Baby on Board: How to Shop for a Family-Friendly Car
Before baby, the most precious cargo you were hauling—you know, besides you and your partner—were your weekly groceries and maybe a new rug for the living room. But things are about to change in a major way, and with it comes a big shift in what you look for when buying a car. (Going up in importance: safety; down on the priority list: the cool factor.) To help guide you through the process, we talked to the pros at Kelley Blue Book about what you need to know as you start the search for your perfect family-friendly ride.
1. Consider high-tech safety features
Sure, air bags, seat belts and stability control are absolutely essential, but we all know avoiding accidents is way better than surviving them, right? Right. So after you check out the crash test ratings on any models you’re considering (find them at KBB.com, SaferCar.gov or IIHS.org), look for the latest technologies designed to prevent wrecks before they can happen. Think: collision warnings, lane-keeping assistant systems, blind spot warnings, adaptive cruise control, and rearview and/or all-around view cameras. These features that might not have seemed necessary prebaby will add an extra layer of security, especially when you’re sleep deprived or mildly distracted by fussing or crying—aka, a new parent.
2. Make sure there’s room to spare in the back
That sexy two-door, low-to-the-ground sports car isn’t going to cut it now that you’ll have to crawl into the back to get baby in and out of a car seat. The height of the back seat, whether too high or too low, can turn this daily task into a back-breaking hassle, so when you visit the dealer, don’t be afraid to climb in to be sure there’s plenty of room to move around. Then stand outside the car and reach in (as if to unbuckle baby) to see if you’re comfortable with the seat level. You’ll also want to pay extra attention to the trunk: On your final round of test-drives, bring along some of your bulkier baby gear like your stroller and playard to see if and how they fit.
3. Bring the car seat along for the (test) ride
Newborns are unbelievably tiny, but they can actually take up a surprising amount of room—so don’t make the mistake of thinking you can get away with keeping your compact a little while longer. That’s because lots of legroom is essential for a rear-facing infant car seat, which the AAP recommends using until age 2. You’d be shocked at how many big cars, SUVs and crossovers won’t even accommodate one. (Here’s another case where it’s smart to bring along your gear—in this case, the car seat—when you shop.) For added safety, look for a car seat latch in the center seat to provide a little extra distance between baby and potential impact zones.
4. Power up with plenty of ports and outlets
A built-in media system is great, don’t get us wrong. But ample USB ports, 115-volt outlets and 12-volt power points in the front and back seat areas are a more versatile option that can keep up with changing technology. Right now, a powered-up tablet equals peace on the road, but who knows what the next iPad will be? And don’t forget those other two essentials of modern life: Bluetooth and Wi-Fi accessibility.
5. Look for easy-to-clean interiors
Those tiny hands can wreak major havoc on upholstery—and fast. That’s why easy-to-wipe leather and leatherette make for the most family-friendly call when it comes to car interiors. Looking for a more budget-friendly choice? Some companies like Hyundai and Kia are using high-tech fabrics that are more durable and stain resistant than ever. And since you’ll probably be spending the next few years chasing after stray Cheerios and puffs that find their way into every nook and cranny of your car, a built-in vacuum system just might be an upgrade worth splurging on.
6. Keep the long-term value in mind
Did you know that two cars with the same initial sticker price can end up costing two very different amounts over time? And no matter how much you love the looks and features of a car, if it costs an arm and a leg to own and operate, it’s probably not the one for you. (After all, you’ve got enough other new bills to deal with—like that 529 plan.) To make sure you know what you’re getting into, check out the Kelley Blue Book 5-Year Cost to Own estimate for any models on your final list before signing on the dotted line. It crunches the numbers for you, taking the predicted resale value, fuel economy, repair and maintenance costs—even insurance costs—into consideration, so you can be sure you’re making the best choice for right now as well as for down the road.