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Buying a Family Car

The family car is an important purchase—one that takes a good amount of research. Whether you choose a larger family sedan, minivan, or sports utility vehicle (SUV), make sure your new family car meets high safety ratings, passenger and cargo space needs, durability needs, and more.

Tips for Buying a Family Car

Consider the following shopping tips as you shop for your family car.

Safety Ratings & Features

Your family's safety comes first.

Most manufacturers and dealerships advertise their vehicles' safety ratings, but you can research safety ratings before heading to the dealership by checking with reputable websites, like the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's (IIHS) ratings tool and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's Safercar.gov.

Safety ratings are based on a variety of factors, so you'll also want to look for a family car with safety features such as:

  • Child safety locks & windows.
  • Anti-lock brakes.
  • Airbags with deactivation control.
  • Head restraints.
  • Head injury protection.
  • Electronic stability control.
  • Traction control and all-wheel drive.
    • These tend to work better together.

Keep in mind, these are just a few basic safety features; these days, many vehicles also come with even more high-tech safety features such as:

  • Adaptive headlights.
  • Backup cameras.
  • Reverse sensors.
  • Side-view assistance.
  • Parking assistance.

Budget & Cost

Now that you've looked at a few models that meet your safety specifications, let's think about your family's budget and the vehicle's cost.

Understand your budget before you visit the dealership; often, salespeople can smell confusion a mile away—and this won't work in your favor. By researching the cost of your family car beforehand, you'll have a better chance at negotiating a fair, or even lower, price... especially when you consider manufacturer and dealership rebates and other buyer incentives.

Of course, if you're wary about getting a loan through the dealership, you might consider getting a bank auto loan or a blank check auto loan so you'll already know exactly how much you can spend before you walk on the lot. During such situations, important loan factors—such as your credit score—have already been considered and there won't be any surprises at the dealership.

Get started by using our auto loan calculator and remember, your new car taxes and fees must be budgeted into the overall cost.

Passenger Seating & Accessibility

How many children do you chauffeur? Do you plan on growing your family? What about their friends—how often to they ride along? Does much carpooling take place?

Make sure you choose a family car with plenty of space for all the people with whom you travel.

Cargo Space

Be honest: How much cargo do you haul? Does your family take vacations? Do your children participate in a lot of extracurricular activities? Is there a family dog or three to consider? What about groceries and other shopping trips?

The more cargo you haul, the more space you'll need.

(HINT: In these cases, it might be wise to skip the family-sized sedans and look at a minivan or SUV with removable seating for extra cargo space.)

Interior Durability

Kids can get messy, so let's think about how you're going to protect the inside of your family car—specifically, the upholstery and flooring.

Many vehicles come with cloth upholstery and carpeted flooring, but you can find easier-to-clean alternatives with leather or vinyl upholstery and rubber flooring.

HINT: Can't find a model you like with rubber flooring? Try ordering special rubber mats to fully cover your vehicle's floors. You can easily remove these mats, sweep or hose them down, and voila—all those toppled-over juice boxes and Skittles are gone.

Fuel Economy

Families tend to travel—a lot. Think about all the distance you cover driving to and from school, extracurricular activities, and vacations.

Also, because all those travel destinations cost money, it makes sense to choose a car with good fuel economy. As you shop for a family car, your dealership will tell you the fuel economy ratings of the different vehicles in which you're interested; however, it's never a bad idea to do your own research.

Style

Finally, who says you have to give up style to have a safe and affordable family car?

These days, there are plenty of sleek and stylish sedan, minivan, and SUV models on the market perfect for family use and personal expression.

As you spend time researching the safest, most practical vehicle for your family, pay attention to the different styles, too. What catches your eye? Which one makes you want to show it off? How proud would you be to drive this one or that one?

NOTE: You might also consider entertainment for the kids, too. Are you interested in a family car with an entertainment system such as a TV, DVD player, or video game console? These features will add to the overall cost, but they might be worth their weight in travel time.

Where to Shop for Your Family Car

While there's nothing wrong with buying a car from a private party, you might want to consider shopping with a dealership first. Typically, dealerships can guarantee their vehicles have been through a complete range of inspections (and repairs, in the case of used vehicles), whereas you might not know the complete history of a private party sale.

Plus, generally a dealership purchase comes with rebates, warranties, and other buyer incentives a private purchase can't offer.

NOTE: If you do opt to buy a family car from a private party, always order a vehicle history report, first. Vehicle history reports check the vehicle identification number (VIN) and can tell you more about the vehicle's past such as:

  • Title history.
  • Accident and flood damage information.
  • Vehicle maintenance.

Learn more about ordering a VIN check in our section on Vehicle History Reports.

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