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How to protect my car from kids

All it takes is an moment, and the car you love dearly can be ruined. (Photo: Nissan Australia)

My father loved a road trip. Any excuse would do. And as fun-filled as endless hours on the road may present to an adult, for us kids the joy was less apparent.

My dad, a fountain of useless information, would wax lyrical about the history of the chosen route pointing out unusual sites and reiterating how fortunate we were to live in such beautiful surrounds. For my sister and I, however, the true highlight was roadside food - sugary and deep-fried treats that were never on the menu at our house.

The mid-afternoon petrol-stop ice cream was a particular favourite. We were caught between wanting to savour every bite and not being left behind by a car that started moving as soon as the fuel was paid for.

Food and drink was never allowed in the car of well, a car man. No wonder then that the interior of his cars were always in pristine condition. Even water was a hard-fought compromise so you can imagine that ice-cream would have found no favour. 

We would chomp down frantically as the car pulled away slowly from the petrol station after the final call, my father laughing heartily as we chased him down.

In retrospect, that story seems a tad unkind, but considering the mess children can create in the back of the car and the damage they can inflict, it is hardly surprising that along with not putting your feet on seats, no food in the car was a mantra oft repeated in our house.

My kids, however, like yours I would hazard a guess, have lived a charmed existence. The amount of time we tend to spend in the car these days often means they have been travelling with a smorgasbord since they were able to hold on to it. That, and the craft cupboard, and the toy box. Which is not good news for your car and its long-term value.

Hold the jelly

While it is easy to say, 'No food in the car', our reality is rather different. Often it is the food offering that ensures we all get to our destination without getting cranky. Try to offer options that are not going to stain or smell terribly if lost under the seat. 

Pack a lunchbox with easy-to-eat items and a water bottle that won’t spill if dropped. Draw the line at juice and milkshakes though – not only are they not great food choices, they are messy, too.

My girls are fairly neat eaters but if yours are still at the age where moving food around doubles as entertainment, try putting a towel on the seat to limit the damage. A seat pad under fitted car seats is also useful provided it doesn’t interfere with the safety of the seat itself.

Thick rubber floor mats were also a feature of my childhood and they are still available today. Whilst hardly a fashion statement, they do catch food and dirty shoes before they soil the carpet in your car. 

Keep your feet to yourself

Children, whatever their age it seems, love to put their legs up either on their seat or on the one in front of them. Even dirty bare feet can leave their mark which is not the best look.

Seat covers are not a favourite of mine – perhaps it was my mum’s cheetah print ones that scarred me for life – but they have their place, and the protection they offer can help improve the bottom line when it is time to sell your car. 

Opt for good quality, good fitting covers that won’t shrink after the first wash. A video (often provided by the manufacturer/retailer on YouTube) detailing their fitment is also helpful.

A seat organiser tied to the back of the front seats will keep your kid’s possessions in order and prevent those feet from hitting the seat. If you can’t find one, those old-fashioned plastic shoe holders will do.

A sporty question

As kids grow sporting activities seem to take over your life, and the car is forever filled with all manner of soccer and cricket, jujitsu, surfing and swimming gear. Some of this equipment can have sharp edges which is not good for the plastics or the trim. Try keeping a washing basket in the boot so they can stow their gear safely.

We make our girls take their muddy soccer boots off outside the car and then slip them into a plastic bag before popping them in the boot. Mud on the carpets is a big no-no but if some does sneak through, wait for it to dry and then brush it off.

Musical instruments and their hard cases can be just as hazardous. It may be a good idea to place them in the boot yourself. And talking of boots, be sure you always leave a towel in there. They are great for cleaning up spills and sitting on, for wrapping around kids as blankets, or even putting over heads when you have forgotten the umbrella. 

Anyone for art?

Our little people are avid drawers, an interest that creeps into the car with them. No matter how careful kids are accidents are bound to happen and open marker pens that seep their ink into the fabric or light-coloured leather is just one of them.

It is best to deter the use of markers or paints in the car and encourage coloured pencils instead. The latter should be sharpened before they get into the car so they don’t leave the pesky shavings all around.

Clean and protect

As kids we had to spend hours cleaning the family cars, washing, vacuuming, polishing and brushing so they sparkled inside and out. It is an important ritual that teaches and helps retain value.

Try cleaning your car as often as possible, invest in good products, and refrain from taking shortcuts. Get the kids to help. Wipe down the dash and console as well as the inside of the doors where little fingers can leave lasting prints.

If it is looking worse for wear, have it detailed, that new car smell is worth it.

The leather vs fabric seats question is always a big one. While the former can be wiped clean, leather (or the mix found in most cars) can scar easily and even tear. Fabric seats, too, have their disadvantages but can be cleaned or covered. It also means when you buy your car have the interior treated with Scotchgard to help keep it protected for longer.

Choose right

If you are carrying a family it makes sense to invest in a family car. There are a number of mid-sized or larger options, with SUVs tending to be the flavour of the day.

Kids are easier to placate if they are travelling in some comfort, if there are air-vents in the rear, if there is storage and if they can see out.

For parents, safety features and a good-sized boot are also considerations. Buying right will make life with your vehicle much more enjoyable.

Exterior delights

The outside of your car doesn’t remain unscathed when you have kids. Fingerprints around the door handle and the window is a particular trick of theirs. A wash and polish will take care of them.

Teach your kids to open doors carefully so they don’t scratch the paint of the car next to you and to shut doors without slamming.

Leave nothing behind

Make a habit of getting the kids to remove all unnecessary items from the car when you pull into the garage. This includes shoes and hats, the Lego, the art masterpiece and any rubbish they may have accumulated during the day.