What New Parents Should Know About Buying A Family Car
Wait, a family car?
Aren’t Millennials the generation that favors access over ownership? Won’t they just shuttle their kids off to soccer practice in a self-driving Uber?
Not so fast.
Auto industry data shows that Millennials are buying cars at an ever-increasing pace. Further, the vast majority of people who belong to the Millennial generation are now adults, and many of them are newly settling into family life.
That tends to get lost in the mainstream narrative of young adults, who all get stereotyped as pour-over coffee snobs living in Brooklyn.
But the reality outside of a handful of cities is young adults in the US are settling into lives that look a lot like the ones their parents lead — those same parents who once had to swallow their pride and get a minivan with a sliding door.
Even three years ago, research found there were nearly 11 million Millennial households with children, and 71% of those households lived outside of urban areas, where people rely on cars to get around.
In fact, young adults who opted to go to work straight out of high school are moving to the suburbs and to rural communities at a speed and scale unlike any generation before.
That means there are currently millions of car-reliant families and households where both couples and single parents are either welcoming or thinking about having their first child.
If you’re one of those millions of Americans, this guide is for you.
Here is one auto technician’s guide to what you need to know about buying a family car for the first time.
What do young families need in a vehicle?
Certainly, what you need your car to do for you changes throughout life. What you drove in school probably wasn’t a great fit for your first real job, whether that was as a contractor or as a traveling pharmaceutical rep.
Your car needs to match your lifestyle, and a new baby imposes some pretty drastic lifestyle changes.
Autobytel recently published a piece on 10 things new parents need to think about when buying a family car, and a few of the points they make are worth repeating here.
First, you’ll probably want to spend a little more time scrutinizing the safety ratings of any family car you’re considering. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety does some of the most thorough safety testing on vehicles in the United States, and its rating system is a good way to assess how safe a car is.
The IIHS looks at two big areas of vehicle safety:
- How well a vehicle will help you avoid a crash or mitigate its impact, and
- How well the vehicle protects passengers when a crash is unavoidable.
Its researchers will look at everything from how well a car’s brakes work to how responsive the crash-prevention system is to how strong the roof is, and each criterion will get a score of Good, Acceptable, Marginal or Poor. When the IIHS gives something a Top Safety Pick award, that means the vehicle gets a Good score for the five crashworthiness tests, and its crash prevention features are at least up to par.
Second, make sure the vehicle is built to accommodate a child safety seat. There are a few things to look for here:
- Make sure there are several LATCH anchors to connect the safety seat so you have multiple options for arranging the interior of the vehicle. If you get a third-row SUV, for example, check to see that there are anchors in the second and third rows in case you need to accommodate several passengers.
- Check that the headrests can accommodate a safety seat or a booster seat. Autobytel notes that newer headrests that angle forward might not be compatible with forward-facing seats.
- Check that all seat belts have a shoulder harness. This will only be an issue if you’re buying a vehicle made before 2007, but a child safety seat needs more than a lap belt to be properly secured.
Finally, make sure your vehicle leaves you room to grow. Perhaps you’ll have another child. Perhaps you’ll get a Golden Retriever. Perhaps one of your parents will become dependent on you for transportation.
Whatever the case, when buying a family car plan to need even more room in the future.
The Best Options For Buying A Family Car Right Now
If you plan to buy a new or late-model vehicle, both Kelley Blue Book and Bankrate have excellent roundups of the most family-friendly 2016 models.
The KBB team was especially thorough in its research. Over two weeks, they “drove, lived-with, folded-down-seats-of, paired-phones-to and installed-baby-seats-in each and every one of the contenders,” the reporters write.
“We loaded cargo, contorted ourselves into third rows, watched movies on rear-seat screens, toted rowing teams to marinas — in short we did everything that you and your family might do with a vehicle day-to-day.”
After running various models through the ringer, KBB named the best family vehicles in the sedan, two-row SUV, three-row SUV and minivan categories.
It’s worth noting that Honda was represented across the board. It even had two winners in the sedan category (the Civic and the Accord) and in the two-row SUV category (the HR-V and the CR-V).
In the sedan category, there were also two picks from Chevy, the Malibu and the Impala.
High scores also went to the Nissan Pathfinder in the three-row SUV category and the Kia Sedona in the minivan category.
Meanwhile, Bankrate looked at the best family vehicles from a financial perspective, narrowing down its choices to vehicles that were available new (at the time) for less than $23,500 and that got at least 28 miles per gallon.
If you’re looking for family-friendly and budget-friendly newer models, consider the Honda Civic LX and the Kia Optima LX, both of which made KBB’s and Bankrate’s lists.
Think About What Works Best For You
Of course, your family will have its own unique considerations when buying a family car. If you live somewhere rugged or icy for several months out of the year, you’ll want to bias your search toward something with all-wheel drive. If you live in a dense urban area, a large SUV might not work for your family.
Still, start with safety. Then, you can narrow your list down by convenience and necessary features. From there, you can start to target options within your budget. With a methodical process and a little research, you should be able to land on just the right vehicle for your family.
Bill Bender is the owner of Independent Motors, a shop he founded in Boulder, Colorado, in 1983. He was one of the first 100 certified Nissan Master Technicians in the country, and he loves talking to just about everyone.