When Henry Ford watched the first Model T come off the production line more than 100 years ago, one wonders whether he realised the true impact it would have on society as a whole and families in particular.
It was Ford’s vision, after all, that transformed what until then had been seen as a toy of the very rich to simple, reliable and affordable machines within the reach of the very workers who built them.
Now, of course, it is difficult to fathom how we would go about our daily lives without a motor vehicle. Cars have always been about more than just the ability to get from A to B, they are a status symbol, a rite of passage, and for a busy family, an important link to well, sanity.
It is little wonder our family car has delusions of grandeur. Not only is it a familiar sight on the school run but it makes regular appearances at the shopping centre, too, doubles as an on-the-go office, a trendy disco with a fabulous DJ and a taxi for ferrying friends.
On weekends and holidays it can be called upon to haul things to the dump, carry the surfboards to the beach, or provide a comfy place to sleep during a road trip.
Yep, a family car is clearly not just a car and given the amount of time we spend in it, it makes sense to ensure it has those invaluable features that can make life easier.
So when you and I were kids the seatbelt was more about burning your siblings with the metal clip than actually protecting the back seat occupants. Safety meant holding onto the door handles to stop yourself from sliding across the seat if your dad was a bit enthusiastic in the corners. Now, that we know better, families should, and do, demand cars with five-star safety ratings.
You want a car that has curtain airbags, reinforced frames, seat belts with pre-tensioners, ABS brakes and traction control as a bare minimum. Blind spot warnings, lane keeping assist and emergency braking features should also be on your list.
Most good family cars now come with a reverse camera as standard but it is worth handing over the extra money if it’s an optional feature. Not only are they handy in ensuring you don’t back into cars and posts, they are important in helping unsuspecting drivers avoid hitting children.
Easy to clean interior
We are fortunate enough to be able to swap into new test cars every week – just as they are getting dirty we hand them back. But for most families, cars need regular cleaning from mud and grime, not to mention dropped crumbs and treats. When choosing a car pay attention to the plastics used and think about whether the seats – material or leather – will stand up to a regular battering from energetic children and the weather.
Aside from the fact that talking on a handheld device is dangerous and could have you running from the law, any parent knows the value of having a hand free to pass over a tissue for a snotty nose or a drink for a thirsty kid.
My mum used her hand, red coloured talons and all, to freely administer a touch of discipline if my sister and I were a bit too boisterous in the back seat. How she always managed to find her target while keeping her eyes on the road is still a mystery. Being able to connect your phone to your car’s multimedia system will certainly help you make and take calls with less distraction.
Okay, so we are not fans of the kids using technology in the car, and of course in a perfect world they would be happily and, peacefully mind you, entertaining themselves on a long car trip.
Of course in a perfect world I would also be travelling first class and sunning my modelesque body on a deserted white sandy beach with cocktail in hand, not sitting for days in a car on The Dinosaur Trail in Winton.
While most cars are equipped with USB ports and 12V points for your kids to plug in devices, my advice, if you are able to, is to opt for models with built-in systems. Some even have app support and touchscreen features. The kids can watch a DVD to break up the travel and you don’t have to worry about recharging devices when you stop for the night.
It is truly amazing how much stuff children, irrespective of age, seem to have. When they are babies you need to think about prams and nappy bags and as they get older school and sports bags, even scooters and bicycles. When you are investing in a family car, try to consider changing needs. Cup holders in the back and door bins that can actually fit a book or water bottle are benchmarks.
Rear air vents
Yes, yes I know that a good climate control system should be able to cool or warm the whole car but how hard can it be to pop an air vent in the back so the cherubs can travel in comfort.
Given the hot temperatures we can experience in Australia, this should really be a standard feature in our cars. They help in keeping the direct sun off the kids and you don’t have to use your ninja skills to try to get a towel in the window or battle with those horrible after-market stick-on sunshades that in reality are often just not worth the hassle.
Rear view mirrors are good for keeping an eye on happenings in the back seat, but conversation mirrors are better. If you haven’t seen one before they are usually a shiny convex mirror that sits next to the rear-view mirror or can be hidden in those totally useless sunglass holders. Conversation mirrors go a long way to perpetuating the myth that parents have secret eyes in the back of their heads.
Seat-back folding tables
Okay, so these airline-like tables may be a wish-list item but there are a fair few cars around with them now. They provide a surface for kids to have a snack and make a nifty on-the-move craft or games table.
If you have three kids, the backseat can get a bit squishy as they grow. A third row offers added space and is also great for those times when you have to carry the kids’ friends. Protest all you want, but this will happen. The added row is also a boon for families who want the convenience of a SUV but still need good cargo space.
Powered lift gate
These are excellent for loading and unloading and means the kids can open the boot by themselves to put in their schoolbags, musical instruments and whatever else they just have to have on the 10-minute trip down the road.
Powered tailgates with gesture control are even better. Sure, you may look like you are doing some strange version of the two-step in the supermarket carpark, but you will be glad to have it when both hands are laden down with grocery bags.
Powered sliding doors
Hmmm, so we are in people mover territory here, and while they may not be the sexiest of motor vehicles, it is super easy for the kids to get in and out. It also means you can just slow down to 10km/h at school drop-off and push them out the door. Just kidding.