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The checklist for successful family car buying

Will it fit your growing family?

You’re about to buy a car so you, A) do your own research but get a bit bamboozled by terms like AEB and drivetrain, B) buy what your friend has bought ‘cause you know they researched, or C) read this article first.

Congratulations! You’ve chosen C, and that is exactly what you should do. Prizes to come when you’ve finished.*

The fact is there’s more to think about when buying a car than when you were flying solo. Will the boot fit your pram? How safe will your family be? Will it accommodate your growing family? And a dog? Also, why is nothing spontaneous anymore, and does everything you do require five months pre-planning? (that's another story, sorry).

We’ve put together a checklist so you can tick these off before handing over your hard-earned cash.

1. Think practical

If you’re about to have a family, you might want to reconsider the two-seat convertible (four seat convertibles are totally fine though. Jokes). As much as you might not want to, it’s time to put practical needs over personal wants. The good thing is there is now a whole spectrum of family cars from sporty to boxy, so you might not have to give up as much as you used to. But practicality is still one of your top priorities, because things like bending over to put your baby capsule in a low car might ruin your back if you’re susceptible to that, and if you’ve got a growing family, you’re going to want as much boot space as possible. Because, sporting equipment.

2. Check the safety features

These days, you really shouldn’t be buying a car that doesn’t have airbags which cover all rows of the car. Then there are child seat fixtures called either tether points or ISOFIX points, depending on what kind of car seat you have. Both of those things should be standard in a family car.

But there are a whole bunch of other, newer features that are just coming into play which you should also consider. Things like auto emergency braking (the car will stop itself if you’re about to hit something in front of you); blind spot monitoring (a light will show on the side mirror if you have a car in your blind spot); lane departure warnings (beeps in case you veer off out of your lane), reverse parking cameras (a camera that shows you the road behind you, great for parking.

Some cars now have 360 degree cameras which will show you all around your car (super useful), and adaptive cruise control (which will keep you safer on long drives and in traffic).

3. How many children are you planning?

We don’t want to get personal but… how many children do you think you’ll have? A family with one child will have different needs to families with three or four. Three children might even mean you need a different car compared to one suitable for two.

So, you might want to consider purchasing bigger from the outset if you think you already know how many you want. On the flip-side, parents have been known to change their minds about extra children after having their first. Or second. So for some people, waiting is wiser. Just know yourself and act accordingly.

You might want to consider purchasing bigger from the outset if you think you already know how many you want. You might want to consider purchasing bigger from the outset if you think you already know how many you want.

4. What do you use the car for?

Is yours mainly a plain suburban route between school, work, the grandparents and the supermarket? You might not need that enormous off-roader SUV that’s going to chew up petrol for no reason then.

Even if you think to yourself: “But we’ll go camping! If we had this car, we’d go off-road all the time!” The reality is if you haven’t done those trips already, before children, it’s unlikely you’ll do them regularly after children. Or at least, regularly enough to warrant spending more money on one.

But if you live in the country and have to travel 50km to your letterbox across rough terrain and spend weekends crossing rivers and pitching tents, that giant SUV could be just the thing for you.

Choose your car based on how you use it. Granted, in Australia, people are mad for SUVs when it comes to family cars, and with good reason. They’re higher off the road and bigger, so you feel safe in them, plus you’re not bending down to do the child seats up. And they have bigger boot space (some of them). Some sedans really do have a lot of boot space).

They also might have extra seats for your growing family (see point 3). So they’re a good choice, but they also now come in varying sizes, from small SUVs, to mid-size SUVs, to mid-size with extra seats, to large SUVs. Be honest with yourself on how you use your car and choose the one that best suits your lifestyle.

Be honest with yourself on how you use your car and choose the one that best suits your lifestyle. Be honest with yourself on how you use your car and choose the one that best suits your lifestyle.

5. How much can you afford?

There’s no point buying something that's too expensive, where the repayments will stress the family budget for years to come. Plan carefully, think about how much the car costs to run as well as the initial costs (things like insurance, fuel efficiency, warranty and service, ongoing registration, etc), and don’t spend what you can’t cover. Period.

6. Don’t buy without researching

A site like CarsGuide has thousands of reviews specifically to help you make your car buying decision. You’re not buying a t-shirt, you’re about to spend (possibly) tens of thousands of dollars. Do the research and be confident you’ve bought the right one for you and your family.

7. Take advantage of the test drive

Don’t be afraid to take the car out for longer than the usual 'round the block trip. People often think they won’t be allowed to drive it for a while but that’s not the case. If you’ve got something at home you want to test it with, for example if your garage is small and you want to be sure it will fit, ask if you can take it home. They will let you. They want to sell you a car.

8. Double check

If you’re upsizing to a larger car because you want to fit three child seats in, take the seats in with you to the dealer and test they will fit. Double check the boot and that the pram will fit in if you’re buying a smaller car and that is your requirement.

Make sure the car will suit your needs - don’t just assume it will. Some cars really don’t have big boots and you don’t want to be unpleasantly surprised when you finally get it home.

*There are no actual prizes for finishing the article.

What were your considerations before buying a family car? Tell us in the comments below.