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What to consider when it?s time to buy a family car

But, with this diversity comes a whole range of factors to consider, including price, fuel economy and safety.

Latest figures show the large car market continuing to head south, down by 10 per cent on the same time last year, yet SUVs are marching steadily up, by about 6.9 per cent.

Medium-size SUVs have grown by 27.3 per cent. And, while many are happy settling with a mid-size family car, once that third child enters the picture (if all are under the age of eight) a five-seater is no longer an option.

Experts say, regardless of what car you are moving up from, get to know the new vehicle.

"People really have to be very conscious when they step up to a new car," says Sydney advanced driving instructor Ian Luff.

"Whether they are moving from a front-wheel-drive to an all-wheel-drive, an all-wheel-drive to a rear-wheel-drive, or vice versa, people have to adjust their driving behaviour to suit new technologies."

Just before the birth of their second child, Glen and Lorelle Snelling knew they had to get a bigger car. Their Toyota Corolla had been a great car for the couple (Glen still drives it), but even with just the one child, Jesse, it had become a bit of a struggle.

"We knew it was going to be too small for two," Lorelle says. "Our pram is quite large and once it was in the car we could not fit anything else in the boot.

"Also, the child anchorage points were at the back of the boot so I had to get the pram in under the straps," she says.

The pair settled for a new Hyundai Santa Fe.

"We would have happily bought a Commodore or Falcon station wagon, but the Santa Fe was being run out and was the cheapest one out there," Glen says.

"For a price lower than the most basic Commodore, we were able to get the Santa Fe with heaps more space, leather seats, power everything, and all-wheel-drive," he says.

Luff says there are a number of things people must be aware of when upsizing, including the centre of gravity of the new car (in an SUV or people mover), the braking capacity and the safety systems.

"People are incredibly complacent and blase, they tend to drive the same way as they did in the old car.

"With all the new technology people have to understand that, while car companies are raising the bar, people are not keeping up with it. Take all-wheel-drive for example. People get lulled into false sense of security that, if they have all-wheel drive, then they can double their speed. The thing they don't understand is it just means when they do go off, they do so at a much higher speed."

Lorelle says, while the new car is bigger and bulkier than the Corolla, it makes her feel safer and means she no longer has to bend down to get the kids in and out of the car. "Compared to the Corolla the Santa Fe stops better, is safer and you sit higher, which gives better vision," she says.

But, she admits, she is more careful going around corners and roundabouts and it took a little while to get used to the distances both at the front and the rear.

Luff agrees, saying that drivers should be conscious of the bigger dimensions.

"In most, visibility is poor out the rear, and most SUVs are squared off at the back. There is a large water washer bottle in the rear ... the back windscreen invariably gets covered in dirt. Keep it clean, give yourself the best visibility you can."

He stresses, when moving into a bigger car, it is important to get the child seats re-fitted professionally: "Dad should not go down to Supercheap, get a couple of spanners and fit it himself," he says.

Luff says in SUVs and people movers that, if the back windows do not go all the way down, never leave them in that position.

"We call them suicide glass. A restraint will stop the child from moving forward but with the window open like that at the level of a child's head, well ..."

Luff also advises buyers to be aware that you cannot necessarily see if a tyre is flat until it is completely flat.

"It is especially important in people movers and SUVs where there is more weight.

"People need to take the time."

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