family in a vehicle

How to find the right family-friendly vehicle.

When baby makes three (or more), your growing family may start to feel some growing pains – especially in the car. If you’re in the market for more space and functionality, here's a checklist of six factors and features to consider when you're shopping for a family-friendly ride.
  1. Safety
    As of 2011, new vehicles have had to pass stringent safety testing just to get to the sales lot. But some models surpass others: Check the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration star ratings to help you comparison shop. Plus, look for new safety features like these:
    • Seat belts that inflate in a crash to add cushioning
    • A seat belt monitor on the instrument panel that shows you who's buckled in
    • A reverse sensing system that alerts you if you're at risk of backing into something

  2. Ease of Access
    If you're dealing with car seats, make sure you can easily get it (and your child) in and out of the vehicle. Look for newer latching systems that make it easier to secure the seat. Consider taking your child's car seat when car shopping, so you can try it out first-hand. Of course, you also want easy access in and out for other passengers and other items. Look for:
    • Easy-open doors, like automatic sliding side doors on vans or those that unlock when the key is simply nearby
    • Rear doors and trunks that open with a remote

  3. Space
    When considering passenger room, count your family as well as kids' friends or teammates who may need rides. Remember that car seats can take up more space than a passenger. When considering cargo, look for cubbies and other built-in features that help organize and corral gear. Finally, look for flexibility: Can you easily convert seating to storage?

  4. Entertainment and Amenities
    From running errands to daily car pools and road trips, heading off boredom goes a long way toward easing tension during rides. A few features to consider:
    • Built-in entertainment system or 12-volt ports for plugging in games or a DVD player
    • A sound system that lets you listen to your tunes through the speakers while kids hear their own through headphones
    • Windows at a height that lets kids easily see outside
    • Storage pockets that allow kids to reach books, crayons and small toys
    • Backseat cup holders to keep sippy cups in reach
    • Retractable sunshades for backseat windows

  5. Communication
    Chatter is good for fostering family spirit, and sometimes it's essential. So make sure you'll be able to hear and be heard from the front seat to the rear-most seats. A "conversation mirror" is a convenient and safety-conscious feature: Set above the regular rearview mirror, it lets you see the entire backseat without turning your head.

  6. Cost
    When you’re figuring out your budget, make sure to factor in registration and ongoing costs such as taxes, insurance, fuel economy and upkeep. Consider whether it makes sense to buy a quality used vehicle or a new one.
To learn more about family-friendly vehicles and kick start your shopping trip, check out these resources: Parents.com's Best Family Cars of 2016 and U.S. News & World Report's 2016 Best Cars for Families.