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Choosing the right family car for your future

Mother putting a toddler into a car seat in a family car

Like hairstyles and clothes, cars are things that we’ll change throughout our life, depending on what we need, what we can afford and what’s in style. Of course, a car is a much bigger investment, one that will last for several years, so it’s important to plan ahead. Your decisions are important not just for the moment at hand but for the years ahead of you.

Parents who are in the market for a family car will find a new set of considerations for their must-have list. In addition to researching fuel economy, overall cost and safety ratings, you’ll want to think about what options are right for your family.

When choosing a family car, set priorities into three categories: must-haves, wants and would-be-nice features. Distinguishing between essentials and items for which you’ll be willing to compromise can ensure that you’ll be satisfied with your purchase.

Picking a car with children in mind

A big consideration most people list as an essential is a growing family. Kids can affect what car you might want to purchase.

One of the factors that’s most likely to make new (or future) parents start thinking about a new car is size. When it’s just the two of you, a compact car can make a lot of sense, but when you add a baby to the mix it starts filling up fast!

Keep in mind that a baby comes with a lot of “extras;” you’ll be toting diaper bags and toys, as well as bigger items like strollers and portable playpens. That means your car should let you stash (and reach) these items easily. The car seat must also be easy to get to, and there should be enough room between the seats for you to get the baby in and out of the car seat easily. So, in addition to the size of the car, you’ll want to consider the overall interior design.

This may take some planning ahead because it’s important that your new vehicle can accommodate a reverse-facing child safety seat, which is what you’ll bring your baby home in. These seats require more clearance than forward-facing seats, and there are several things to consider about its placement – such as whether the area with the car seat has tinted windows to reduce glare and protect your child’s eyes. Also, think about whether, with the seat in the center of the back seat, it leaves enough room for an adult to sit safely beside it.

Considerations as kids grow up

As your child grows into a toddler, you need a car seat with a forward-facing design. Growing children discover the delights of such activities as kicking the car seat in front of them, so ensuring that the divide between the back and front seats is too long for their little legs to kick could save months (or years) of irritation.

A second child – or more – is a possibility, so keep that in mind as you are choosing a family car. What kind of cargo room is there? Where will you stow large items like strollers and, later, sports equipment? Asking these questions now could prevent you from having to replace your vehicle again before you’re financially ready.

Think safety

Bigger may be better for storage and transportation, but it’s also important that your family car lives up to all the necessary safety standards. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) provides a free downloadable booklet, "A Parent’s Guide to Playing it Safe With Kids and Cars," that can help you decide exactly what features your car needs. They’ll include automatic door locks, push-down/pull-up window switches, advanced frontal airbags, interior trunk release and rearview cameras.

Take all of these features into consideration when looking at a car for your growing family, and familiarize yourself with why they’re important.

As you think about the way your family is going to grow over the next few years, start looking at how your vehicle will accommodate it. What creature comforts, such as dual display entertainment centers or smartphone link systems, will be important? What are your must-have items versus your wish list?

Once you know these answers, it’s simpler to narrow down which vehicles are on your list to check out.

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