How to Choose the Best Family Car to Buy

Whether you’re looking to start a family or have a household of children to transport every day, families everywhere have more car buying options than ever before. From station wagons to SUVs, it seems that more and more cars are offering family-friendly options, such as extra storage, backseat DVD players, and additional safety features. From safety to capacity, this article will go over all the options to consider when choosing the best car to buy for your family.

Part 1 of 3: Do your financial homework

Before ever stepping foot in a dealership, you should make an effort to fully research which features you want in a family car and which models are best for you. Use the steps below as a guideline for your research.

Step 1: Define your budget. Defining your budget is the most important part of preparing to conduct effective car-buying research.

car payment calculator

Step 2: Decide upon down payment. Determine how large a down payment you are able to take on financially.

You’ll want to seriously consider how long you want to be making payments before the car is truly “yours” and what kind of auto financing you are qualified for.

Step 3: Set your car payment parameters. Make an informed decision on how much you can truly afford in car payments each month.

Be sure to know how long you would want to be in debt before the car is 100% “yours.” If you need help making this decision, contact your accountant or auto financier.

family car price ranges

Step 4: Research “new” and “used” options. Most major car dealerships offer both “new” and “used” (or “pre-owned”) model selections.

If you’re unsure of which option to choose, conduct an online search for “used” cars for sale for your budget and compare the results to a search for “new” cars for sale with your budget.

Take a look at the difference in quality between the search results and make an educated decision either way.

If you are hunting down a specific make or model, you would be wise to consider a used car, especially if you can’t afford a new model.

  • Note: If you prefer cars without prior owners, you might want to consider adjusting your budget to allow for a newer, modern family vehicle.

Part 2 of 3: Prioritize family car features

For some families, the quantity and quality of seating in a vehicle is a complete dealbreaker. For others, vehicles with higher safety ratings or consumer reports are forever at the top of the heap. Follow the steps below to research and prioritize car features that best fit your family’s needs.

Step 1: Consider the car’s users. Before running out and heading to a dealership, consider who will be both driving and riding in your potential new vehicle.

As a driver, you should consider: Will your spouse use the car? If you have teenagers, will they use it as well?

In terms of passengers: Will you have children that require extra room for car and booster seats? How many seats will you need to regularly fit your entire family into one car?

  • Tip: If you are going to have children or regular backseat passengers, you will want to check that your potential new car model comes equipped with side airbags, ensuring that children in booster seats or car seats are not seated near these airbags.

Step 2: Consider the car’s size.

seat number chart

Smaller families of 2-5 people may consider a smaller family vehicle, such as a passenger sedan. Larger families or 5 or more people, on the other hand, will want to consider cars with appropriate seating, such as a Sports Utility Vehicle (SUV), minivan, or station wagon.

  • Tip: If you will have adults or older children riding in the back seat, you will want to bring the whole family along for your test drive at the dealership to ensure that everyone can comfortably fit.

Step 3: Consider the car’s interior**. If you are worried about messes, then choosing an interior suited to this is a good idea.

If you have a family with small children, easy-cleaning is a must. Leather seats, as opposed to fabric, are ideal for cleaning up messes. Leather and other smooth materials are perfect for the interiors of family cars, as cleaning wipes will do in on-the-go situations.

  • Tip: When picking out interior and seating material colors, choose darker colors and shades. This will allow small stains to blend in and not show as obviously.

Step 4: Consider safety. Search the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) database.

The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, or the NHTSA, is responsible for releasing comprehensive 5-star ratings on every car on the U.S. market.

safer car site screenshot
Image: Safer Car

To find vehicle model ratings, head to Safercar.gov and click on the “5-Star Safety Rating” tab to begin your search. The more stars a car has, the safer the car is!

  • Tip: Safercar.gov can also provide you with rollover statistics and research behind other safety features the car may have, including child safety, airbags, technology, and tires. These are invaluable statistic to have, especially if you’re deciding between specific models.

Step 5: Consider the car’s additional features. From colors to cup holders, small details can make or break your family’s experience with your future vehicle.

Are you looking for a car that has entertainment options for your kids? Would you like your vehicle to come equipped with satellite radio or DVD players to keep everyone busy? Think of the features that will allow your family to get the most out of the car.

Step 6: Definitively prioritize the car’s features. From safety to size to all the little details, make a decision as to which handful of features your family feels are most important.

Talk it over with the other potential users of the car and come up with a definitive list..

Part 3 of 3: Review and compare vehicles

Step 1: Research car models. Once you’ve narrowed down your options by defining your priorities, you’ll want to research specific car models.

Step 2: Read reviews. Read every review, rating, and comparison you can find through a simple online search, using one of the sites or magazines below:

It’s always recommended that you gather as much information as you can about each model you are considering before you purchase. That way, you’ll be able to make an informed decision and purchase the best car for your family, and having the right family car can make your riding experience perfect for you and your family. Be sure to have one of our certified mechanics perform a pre-purchase inspection to make sure all is well with the car you want.


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Attila

19 years of experience
906 reviews
Attila
19 years of experience
Cadillac SRX V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Edison, New Jersey
Attila was great! Very knowledgeable and actually detected a fault during a pre-purchase inspection that would have cost me later.
Lexus ES350 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Fords, New Jersey
He is very good—offered all the significant details we needed from the inspection. Helped us figure out what needed to be fixed.

Shawn

12 years of experience
285 reviews
Shawn
12 years of experience
Chevrolet Impala V6-3.6L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Lansdale, Pennsylvania
Shawn was prompt, professional, and delivered the promised service as expected. This was a used vehicle pre-purchase inspection. Shawn also had to drive to multiple locations to perform the inspection, as the address listed that I provided him with was not accurate, but he still made it to the correct location within his time window and completed the inspection.
Toyota Sequoia - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Akron, Pennsylvania
Shawn was very prompt in communicating with me and was good at helping me decide whether to purchase a used car. He help me avoid a car with a repaired rusted frame that could be a danger to my family's safety since we were planning on using the car to tow a travel trailer!

Luis

18 years of experience
320 reviews
Luis
18 years of experience
Honda HR-V L4-1.8L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Warren, New Jersey
Luis was great. He showed up on time, acted professionally, and gave me confidence with a pre-purchase car inspection.
Acura RDX - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - South Hackensack, New Jersey
Luis did a thorough pre-purchase inspection for me, and found several major issues that made me pass on buying the car. Had I purchased the car, I almost certainly would have ended up paying thousands in repairs down the road. Thanks Luis!

Robert

20 years of experience
1089 reviews
Robert
20 years of experience
Hyundai Elantra L4-2.0L - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Englewood, Colorado
He did a pre-purchase inspection for me. He was knowledgeable and fast, and knew what he was looking for. I really appreciate all the pictures and documentation he took of the state of the car before purchase. He noted potential issues with the car that I wouldn't have been able to notice. Would recommend.
GMC Savana 1500 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Golden, Colorado
I trust Robert. He gave me a list and we will take care of it the week of June 29. I will know then that my vehicle is ready for the winter and is safe to drive. I look forward to getting things ready for another winter of careful driving.

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