Car-Buying Tips for Families: Features To Consider in a Family Car

Let's be frank. Buying a car is stressful for many people, but being prepared can make it easier. Step two for families in the car-buying process is narrowing down the features your family needs in a car. Here are a few worth considering; use this list as a starting point for coming up with your own checklist of important features.

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Seating capacity: Did you feel like you needed to upgrade to a minivan when you found out you were expecting your first child? Take a real evaluation of how much seating space you'll need in your car on a daily basis. Don't forget to take into consideration how your family life might change in the years until you buy your next car. Will you be adding to your family? Will you be helping out your aging parents? Will your kids start school, making you part of the carpooling crowd?

Safety, safety, safety: Look into the car's safety features. Check out crash-test ratings, airbag numbers and locations (do the side curtain airbags extend rearward to protect third-row passengers?), and other standard and optional active and passive safety features.

Storage: A good variety of compartment space will help keep the family car clutter-free. Activity trays, cupholders and in-door bottleholders allow kids to be independent and keep Mom or Dad's attention on the road. The cargo area needs to be big enough to comfortably fit the stuff you haul regularly (hockey equipment, Sam's Club hauls). Make sure the stroller fits in the cargo area and can be lifted in and out easily. Will the roof rails be able to handle the weight your family needs for skis, bikes and storage boxes?

Getting in and out: Transporting elderly parents or small children? Look for a low step-in height and a grab handle by the window or above it. Installing a child-safety seat? Check to see if you can actually heft that monster up and into the car. Does the car seat fit well in the backseat and are the Latch anchors easily accessible? Can you easily get kids in and out of their child-safety seats without bonking your head, or theirs? Can older children buckle their own seat belts?

Simple controls: Nobody is more distracted in the car than a parent driver. You want the car to make life easier on you, not harder. You want simple controls with buttons or touch-screens that are easy to see and navigate.

Extras: Evaluate the extras that would be nice to have for everyone in your family, then decide which ones are worth paying for. One of my personal must-have features is keyless entry and start. I'm simply too busy to waste time searching my tote for car keys throughout the day. If you live in a cold climate, remote start, heated seats and a heated steering wheel are fabulous features on freezing mornings. While in-car entertainment systems age quicker than our mobile devices, does the car have enough outlets and ports to charge multiple devices for long road trips?

Editor's note: Some of these tips came from our former sister site, Colette Fischer and Sara Lacey contributed to this article. photos by Evan Sears

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Senior Family Editor Kristin Varela blends work and family life by driving her three tween-teen girls every which way in test cars.  Email Kristin