Buying a car Top 10 family car buying tips
- We compare hatchback, saloons and people carriers.
- Choose the right car for transporting children.
- Find out which features to opt for and those to avoid.
Buying a family car can be difficult. Instead of looking simply at reliability and how well a car drives, you need to consider its practicality for different members of the family.
Children, parents and pets all need to be a part of your car decision, so there are numerous things to consider. Our top 10 tips for buying a family car will show you what to look for. Then read our best medium cars, best large cars and best MPVs guides to find out all the cars we recommend.
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1. Hatchback vs saloon
Hatchbacks tend to have bigger boots than saloons
While saloon cars often look deceptively bigger than hatchbacks, the reality is they are not as flexible. Loading pushchairs and prams into some saloon boots can be tricky, due to narrow openings and high load lips. When testing pushchairs, Which? rates each model for how easy it is to fit into the boot of a popular car. Find out if your pushchair will fit by reading our pushchair reviews. Alternatively, take your pram or pushchair with you when you view a car to ensure it will fit. Hatchbacks also allow you to transport dogs and other pets, while saloons don’t.
2. Wide-opening doors
Opting for five doors instead of three is a given. However, make sure the back pair open wide enough for you to install a child car seat and get younger children in and out of the car. This is especially important if you suffer from a bad back or are more than six feet tall. Wide-opening doors are also practical if you regularly transport adult family members. Sliding rear doors, as found on some MPVs (such as the Ford Grand C-Max and Volkswagen Sharan), offer even more convenient access - especially in cramped car-parks.
Wide door apertures make fitting child seats easier
3. Stadium seating
As well as wide rear door apertures, it’s also worth looking out for raised rear seating. So-called 'stadium seating' – where the rear seats are higher up than the fronts – is a feature usually limited to MPVs and SUVs to make it easier to fit child car seats and children. It also gives children a better view out of the front, which is claimed to reduce travel sickness. If you buy a car with stadium seating, ensure the rear head restraints are still easy to remove – they may need to come off to fit a child car seat.
4. You may need an MPV
Forget any perceptions you have of MPVs/people carriers – if you have three young children, all needing to be seated in child car seats, people carriers or larger 4x4s are probably the only viable options to transport the entire family safely. Cars with two fold-up seats in the boot can also come in handy if you occasionally need to transport seven. Bear in mind, though, that you will have precious little boot space when all seven seats are occupied.
Can you switch the passenger airbag off?
5. Can you switch off the passenger airbag?If you have a very young child who may need to be transported in a rear-facing child seat fitted to the passenger seat, ensure you choose a car that allows you to deactivate the front airbag. While we don't recommend fitting child seats in the front, if the need arises it's much easier to turn off the airbag yourself than having to ask a main dealer to do it.
6. Isofix is easier
If you need to fit child car seats, Isofix mounting points make this easier, quicker and safer. But make sure these mounting points are easy to access, and take your child car seat along when you view a car to see how easy it is to fit.
Aim for a five-star Euro NCAP safety rating
7. Look at Euro NCAP ratings
For each potential purchase, check out the Euro NCAP scores for crash safety and child protection. It’s also worth taking into account pedestrian protection - if this is a car you're likely to use on the school run, do you really want a car that would hurt someone seriously if you hit them? That 2.5-tonne SUV might not be ideal...
8. Good storage cuts clutter
Find a car with lots of storage space to house children’s toys, food and drinks. Beware of underfloor storage in the rear footwells of some cars; this might seem useful to keep the interior clutter free, but it’s not so good if you’re using an Isofix-mounted child car seat with a support leg, as the leg cannot stand on top of a hollow storage compartment.
In-car DVD players will help keep kids occupied
9. Sliding seatsSliding rear seats can be a real boon. You can push them back to increase rear legroom or slide them forwards to improve boot space and bring children closer to the front seats - making it easier for front passengers to pass them drinks, for example. Some cars also offer a small degree of recline on the rear seats – a good feature to stop kids’ heads lolling forwards if they fall asleep.
10. Child-friendly features
There are lots of other child-friendly features you may want to shop around for, such as integrated sunblinds or UV-filtering tinted rear windows to limit children's sun exposure on long journeys.
Dark-coloured interiors are much better at hiding the inevitable spills and stains you'll get with young kids - avoid beige! Leather is actually a very practical choice as you can wipe it down.
Many parents swear by seat-back or ceiling-mounted DVD screens. If these weren't fitted new (or offered as an option) you can get plenty of cheapish aftermarket systems that simply plug into the car's 12v power supply.
With that in mind, the more 12v power sockets in the car, the better. You might want one for your phone charger or sat nav, and it's handy to have two for older children to plug in their own DVD players or handheld games consoles.