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I have a 6 months baby and planning my family to grow for at least one, maybe two new members in the following years. My current car (a C-segment) broke down recently, and I'm looking for a new one.

From the (short) experience I have, I know several things I missed in the old car: more space in the rear seats to fit comfortably an adult and 1 or 2 car-seats, a bigger boot/trunk (the baby pram/stroller's + carrycot/portacrib® simply occupied all of it).

After my baby was born I got surprised of the many things we needed which I didn't expect to be useful before becoming a parent. I'd like to avoid that lack of knowledge before getting the new car. What will I (probably) need in a car for the following 5 or 10 years? What is your experience?

I know this question is highly localization biased, as legal and social requirements for having childens in a car are not the same at (e.g.) Democratic Republic of Congo as in Luxembourg. I live in Europe, but (I expect) answers should also work in other similar areas.

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As an example of the "surprises" I don't want to find in the future could be something like this one fitting 3 seats in a car, or this other one noticing too late the car was small to fit the seat properly. –  J.A.I.L. Dec 4 '12 at 12:00
    
I like to organize my life around not having a car. A good bicycle (a bakfiets fits the bill) gets the family just about anywhere in the city, with the addition of public transit and taxis if necessary. Rentals and car shares, if we must. Biggest bonus is getting out to walk. It's one of the most enjoyable things to do with your kids, and we don't do it enough, these days. Inherent in this answer are questions about your children's health, and the health of the people around you. Not having a car is not a liability, it is a freedom. –  coco Dec 6 '12 at 23:25
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3 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

What my husband and I have discovered recently is that your requirements can change significantly between child 1 and child 2. When we bought my car (6 years ago), it was a significant step up in size from my 4-door sedan to a full-size 2-row SUV. My son was born a year later. My daughter was born in July 2010 and my car, which obviously hasn't changed in size, just suddenly seems cramped.

For what it's worth, my family and I drive A LOT. We live in the southeastern US, which is not exactly known for its public transportation systems, and we put a ton of miles on our cars (I drive about 50 miles (80 km) a day just to and from work). We drive 500 miles (800 km) at least once a month to visit my parents (250 miles each way), and we will be driving another 1800 miles (3000 km) over Christmas to visit my husband's family. As our kids are growing, the need for space within the car on the long car trips is becoming more of a requirement. Our next vehicle will be a minivan and will have a 3rd row. I would NEVER have said this 5 years ago because I simply didn't think that we'd ever need anything bigger than what I currently have.

In hindsight, here's my thought process:

  1. Safety-wise.

    Most newer cars on the market are going to be up-to-date with current safety features and requirements. Some have better safety options than others, but once you've narrowed yourself down to the type of car you want, you can do more research to determine what safety features are most important to you. Airbags are pretty standard, LATCH is standard here in the US, but things like rear back-up cameras, lane-change assist, automatic wipers, etc. are not. These things might not be important to you, but, then again, they might be.

  2. Take a look at your lifestyle.

    If you spend LOTS of time in your car, either because you simply drive frequently or because you take a lot of roadtrips, then having a larger vehicle that accommodates your family and your stuff is important. Consider the types of trips you take. If you are big into camping, you're going to need more room for more stuff than if you take road trips and stay with family or in hotels or whatever. Right now, we want a third row because we're tired of always having to take two cars everywhere we go whenever my parents visit. It would simply be more convenient for us to load everyone into one vehicle and go.

  3. Ease of getting kiddos in and out of the car.

    This applies to children in both infant carriers and regular carseats. There comes a point when your child is going to want to climb in and out of the car him/herself. How easy/safe is it for them to accomplish that? Also, once you start potty-training, those few extra seconds can mean the difference between making it to the potty and not making it to the potty.

  4. Seat width.

    This is important when you start looking at different car seats. Our car seats have a broad base and take up A LOT of space in our backseat. My husband's car is pretty small and my son has a hard time buckling himself in to his car by himself because his booster almost covers the seat belt connector.

  5. Are there "fun" things that aren't 100% necessary but are nice to have that you want?

    Navigation, a good sound system, DVD player for the kids, etc? I never thought I'd care about an in-car DVD system until we started doing significant amounts of road-tripping. It is now a requirement for our next car.

  6. How much space do you realistically have for this car?

    If you have a garage, measure it to make sure you have room for the vehicle. You don't want to get it home only to discover that it's too long or too wide.

  7. Keep in mind that with the car comes the maintenance.

    My best friend learned the hard way that buying a bigger car (she went from a sedan to a very large SUV) meant paying more in gas and more for tires. You don't want to wind up hating the car because the maintenance is so expensive.

  8. This is going to sound stupid but it has come in handy for us more than once: Is there room to change a diaper? There have been many times we've stopped somewhere only to discover that they don't have any facilities to change diapers.

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I was reading your answer in my phone while my couple was giving my baby grated pear puree, the three of us in the rear seats of a borrowed Opel Astra hatchback. So: no. Your point #8 doesn't sound stupid at all. –  J.A.I.L. Dec 4 '12 at 21:28
    
Ok, I don't know how you were managing that! Hope you find a good car to fit your needs soon! –  Meg Coates Dec 10 '12 at 15:16
    
Not enough to warrant a separate answer, but I recommend a child lock system for the rear windows. Most cars with all electric windows have it. Also, some cars have built in booster seats in the rear seat. –  SQB Jan 24 at 8:09
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I believe the latch system is now required in all US cars (that have a backseat anyway) at their building or import so this may be moot. However, in case you live somewhere this is not required or I am wrong about US law and you live in the US, I highly suggest looking into the "LATCH" system. All it really means is that the seats have a place to hook car-seats and booster seats in that does not use the seat-belts as the main "staying power" for the seats. It is supposed to be much safer, but even if it doesn't make a huge difference in safety, it keeps the seats in their proper positions even while kids are jumping in and out of their seats as they get older - that alone is worth it to me. Keeping those things properly installed seems well worth it.

My sister in law also felt that having a higher rise was nice when she got to child #3 because she didn't have to bend down to hook him in so much. It was less important to me - but I only have one.

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I think (no links to official sites found) LATCH is compulsory in U.S.A. since 2002, and ISOFIX in Spain (where I live) since 2005. –  J.A.I.L. Dec 4 '12 at 15:05
    
@balancedmama are you aware of any studies that show LATCH is safer? It's been a few years since we've had to deal with car seats (so nice to be out of that phase) but back when we were researching, all the data we found showed that LATCH is no safer/worse than a proper seatbelt installation. My understanding of LATCH was that it makes installing the seat easier, not necessarily any safer. Granted, making it easier to install certainly makes it safer than an improper seatbelt installation (which is, sadly, common). –  DA01 Dec 5 '12 at 17:21
    
I too, am past that phase, but in my state there was a lot of talk on the news about it. I'll grant you evening news isn't always the most reliable - but the state made it law that new cars had to have it as an option installed based on increased safety. That increased safety may simply be because it means the seat is installed correctly (I do know that in 2004 over 60% of seats were not installed correctly - based on a study done by the CHP). Apparently its harder to get those seats in and keep them in correctly without LATCH at the very least. –  balanced mama Dec 5 '12 at 17:28
    
That certainly makes sense: more properly installed seats = safer. It is hard to install a seat with a seatbelt in certain cars. –  DA01 Dec 5 '12 at 18:25
    
Even the ones that do get in there properly in the first place are hard to keep in properly once the child is old enough to get in and out on his or her own too. –  balanced mama Dec 5 '12 at 18:31
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My answer is different depending on whether, and how soon, you will have 3 children. With 3 children you need a people carrier (minivan), or a SUV with extra seats in order to fit in 3 car seats plus 2 adults + battlefield equipment for all 3. I'm not going to make recommendations there because I simply don't know, however I would say that getting flexible seating options would be good. You could reconfigure to have 5 seats plus extra cargo room for example.

If you plan to stop at 2 or have a long pause between #2 and #3 then go for an E-segment saloon (sedan) with a decent sized boot (trunk). You could go for an estate (station) wagon of course, but I don't find there's that much extra space for the extra weight and loss of handling. I have 2 kids with that size of car and it has enough cargo space for week-long trips. Folding rear seats is a handy feature so you can get long items in, although that has nothing to do with the kids. Make sure that it has isofix bars installed, or installable.

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I have 3 kids, with a gap of 6 years between youngest and eldest. I have found that the seats fit just fine in the Subaru Impreza and Subaru Forester, which are both mid sized cars (in Europe anyway) but anything smaller would not have worked. –  Rory Alsop Dec 5 '12 at 19:41
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