What Kind of Car Do You Need?
Here's the fun part: Now that you've checked off the most important safety features, consider what other options you're going to need—and want—in your new car.
Size: If you're getting ready to welcome your first child, a family sedan should provide you with ample room. But if you have more than two children, or if you like to cart around a lot of gear, get comfortable with the image of yourself as a minivan (or SUV) driver!
Location: Where do you live? For city driving, where you have to parallel park and maneuver through crowded streets, a smaller car is ideal. But if you live in the country, and especially if you have to traverse rough terrain, a four-wheel-drive SUV or truck might suit your needs better. Also remember to factor in your area's climate. In an especially rainy area, a four-wheel-drive vehicle will handle better on slick roads. In a warm climate, air conditioning is essential. A heated driver's seat is a nice luxury when the weather turns chilly!
Comfort: Consider how much you'll be driving your car, and outfit it accordingly. Little touches can make a huge difference. For example, one-touch up/down front windows can get you through toll booths and drive-through bank tellers with a lot less effort than manual cranks. Carting the kids around for long stretches of drive time? An in-dash CD changer will let you switch from your CD to your child's favorite Disney songs with the touch of a button. Keyless entry and automatic doors can be lifesaving features when your hands are full. And rear seat cup holders can help prevent messy spills when your tot insists on drinking his apple juice in the car.
Cost: The reality is that sticker price is often the biggest consideration for families. When considering the cost of your new car, you need to budget for more than what you'll have to spend to get it home from the dealership. Also factor in the following expenses:
- What kind of gas mileage does the car get? Ask your car dealer. Obviously, the more fuel-efficient the car, the less you'll spend on gas. For research purposes, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) compares gas mileage for several cars on its website.
- How much will you pay each year for maintenance? Your dealership may offer a maintenance plan, which could save you money on regular tune-ups. You'll also save money if you can handle some or all of the repairs yourself.
- How much will you pay for car insurance? Remember that car insurance premiums are based (in part) on the sticker price of the car.
- How much tax will you have to pay? In addition to the tax the government zings you with when you purchase your vehicle, some states charge an ad valorem tax–a yearly fee that is based on the value of the car.
Take it for a Test Drive!
When you've test-driven vehicles in the past, you've probably focused on things like handling, the sound system, and interior comfort. But with children in the picture, your evaluation takes on a whole new dimension. First and foremost, your considerations need to be safety and accessibility.
If you already have children, resist the urge to leave them with their grandma and grandpa. Bring them along for the test drive and see how having kids in tow affects your experience with a vehicle. Install your car seat to see how snugly it fits. Can your kids get in and out of the seats easily? Can you get them into and out of the car without slipping a disk? Are they comfortable? Can they see out of the windows (don't underestimate how crucial this factor can be on long trips!)? Will the interior fabric be able to withstand repeated spills and scratches, or can the dealer treat it to enhance its durability?
Take your time and try out every feature of the car to make sure it fits your needs. Roll the windows up and down, move the seats back and forth, and lock and unlock the doors to make sure they won't drive you nuts when you're in a rush.
If you find that you're still overwhelmed by the sheer number of cars and features available, just remember, there's a car out there for you! Take your time, do your homework, and you're sure to find the perfect car for your new family.