Things to think about when buying your first family car

Your selection criteria may shift from spoilers to stain repellent and horsepower to safety ratings, but as a dad-to-be you’ve got a rare excuse to browse car showrooms with intent for the next few months. Here's how to make the most of it.

Family-Car

There’s something tantalising about buying a new car; whether it’s actually new or just new to you. Scouring websites, the test drives, the comparison spread sheets, the fuel economy data… Did I mention the test drives? There are endless Saturdays of fun to be had. But before you get too carried away, there’s a few things to consider when buying with a bub in mind.

How much can you afford, really?

Your new baby (the human, not the car) is going to run you about $30k in the first 4 years, and that’s not including pre-birth expenses like baby scans, prams, cots, car seats, NEW CARS, and so forth. Add to that you’ll likely be dropping to a single income for the foreseeable future and sadly now is not the time to be taking on any non-essential monthly repayments.

Do you need a new car? Possibly. Do you need a NEW, new car? Possibly not. Before rocking up to a single car yard, work how much you really can afford, set your budget and stick to it.

Size – does it really matter?

Say ‘family car’ and before you can imagine the second ankle biter you’ll probably picture a Land Rover blocking the narrow roads outside school, with stay-at-home parents sipping their flat whites while agitated office drones scurry their way to work.

Do you really need to go 4×4? Unless you’re actually planning to go off road, probably not. But if you’re going to use the car for more than an occasional run-around, you should still place physical size pretty high up the list. Ever wonder why 2WD SUV’s are becoming so darn popular? Because it’s bloody back breaking strapping a baby into a sedan 22 times a day!

And when your little terriers finally grow out of their car seats, they’ll have legions of friends wanting lifts across town.

As a rough guide, ask yourself if an adult can sit comfortably in the back with car seats fixed in either side. If not, you need to go bigger.

How much junk can you fit in the trunk?

Ah, the boot. Once home to weekend camping gear, golf clubs, beach towels and BBQs. Now, its primary purpose, for at least a couple of years, is fitting in the pram. A regular ‘biggish’ pram will fold up to around H100cm x D30cm – it doesn’t leave much space in the average boot.

But that’s not all. Babies need LOTS of stuff. Everywhere you go, this stuff goes too. Babies are small, but they do not travel light. And neither will you. So, when you’re assessing boot space, think ‘one week’s holiday’ rather than ‘coffee run’. If it can’t take pram plus at least three decent sized bags, you need to look elsewhere.

The car I bought pre-baby didn’t even fit the pram in without removing the wheels. I eventually bought a new car, but not before fitting a roof box to my existing one, just to make sure we could get home from the supermarket in one run.

DAD_banner_No_Excess

So, does size matter? In this instance, it’s a resounding YES.

5 doors are non-negotiable

You must have doors in the back, no ifs, buts or maybes. After two weeks of bending, stretching, and twisting to get your child in and out of the car seat you’ll need to spend more on physio and a chiro than a new car would have cost anyway.

And buying yourself this additional elbow room is a good investment, because fast forward 24 months, and your beautiful, delicate baby’s turned into a rampaging, screaming toddler whose favourite thing is to do the ‘stiff as a board not sitting down’ routine when trying to get them into the car.

The only resolution to this is a gentle easing of the elbow into their midriff. And to do that, you need space.

Safety is the new sexy

Nothing makes dads drool like 5 Star ANCAP. As soon as that little blob plops out of mum’s tum your top priority will be keeping it alive. This begins with getting bub home from the hospital in one piece, and then from there to everywhere else safely, every time you turn on the ignition thereafter.

Little girl sleeping in car seat

As a brief introduction, you and your family have twice the chance of being killed or seriously hurt in a 3 Star ANCAP safety rated car compared to one with 5 Stars. So if you’re thinking about buying a family vehicle, the best place to start is by comparing safety ratings online.

Trust me, as you carry baby out to the hospital car park that first time, you will thank yourself that you placed superman-like invincibility over a sexy, sleek design.

DAD’s Car Checklist

Here are some of the key features to check off when buying your first ‘Dad’ car. Some I looked for. Some I wish I bloody well had done!

Safety – Pay special attention to side air bags. They’re crucial. For child safety there’s not much difference between big cars and small cars – the quality of the baby capsule is actually the most important factor.

Child car seat fixings – The majority of cars will have anchor points for your child’s car seat, but check how many, and where they are. Some anchor points need to run straps around headrests, which can cause accessibility and vision issues.

Fabric protection – Must, must, must be easy wipe. Your upholstery will be subjected to a world of fluids so don’t take on anything that you can’t wipe down.

Cup holders in the back – As they get older, you’ll thank yourself.

Audio – Does Bluetooth quickly connect your car and your phone? Because being able to stream The Wiggles or Yo Gabba Gabba at a moment’s notice is a lifesaver. As is the ability to isolate the back speakers.

A/C – Check the airflow in the back seats. Even if it’s blowing in the front, things can still get stuffy out the back.

Hatchbacks – Much more family friendly than saloon boots.

Keys – If you can afford it, go key-less. When you’re carrying bub and bags of shopping on a rainy morning, you’ll be grateful for the locks flicking open invitingly as you approach. Failing that, make sure your key fob pops the boot, too. Mine doesn’t.

Warranty – The majority of new cars come with a minimum 5-year warranty, while Kia’s 7-year, unlimited KMs warranty seems to be the longest available in Australia at present. A lot of new cars also offer fixed price servicing, as well as roadside assistance for the duration of the warranty. Take these things into consideration too, as they will come in handy one day.

Once you’ve set your budget and separated need to haves from nice to haves, you should be ready to take your shortlisted models for a test drive. Top daddy tip: If your little one’s already here, take them with you, and the pram to boot. If it’s a pain getting everything in and out, move on to the next car.

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