My first family car was a 2004 Honda Pilot.
It was the first car I ever purchased new, and I bought it for the specific purpose of transporting two small children (and the 2,673 pounds of gear that goes with them).
There was something special about getting that car, probably because I knew I’d use it from the time I had to install baby seats until my kids learned to drive. Buying that car wasn’t just a selfish act, it was like inviting a new family member in to take care of a couple of precious babies.
Well, my hopes of a long relationship with the Pilot ended just 6 months after the purchase, when a fire consumed the SUV (the family was fine) and left me with nothing but the charred remains of a dream.
I bought other family cars, of course, most recently a vehicle to accommodate two more kids. Needless to say, I have a lot of experience buying family cars and have put together some tips to help others. Whether you’re just starting your family journey or are a seasoned vet, there will be some advice here to help you. (If you’d rather take a look at a list of specific vehicles that have great seating/cargo capacity and safety ratings, feel free to check our recent list of Family-Friendly Kid-Haulers.)
1. If you live in a cold state, get all-wheel drive.
Safety is the most important factor. When the day comes that you have little kids buckled up in the back and you’re facing an uphill drive during an ice storm to get home, you need to know you’ll get there safely.
2. Get leather seats.
The vegetarian in me hates that I said that, but until there’s a non-animal-based alternative out there, leather is a requirement. Cleaning up spilled chocolate milk, mud, and various other excrements from cloth seats is an exercise in futility that I wish upon no one.
3. Skip the DVD players.
These aren’t as common as they were 10 years ago, but don’t spend extra money to get a car with a built-in DVD player. All it does is create spoiled kids who must watch TV every second of their lives. Do we really need to watch SpongeBob on a 15-minute drive to the store? No. Look out the window, kids.
4. Make sure to get ample storage space.
If you’re a family of 4 or 5, a 2-row SUV or AWD minivan should do nicely. Just make sure your folding stroller, your Pack ‘n Play, your diaper bag, your anti-insanity medication, and all other gear fits securely.
5. Don’t forget about small storage spaces.
This includes ample cup holders and little nooks for holding random kid-generated materials. Eventually these extra storage spaces will be filled with melted crayons, bits of Goldfish crackers, and spare Hot Wheels parts, but they’re still required in any family vehicle.
6. Get an automatic liftgate.
When you’re approaching your car after a shopping trip and you must decide between putting the baby on the roof or dropping the eggs to unlock the car, you’ll be pleased to remember that all you have to do is press a button for full access to the cargo area. Don’t skip this one.
7. Easy access to the kids, or a complete barrier between you and them?
When the kids are little, you’ll want to be able to easily turn around and reach them, so you can take part in their adorable shenanigans and cute little sounds. Look for a vehicle that makes it easy to do so. Also plan ahead for their later years, when you’ll want to install a limo-style privacy-glass feature for when those sounds are no longer cute.
What do you consider a great family vehicle and why?