In the mar­ket for a fam­ily car for the first time?

The Argus - - MOTORS -

BUY­ING a fam­ily car for the first time can be a chal­lenge - how big does it need to be, are there crit­i­cal safety fea­tures, and what on earth does ISOFIX mean? If un­til now all that mat­tered was that your car ran re­li­ably and looked rea­son­ably good, start­ing the search for some­thing more child-friendly can be daunt­ing.

But ac­tu­ally, like most new par­ent pur­chases, if you do your re­search and ask the right ques­tions, it’s not so dif­fi­cult. Here is ev­ery­thing you need to con­sider when buy­ing a first fam­ily car. What size?

Ba­bies are small - they don’t take up much room, but their car seats, bug­gies and chang­ing bags do. If you’re ex­pect­ing your first child, be sure to buy your buggy first, so that you can try it out in the boot. Also, try to look ahead - when a first baby is due, it can be im­pos­si­ble to think beyond the im­pend­ing birth, but some­day, your baby may have sib­lings, and you’ll need to fit more than one car seat. Ask the dealer how many car seats the car can take - gen­er­ally sa­loons can’t fit more than two. How­ever, don’t go out and buy the big­gest car you can find ei­ther - re­mem­ber, you will have to park it! What type of car?

Let­ting go of your pre-baby self has its ups and downs, and lots of par­ents feel a lit­tle self-con­scious about giv­ing in to a peo­ple-car­rier, or what one friend of mine af­fec­tion­ately calls the mammy-wagon. But re­al­is­ti­cally, if you want to fit three car seats across the back you’ll need to con­sider buy­ing an MPV (Multi Pur­pose Ve­hi­cle). For get­ting car seats and chil­dren in and out of cars, it’s best to go for a four-door at least - lean- ing in from the front seat can be tricky. Slid­ing back doors can be very handy with small kids, es­pe­cially in tight park­ing spots. Do I need a seven-seater?

When you have just one baby, it’s hard to imag­ine how you’d ever need a seven-seater, but when chil­dren start school, if you want to car­pool for school-runs, in­vite friends on play­dates or bring team­mates to train­ing, a car that can carry more than five peo­ple sud­denly be­comes nec­es­sary.

A seven-seater usu­ally has two pop-up seats in a third row, so you use them as needed, and leave them flat when you don’t. This means you have great boot space when they’re not in use, but very lit­tle when they are - if you’re look­ing at a seven-seater, check that your buggy fits even with the ex­tra seats up. Let’s move on to safety - what is ISOFIX?

ISOFIX is the in­ter­na­tional stan­dard for at­tach­ment points for child safety seats. In cars with ISOFIX, the car seat clicks into the at­tach­ment points, and there’s no need to use a seat­belt. This is a safer op­tion than hold­ing a car seat in place with a seat­belt, and most cars that were pro­duced af­ter 2006 have ISOFIX points.

If you are buy­ing a car and want to use ISOFIX, you’ll need to then buy a com­pat­i­ble car seat, so it’s crit­i­cal that you check the car hand­book. If you’ve al­ready bought your ISOFIX car seat, bring it along when you’re car hunt­ing, and try it out to make sure it fits. If you’ve al­ready bought a non-ISOFIX car seat, that’s fine - you will in­stall it in your new car us­ing the seat belt. What do I need to know about airbags?

Ask if there is a front pas­sen­ger seat airbag. If us­ing a rear-fac­ing car seat in the front, never do so with an ac­tive airbag - it’s dan­ger­ous and il­le­gal. On the other hand, if you are us­ing a for­ward-fac­ing car seat in the front seat, the airbag can be ac­tive (with the adult seat rolled back as far away from the dash­board as pos­si­ble). And of course, the safest place for chil­dren is al­ways in an ap­pro­pri­ate child re­straint in the back­seat. Are there other safety fea­tures I should ask about?

Child locks are im­por­tant - if you’re buy­ing a used car, check that they’re in good work­ing or­der. It’s also handy to be able to lock the back win­dows from the front - small chil­dren love play­ing with win­dow but­tons - so check if the car you’re con­sid­er­ing has that op­tion. What about the fun stuff ?

For long jour­neys with kids, your car is a home away from home. Pock­ets at the back of the front seats are no longer for maps, but for colour­ing- and story-books. If you reg­u­larly do long jour­neys, you may want DVD screens for the kids, though this might also mean they want them for ev­ery trip! You can buy a sep­a­rate frame for at­tach­ing a tablet to a head­rest if you’d pre­fer in-car movies to re­main an oc­ca­sional treat. Check if the car you’re look­ing at has more than one power socket, so that you can recharge phones, Sat Nav and tablets. And as for you in the front, as you lis­ten to pleas for snacks and cries of “are we there yet?” (it’s not a myth - they all say it) you could prob­a­bly do with a cup-holder for that all-im­por­tant cof­fee. And where should I buy?

As with all car pur­chases, your need to your lo­cal rep­utable dealer who has been in the busi­ness for many years.In any event you prob­a­bly know the garage in ques­tion per­haps even know the sales­per­son bet­ter-so it’s a good place to start.With a wide range of choice the sales­man can match up what you are look­ing to pur­chase.

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