The answer is, you can’t. You might have to invest in a soccer-Mom Remuera tractor, or perhaps a hugely uncool but super functional people-mover. Regardless of what you choose, a new car is a considerable investment and it has to work for you. This car buying guide for new parents has eight points that you may not have thought about yet.
1. What Do You Need This Car For?
Is this vehicle going to be the main car in the family? Or will it be the second car? Is it going to be used around town for day-to-day errands and playdates, or for long-haul driving holidays visiting whanau from everywhere from Bluff to Cape Reinga?
If you have the luxury of owning two cars, one is going to be deemed the child-mover. Remember, your children are going to ruin this car with sticky fingers, dropped chips and chocolates and the occasional bout of car sickness, so it’s not going to stay immaculate.
2. Car Seats and Seat Tetris
The safest spot in the car for your baby is in the middle of the back seat. How easy is it to get into that spot and safely clip in your precious cargo while maintaining your dignity? A low slung car is going to be uncomfortable, as is anything too high. Many middle seats have a hump, which will make it difficult to snugly fit a car seat.
The next step is the eyeing up the back seat. How many children do you have? Are they still in car seats? Look at how wide the seat is. If you have two seats, are they going to both fit, and potentially leave enough room for a person in between? (Like the mother-in-law when she visits…). If you have three children, it’s highly likely there won’t be enough room for three car seats across the back. Is it time to upgrade to a people mover or SUV with a third row of seats? If you do get a car with an extra row of seating, will that row take up valuable space in the boot? Are any seats accessible and can they easily be folded up and down?
Check out the space available between the front and back seats. Your child should be rear-facing as long as possible. Will there be enough room for them and your driver to sit comfortably? Get the tallest likely driver to sit in the driver’s seat and adjust the seat as appropriate, and then see if you can easily fit the rear-facing car seat.
3. Choosing the Right Rear-Facing Car Seat
New Zealand law says that until their seventh birthday, a child must be secured in an approved car seat. Until they turn eight, they must be in an approved restraint if one is available. If your child is small, then refer to international best practice which specifies that a booster seat must be used until they are 148cm tall or 11 years old. It is also highly recommended that your child is rear facing until they are at least two years old, or as long as practicably possible. Children have soft bones and incompletely formed vertebrae until they are six years old. This puts them at higher risk of harm if there is an accident. Having them rear facing cushions them from impact and supports their growing bodies better.
The car itself must have LATCH (lower anchors and tethers for children) or ISOFIX anchors. Both of these systems have low anchors in the vehicle as well as lower attachments on the child restraint. This allows for the seat to be snapped into place rather than being held by a belt.
4. Those Luxury Extras are Actually Essentials
Leather seats are easy to clean. Fabric seats are not. When you find a puddle of melted chocolate on the seat, the extra initial cost will become worth it.
Keyless entry will save you looking through the Tardis that is your handbag. This means you won’t have to dig through a pile of baby wipes, mash a half chewed rusk under your nails, and lose your patience every time you get into your car. Cars have a variety of ways to open the boot; using the key remotely or manually, using a touch sensor on the boot, or an inside button or lever. Make sure your car can open the boot from the driver’s seat without having to exit the car.
Voice command navigation and hands-free everything will make life so much easier and safer.
Air vents in the back seat aren’t as common as you’d think. Keep your kids the same temperature as you or risk melting or freezing yourself in the front in order to get the backseat as comfortably cool as the front seat. Also, how loud is the AC? Can you talk to someone in the back with the AC on? If you can’t hear what your toddler is saying, you might miss her singing ‘Let it Go’ for the 18th time that hour.
5. Windows & Doors
You want as many doors as you can possibly get, and ones that open as far as possible to allow easy loading and unloading. Consider having windows tinted as dark as legally allowed so your children aren’t blinded and melting under the glare of the midday sun. Look at the back window, and consider the sun streaming in from that onto your new-born child. A large slanted window equals a hot sweaty baby unless you hide them under a blanket.
6. Safety of the Vehicle
Check out the safety ratings of the intended vehicle on AA Website or rightcar.govt.nz. Compared to a one-star vehicle, a 5-star ANCAP vehicle is twice as likely to save and protect you and your family in an accident. You need to check for ABS braking, airbags at front, side and curtain, crumple zones, collapsible steering columns, three point seat belts front and rear, and electronic stability control. On the whole, newer cars are equipped with better safety features, from the structural designs through to the number and placement of airbags.
7. How Much Room Do You Need?
Check that the pram fits in the boot. If you pram fits, will anything else? Will you also fit a porta-cot, a nappy bag, a small elephant AND the kitchen sink?
8. Running Costs
This is so important to consider when buying a family car, especially if you are down to one income. Will you be operating one car only? The costs of registration and warrant, repairs, maintenance and tyres all add to the cost of running two cars.
Diesel cars travel to up 30% further on one tank of fuel than petrol cars. Combined with increasing petrol costs, this may make them seem like a better financial option. However there are higher registration costs and road user charges that apply for diesel vehicles that offset those savings a bit. Overall, a high mileage vehicle is cheaper to be diesel, and a low mileage car is cheaper to run on petrol.
You can check out hybrids too, they are cheap to run and more and more charge points are available around the country and at some parks and supermarkets.
Our Advice for You When Buying a Family Car ...
Think long and hard about what it is that you need. There is more to consider than just safety, and the primary child-carer need to be comfortable with all aspects of the vehicle. You may find that using your existing car for a while before buying a new one will give you an idea of what is important to you. There’s lots to think about and buying the wrong car might prove to be an expensive and stressful mistake.