Buying a new family car is nothing short of reaching an exciting milestone for every family. As the kids grow, the family needs change, and along them the travelling gear. Trolleys, cots and play yards are replaced with backpacks, surfboards, tents and fold-frame bikes. Nonetheless, the car-shopping time is full of excitement on all sides, with discussions, suggesting and pros-and-cons lists sprouting like mushrooms after the rain. To make things worse, manufacturers are spoiling us with yet unseen choices of models, types, colours and trims. Add the dealers’ or insurance discounts into the mix, and buying the best one really gets more difficult than it seems. However, when we’re making such a big decision, it’s important to call a spade a spade, so here is some weatherproof car-buying advice for a family that loves to travel.
Study the safety rating
While the vehicle safety should be among the first concerns for buying any kind of car, when looking for a family tourer, you should stay away from anything with less than four-star NCAP crash test rating. So, when you’ve made your shortlist, head on to your regional NCAP site and check the models to see how they fare on safety. EuroNCAP, for example, is particularly focused on child safety in its crash test assessments. If you live in Australia, the good news is that recent changes to Australian Design Rules allow for Isofix seats to be used in new cars sold in Australia without any modifications.
Chose the car body
Depending on where you live – inner city, suburbs or country, as well as how many children and pets you need to accommodate, you’re going to choose between a family hatch, saloon, estate or MPV. Five-door hatchbacks tend to be more practical than saloons of the same size, not only because of the bigger boot, but also because their design makes the interior space more flexible for fitting bulky items. While many family drivers swear by the estates, in reality, full-size saloons also have plenty of legroom in the back and a spacious boot. Multi-purpose vehicles, or people movers, are probably the best solution for families with older children who don’t need so much ‘gear’ but are keen on inviting a friend or two on a family trip.
How do you like to travel?
This is where you need to think whether a normal 2-wheel drive car will be enough or you need something with more power and clearance. Although in the last couple of years, the popularity of SUVs has exploded with manufacturers flooding the auto market with SUV-like versions of established lines in every niche, a thoroughbred high towing SUV can be immensely valuable for families who like to get the most out of their travels. Additional clearance and all-wheel, or four-wheel drive allow these vehicles to handle less than ideal road surfaces while towing a caravan or a boat trailer.
Set your budget
Unless you have your cash ready, you need to consider your financing options. Ask yourself how much you can really afford to set aside each month. For most families, the monthly new-car instalment should not go above 15% of the monthly take-home pay. The same rule applies for used cars, which are bound to be less expensive. If you’re leasing, arrange for a monthly payment of less than 10% of your take-home pay. On top of the car payments, you need to figure in the fuel and insurance costs. If you’re not sure what kind of cars you can afford through a certain monthly payment, there are plenty of online affordability calculators, listing the vehicles according to price range and the financing options.
Ask about after sale services and warranty
Buying happens once, but servicing is an ongoing process. So if you’ve settled down to two candidates, give the advantage to the one whose dealership is closer to where you live. Do you know a family that owns four cars, different models of a particular manufacturer? While the reason behind this might always be a personal preference, past experience or loyalty to a specific make, in many cases, it’s the local presence of the company’s showroom and workshop that makes the choice. Having two or more cars of the same make serviced and maintained close to your home saves you a lot of time and inconvenience.
Before swooping down on a new car, you need to research all the options, with your budget, driving habits and lifestyle in mind. Instead of sticking to individual traits like safety rating, body type or a particular make, you need to observe these as a whole and see which one would really suits your family in the years to come.