Top Tips for Picking the Best Family Car

three kids looking out from second row of SUVOne of the most common reasons, bringing customers to the dealership to buy a car, is to find a more suitable family car.

Often the family outgrows their vehicle as their kids grow and need more space in the back seat, with the birth of a new baby and room for a car seat, or as a family is active and needs more space for sporting gear or cargo for family road trips.

If you’re looking for a family car, and you have young children, it is important to consider the passenger capacity, considering laws and that the safest location for youth passengers is the backseat.  In fact, “Colorado law requires infants under 1 year old and under 20 lbs. to ride in the back seat; there are no exemptions. If your child is older than 1 and heavier than 20 pounds, it is legal for him/her to ride in the front passenger seat—but not recommended. If you must do this, please be sure the vehicle seat is positioned as far from the airbag as possible and be sure that your child is tightly secured in his/her car seat, and that the car seat is properly installed in to your vehicle.” Children’s Hospital of Colorado advises, “Keep your child in the back seat as long as possible, until at least age 13 and 100 pounds.”

When looking for a family friendly car, truck, or SUV, we gathered these recommendations about features which are helpful for others who have also purchased a family friendly vehicle.

Four Doors

2011 Ford Escape

This might sound obvious, but until you have a carload of people in a coupe or extended cab and a backseat passenger needs to be the first out for the gas station restrooms, there’s a reason why four door vehicles is top of the selection list. Seriously, four door vehicles are convenient for so many reasons and more.  Save your back from trying to climb into the backseat to put a baby seat into the car seat base.

Stow and Go Cargo Spaces

stow and go seating in the second rowDodge and Chrysler mini vans introduced the stow and go cargo spaces which created some functional storage space in a type of vehicle that isn’t known for having much cargo space.  Additionally, when the space isn’t needed for passengers in the second row, the seats fold down in this area making room for anything from furniture to boxes to sporting equipment, without the back ache of moving a second row of seats out of the vehicle, taking up space in the garage when you don’t want it in use.

Second Row Captain Seats in SUVs and Vans

Second row captains seat in a Ford ExcursionSecond row captain seats are not only convenient and comfortable for adult passengers but are great in SUVs and vans with third row seating.  Set up car seats in the second-row captains seats.  Captain seats are comfortable and convenient, although they reduce the passenger capacity of vehicles that would otherwise have a bench seat for three, like the Chevrolet Tahoe which comes with either second row captains seats or a bench seat.

Passenger Airbag on/off Switch

airbag off setting

Pediatricians recommend not to have children under the age of 13 or under 100 pounds in the front seat even if it is legal in Colorado, but sometimes you may have to have a youth occupant for the school carpool, or you have a full vehicle with passengers.  In 1998 a federal law was enacted allowing manufacturers to add air bag deactivation switches, and individuals to get permission to deactivate an airbag for a qualifying reason.  This air bag switch is available on some makes and models, and can usually be found within the dashboard area.  Be sure to read the Owner’s Manual for specific instructions about the vehicle before deactivating.  Learn more about airbag safety for child passengers.

Other Safety Features

There are a variety of safety features that have become more prevalent in family vehicles through the years that you may not have considered but may after reading about.

Window Locks

More vehicles in the past couple decades have added window locks to override window buttons for passenger seats.  If you’re driving young kids, get in the habit of using this feature.  Unlike a garage door which will reverse if a body is in the way, an automatic window will keep trying to close if an arm, limb, or head is in the way.  Power windows may not seem that dangerous, but they have in fact strangulated and injured children.  This is also an important feature to use for canine passengers who may inadvertently step on the window down button on a door panel, and could result in a dog being able to escape out a window, or being strangled by the power window.

Back up Cameras

According to KidsandCars.org at least 50 children are backed over by vehicles every week. The children are usually 12-23 months, with 60% of backing up incidents involving a larger sized vehicle like a truck, van or SUV, with a parent or close relative behind the wheel in over 70% of these incidents.  Young kids are hard to see from the driver’s seat, and may not sense danger to know that a car just started in the driveway where they went off to play.  A back up camera is a safety feature you may want to consider adding to any vehicle, especially if you have small children.

Check for Rollaway Threat Hazard

Man gives thumbs up after a test drive

It is all to easily for a child to climb into the driver’s seat of a parked car in their driveway, but this poses a hazard even if the keys are not left in the ignition.  Cars manufactured since 2010, and some prior, have a “BTSI” system, brake transmission system interlock, which prevents an automatic transmission to be moved from park without pressing the brake pedal.  If you have children and are purchasing a vehicle with an automatic transmission, you should check for this feature during the test drive.  If you purchase a vehicle with a manual transmission, you should not just leave the vehicle in gear, but also engage the emergency brake.

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