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