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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Caz

17 years of experience
57 reviews
Caz
17 years of experience
Honda Insight - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Acworth, Georgia
Patient, thorough, professional and takes his time to explain things. This is the second time I have used Caz's services, and he consistently delivers. Look forward to working with him again.
Volvo XC90 - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Alpharetta, Georgia
My husband and I are looking for a reliable used car for our teenage drivers. We had two that we were considering and wanted to have them inspected prior to purchasing. Caz did a thorough inspection of both vehicles and recommended we walk away from both. We really appreciated his transparency and knowledge. We will definitely use Caz again.

Chris

22 years of experience
2001 reviews
Chris
22 years of experience
Porsche Macan - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Irvine, California
Chris you as so knowledgeable and really out my mid at ease with the private seller purchase. Highly recommend to anyone shopping for a car :)
Lexus ES300h - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Temecula, California
Amazing guy.... called and gave me what felt to be his honest and straightforward opinion on my vehicle.... def will book him again in the future for work

Casey

19 years of experience
27 reviews
Casey
19 years of experience
Hyundai Santa Fe - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Katy, Texas
Casey is awesome. Helped me fully understand the health of the used vehicle I was buying for my mother in law. Great service and very knowledgeable for sure. Casey found only one issue we needed to deal with and was able to book the repair just a few days later.

Colby

14 years of experience
21 reviews
Colby
14 years of experience
Ford Ranger - Pre-purchase Car Inspection - Longmont, Colorado
Colby called to notify me he was in route to the inspection--to ease my mind and to ask if there was anything in particular/extra I wanted him to check out. He was going to do a pre-purchase inspection of a 2002 Ford Ranger. He assured me that I hired the right guy since he'd worked for Ford for 13 years. An hour or so later, he called me while he was driving home to discuss his inspection. I could ask him everything I wanted as we dialogued. That was so helpful! And way more personable and real than just reading the report he emailed. The report was thorough and included a test drive. He had recommendations for some work to be immediately done; rotors & brake pads. Then, included the cost for him to do that work should I choose. The price was fair and not crazy expensive. I'm still deliberating on whether to have that done or to wait for my mechanic to do it once I have the truck. Thank you again Colby.

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