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Sedans to Minivans: 10 Things to Consider When Buying Your First Family Car

packing-up-family-car-for-vacation

First comes love, then comes marriage, then comes Junior in the souped-up family four-wheeler!  Deciding to have children is a huge decision, and choosing your first family car is no small affair either.  There are so many choices and the process can quickly become overwhelming and stressful.  Even after you’ve decided on a make and model, there are dozens of extras to select, plus the overall budget to consider.

Most car shoppers focus on the obvious: size and safety.  Having spent the last eight years chauffeuring my three tots around, I’ve come to realize lifestyle is just as important.  Once you have kids, your lifestyle changes and there are some universal truths you should be aware of before you buy…

First of all, know your passengers.  Kids are slobs and trashing cars is easy work for them.  Even the tidiest toddler can make a backseat look like Bourbon Street the morning after Mardi Gras.  Youngsters are always hungry and thirsty, so many meals will be eaten in the car – crunchy, crumbly, gooey goodies that get partially consumed and then used to decorate the interior of your vehicle.  Kids also have friends, so you will be driving not just your child, but their buds – to and from parks, play dates and myriad social engagements.

Second, understand that you will virtually live out of your car.  You will change diapers and clothes in it, serve snacks out of it, vacation with it.  It’s not just a mode of transportation – it’s a mini-house on wheels.  That said, designers have yet to create a car with enough storage for a modern family.  You will start by storing strollers and diaper bags, then graduate to scooters, soccer balls, beach toys, backpacks, library books, dry cleaning, and much more.

Lastly, consider expert reviews as well as feedback from actual moms.  Safety reviews are important, but when it comes to how well a vehicle functions in day-to-day life, the advice and insights of other parents goes a long way.   Cars.com offers the best of both worlds, featuring a staff of experts who also happen to be moms.

Keeping those parenting realities in mind, here are 10 things to consider when selecting your first family ride:

  1. New vs. Used.  Between food, drinks, mud, sand, crayons, cleats, and toys, your family vehicle will take a beating.  Think hard about whether you want to drop a bundle on a shiny, new car… or not.
  2. Today Family vs. Future Family.  Think ahead to how your brood may grow.  I had twins followed immediately by another baby.  My husband and I went from shopping for a 4-person car to looking for something that would hold 3 infant seats.  For those in a similar situation, Cars.com offers a useful rundown of minivans and sedans that accommodate a trio of carseats.
  3. Daily Jaunts vs. Long Journeys.  It’s one thing for a car to ferry you to and from school or the supermarket.  It’s another for it to serve you on camp adventures and road trips where it has to accommodate a staggering amount of gear.
  4. Safety.  It goes without saying: you want the safest car possible.  Do the research.  Cars.com offers an online tool that allows you to compare models side-by-side down to the smallest details, including Crash Test Data.
  5. Comfort.  Don’t trivialize the importance of comfort – from seat warmers and easy-access controls to ergonomics.  Two extras I’ve found indispensible are the separate driver/passenger heating zones and the ability to shift audio to the rear of the car.
  6. Convenience.  Years ago, I had a friend who liked to show off the key-controlled sliding doors on her minivan.  At the time, I thought they were cute toys – then I had kids.  Automated doors are a lifesaver when you’re loaded down with bags and babies.  Another convenience: leather seats, which are far easier to clean than fabric.
  7. Storage, Storage, Storage.  There never seems to be enough and you will use every crevice.  I once test-drove a car with a built-in front seat cubby for purses – brilliant!
  8. Entertaining Extras.  Contrary to popular belief, a built-in DVD is not essential, especially in the age of portable devices.  I used mine until it broke.  Now, my kids draw or read instead – books are quieter and just as effective!
  9. Looks.  There’s nothing in the mom handbook that says you have to be 100% practical when it comes to buying a car – it’s okay to care about looks!  You’re going to spend a lot of time cruising around in your car, so it should make you feel good.
  10. Price.  One of the most daunting things about purchasing a car is the price tag.  Decide exactly what you can afford before you start shopping and stick with that price no matter what.  Making a list of absolute essentials is helpful too – that way you don’t get distracted by fancy (pricey) extras you don’t need.

For more info and tips on buying your next family car, visit www.cars.com/family.

This post was sponsored by Cars.com