5 things to consider when buying a family car

There’s plenty to think about when buying a family car. Where do you start? And what really matters?

Cars mean different things to different people. To some, they’re the ultimate status symbol and a true reflection of the kind of person you are. To others, they’re simply a practical tool to get you from Point A to Point B.

For most families, it tends to be the later. The family car’s main job is ferrying the kids to school, sport, and all other extra-curriculars. While style and comfort are great, reliability usually reigns.

That being said, with so much time behind the wheel, you want something you actually enjoy driving. Something you can be proud of and confidently roll up to school pick up in. A vehicle that gives you a little smile on the rare occasions you get to take a road trip.

Picking a car that serves both these purposes can be tough. But, by considering the following six criteria, you’re sure to find something that suits you and your family perfectly.

Does it fit your budget?

The last thing you want is to fall in love with car, only to realise it’s well out of your price range. So, the very first thing you should do is work out how much you can afford to spend.

If you’re really lucky, you’ll have enough to buy the vehicle outright. This will make the budget really clear and the finances extremely easy to calculate. However, this is probably not realistic for the vast majority of families.

The far more likely situation is that you will require a car loan. There are many different types of car loans available and the best one for you will depend on your specific circumstances. However, you should only ever choose one that you can comfortably afford to repay.

If you’re upgrading to a newer car, you should be able to trade in your current vehicle. This will help bring down the price you’ll need to pay but be careful when estimating your trade-in amount. As most dealerships use trade-ins as a sales technique, the amount you’re offered will vary – but it’ll almost always be lower than the list price of other similar vehicles.

Does it have all the practicalities you need?

Once you know how much you can spend, you need to work out what you actually require.

For most families, size is usually the main consideration. In addition to having enough seats for everyone, you will need enough space for all of your stuff. And, if you’re planning to grow your family, you should factor that into your decision making too.

You should also think about how you will actually use your car. If you rarely leave the suburbs, the extra expense of a large 4WD probably isn’t worth it. Similarly, if you regularly drive long distances or on dirt roads, you need something that can stand up to that.

A few other things you might want to check:

  • Is it big enough to fit your car seats? You might want to take them with you on your test drive to check.
  • Is the height right for you? Too high and you may struggle getting in and out. Too low and you could do some serious damage to your back getting your kids in and out.
  • Is the boot big enough? Again, don’t be afraid to bring some bags to the dealership to check.

What’s the safety rating?

Accidents happen. While you may not want to think about that, it’s a reality. So, it’s much better to have the best possible protection and hope you’ll never need them.

Thankfully, car safety technology has come a long way over the past 20 – 30 years. Most models now come with a range of features as standard. However, a lot of variety still exists and each manufacturer has their own definition of ‘safe’.

To make sure you’re getting the best, find out the ANCAP rating. The top rating is 5 and this is what you should be aiming for.

Beyond that, features you should look out for include:

  • Airbags covering every row of seats (now standard in newer cars)
  • The right child seat fixtures (now standard in newer cars)
  • Automatic emergency breaking
  • Reverse parking cameras
  • Lane departure warnings
  • Blind spot monitoring

While it’s not essential to have all of these features, each has its benefits and could keep your family safer.

How much it will cost to maintain?

Cars are not only expensive to buy, they can be expensive to keep running. While you can keep the costs down by doing some of the maintenance yourself, certain expenses are unavoidable. Knowing what these are before you buy could save you a nasty shock down the road.

The most obvious ongoing costs are fuel, servicing, and insurance. Each of these will vary from vehicle to vehicle and depend on how much driving you’ll be doing. However, with a little bit of research, you should be able to estimate these ahead of time.

It’s also good to know how much of a hit you might be in for if the worst happens. Some models are notorious for specific mechanical issues, so it’s worth reading some reviews. Similarly, some makes are known for higher parts prices.

How does it make you feel?

Now all the ‘practical’ boxes are ticked, consider the more emotional side. Is the car comfortable? Can you see yourself driving it regularly?

The test drive is supposed to help you work this out, so don’t just go for a lap around the block. If you’re buying from someone in your local area, try driving around your usual route. If there’s a particularly troublesome intersection you regularly deal with, give that a test too. And make sure you get out onto the freeway and see how it handles getting up to a higher speed.

Also, if you can afford to, consider looking something with your favourite luxury feature, like a sunroof or heated seats. These don’t need to be used all the time but will help make some trips a little more comfortable and ‘special’.

Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas
Bill Tsouvalas is CEO and Managing Director of Savvy founded for giving Australians access to finance using the latest technology. Savvy was named one of BRW's fastest-growing companies in 2015. He regularly writes on personal finance, business finance, and economics for a variety of blogs and websites. He is also patron of Kids Under Cover, a charity helping end youth homelessness.
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