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Friday Five: Five Things to Look for in a Family Car

By Tim Healey

You’re buying a new car – or a used car that’s new to you – and you want a vehicle that suits your family’s needs. What are the top five things you should be looking for in a family vehicle? From safety to space to fuel economy, here are five things to look for, in no particular order. 

1. Driving/Safety Aids

New cars, as well as late-model used cars, offer plenty of high-tech features that aim to help prevent collisions. Some of these features are passive and some are active – with active meaning that the vehicle uses semi-autonomous driving technology to help avoid a collision. Automatic emergency braking systems that apply the brakes when an obstacle is detected and the driver hasn’t applied the brakes in time are one example of active-safety tech. Other examples of active and passive safety tech include blind-spot monitoring systems, rear cross-traffic alert systems, lane-centering or lane-keeping systems, evasive-steering assist systems, and pedestrian-detection systems. These systems are becoming standard on new cars more often. 

2. Crashworthiness

Even with systems in place that are meant to help prevent collisions, crashes still do happen. If you’re wondering how your potential purchase will fare should a collision occur, you can check out the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and Insurance Institute for Highway Safety’s Web sites for crash ratings. The ratings cover older vehicles, as well. In addition, NHTSA is a good resource for other safety topics. 

3. Fuel economy

Fuel costs are a big part of any family’s budget, and the government provides an easy-to-use resource for comparison purposes. Fueleconomy.gov is a one-stop-shop for most information about fuel consumption. Electric vehicles are also covered, too. 

4. Space

Do you need three rows of seating, or just two? Seven seats, or eight? What about cargo space? If you’re comparing vehicles, you can use spec-heavy reviews from sites like Cars.com and Consumer Guide or more subjective reviews from sites (shameless plug) The Truth About Cars. The key is figuring out what you need and want, what your use case is, and then comparing numbers and measurements. 

5. Car seats

If your children are young, you’ll need car seats. Cars.com has a comprehensive guide to car seats that can help you choose which model is right for you. Considering how much of a pain it can be to take car seats into and out of vehicles, getting the purchase right the first time will save you a ton of hassle. 

There are many things to look for when buying a family car – or any car – but those five are key when searching for a vehicle for your family. Don’t forget to test drive whatever vehicle you’re considering, as well, to make sure it’s the right fit for you. 

Tim Healey grew up around the auto-parts business and has always had a love for cars — his parents joke his first word was “‘Vette”. Despite this, he wanted to pursue a career in sports writing but he ended up falling semi-accidentally into the automotive-journalism industry, first at Consumer Guide Automotive and later at Web2Carz.com. He also worked as an industry analyst at Mintel Group and freelanced for About.com, CarFax, Vehix.com, High Gear Media, Torque News, FutureCar.com, Cars.com, among others, and of course Vertical Scope sites such as AutoGuide.com, Off-Road.com, and HybridCars.com. He’s an urbanite and as such, doesn’t need a daily driver, but if he had one, it would be compact, sporty, and have a manual transmission. 

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