying criteria pre-children, but it’s certainly something that will have a massive effect on your daily life if you get it wrong. Everyone in the back should be able to exit with ease, both for safety and comfort. Trying to manoeuvre a child in and out of a car seat via the front passenger side is awkward, uncomfortable and could even be dangerous, so you definitely need to rule out anything which isn’t a five-door model in your search.
Number of Isofix Points
Isofix points allow you to safely anchor a child’s car seat in place, and although some of the newborn car seats can work without Isofix points (using the belt mechanism to hold the car seat in place), as soon as your child out grows that you’re going to need Isofix bases to safely attach their car seat. They will be in a special seat until at least the age of eight, so we’re potentially talking a long time. If you are planning a larger family, be aware that there may come a time where you need three Isofix seats at once – and only a handful of models offer more than two. The Ford S-Max and Citroen Picasso are the leading models in this category.
Your main consideration in a family car is likely to be it’s safety rating. It’s not worth the loss of your peace of mind to go with anything less than excellent safety ratings. No one likes to think of the worst case scenario, but accidents can and do happen on the roads. Even if you are the world’s safest driver, you can never account for the actions of others, so the only reasonable course of action is to carefully prepare by checking that your car has all the safety features you need. Look for items like electronic stability control, which will help maintain the car’s handling when avoiding hazards, curtain airbags for protection, auto emergency braking systems to reduce the severity of a crash, and run flat tyres that can keep you moving and in control of your vehicle if it suffers a puncture on the road rather than forcing you to stop where it may not be safe.
Height of Your Vehicle
Again, this is a less obvious factor when it comes to your vehicle search, but anything that is lower to the ground is going to result in you straining your back lifting sleeping babies and heavy toddlers in and out while bending down. When you go to test drive some cars, spend a few moments actually doing this to test what the situation is. It may seem like it’s only a few seconds of discomfort, but when you consider how many times a week you might be lifting your kids in and out of the car, you can begin to see the money that all those chiropractors bills might cost!
Family cars are proper workhorses. From fetching the weekly shopping, taking you on school runs and commutes to ferrying the kids to their after school clubs, weekend hobbies and friends houses, it can be in a lot of use. That means that you probably want to factor in fuel economy when making your selections. A forum like Parkers can give you the views of real owners of a particular model, rather than just the manufacturers figures. You will also have to consider road tax, which is linked to emissions. Consider whether you may even be better served by an electric car, or possibly a hybrid family car, depending on the frequency and duration of your driving habits. You should also factor in the cost of replacement parts – when things go wrong mechanically, what will it cost you to fix? For examples, SUVs need larger tyres which are more expensive to replace than those on an estate car.
Therese has completed the ‘Advanced Child Car Seat Training Course’ at TRL (Transport Research Lab) and is a CPD accredited car seat expert. She blogs about in-car safety, car seats, tips, reviews, giveaways and advice. She’s a mum on a mission to change the law and raise awareness. She is also a breastfeeding advocate and gentle parenting promoter who loves cloth nappies, baby-wearing, BLW and co-sleeping/bed-sharing.