Buying a vehicle for a family is definitely different from buying a vehicle for individual personal use. With the latter, you can usually afford to be less practical and focus on things that you like. However, when you buy a vehicle that will be used by mom and dad, plus one or more children, you have to focus on different things. Read on for the 15 steps to choosing the right vehicle for your household.
1. Figure Out What Size You Need
Size is a very important factor when choosing a vehicle for multiple people. It also has to be a consideration depending on the size of the individuals involved. For example, some vehicles are not comfortable in the front or back for tall people. If you have young children, you can get away with a smaller vehicle such as a four-door hatchback or sedan. However, if you have teens, it’s likely that you’ll need something roomier such as an SUV or minivan. One thing to remember is that some smaller vehicles can be surprisingly roomy, so don’t discount them without a test-drive.
2. Four-Door or Two-Door
In general, if you’re looking for a vehicle to serve more than two people, you’ll want to avoid two-door layouts on both cars and trucks. You may be able to get away with it for a short time if you have one small child, but it’s likely to become very tedious to push back the front seats to let rear passengers out every day.
3. Consider Overbuying
If you have more than two kids or plan to have more, then you may want to consider buying a larger vehicle at the beginning rather than waiting to run out of space. Even if a four-door sedan or smaller crossover fits your lifestyle now, it may not in only a few years as your kids get bigger and/or you have more kids. If you have a dog or dogs along with kids, getting a larger vehicle tends to be more practical. In order to have your vehicle make the most financial sense in the long run, you may need to consider buying that three-row SUV or minivan now rather than later.
4. Consider Where You Live
This includes both the geographic area where you live and your living situation such as a house or apartment. If you live in an area that routinely sees rough winters, then you’ll likely want to consider a vehicle with either a 4WD option or full-time AWD. Where you store your vehicle should also be a consideration. It’s important that your vehicle can fit into your garage or driveway. In order to see how it works, if you live close to the dealership, you might consider bringing the vehicle to your house during the test-drive.
5. Assess Your Lifestyle
What you and your kids and spouse like to do on a regular basis should also be a consideration in choosing a vehicle. Do you like to travel? Do you need to tow a trailer, camper or boat? Do you often transport other kids to and from sporting events? Is your main weekend activity going to malls or grocery stores? All of these different scenarios are likely to require a different type of vehicle. Unless the boat is very light, you won’t get the towing power you need with a crossover or minivan in most cases. A large SUV or crew-cab pickup truck is a better fit. On the other hand, if you mainly transport several kids to sporting events, the best vehicle is likely to be a minivan as they have the largest amount of pure space among vehicle types and the sliding door makes it easy for the rear passengers to get in and out.
6. Define a Budget
Once you’ve figured out what type of vehicle is likely to best fit your household, then it’s time to define a budget. This will allow you to know what kind of vehicles to look at if you have multiple options to consider. It will also allow you to know what kind of features you can afford and which ones you may have to live without. The primary factors to look at when defining a budget are how much you can afford for a monthly payment and a down payment. However, you should also consider loan terms and length as you don’t want to end up underwater on your vehicle purchase.
7. Research Both New and Used Vehicles
Even though a common piece of advice is that buying used always makes the most financial sense, that’s not always true. Buying a lightly used vehicle does indeed avoid the immediate depreciation of a new vehicle. However, dealer and manufacturer incentives can often make up for this difference in price. Looking at new vehicles can make the most sense if you don’t have a specific make and model in mind. You can then simply compare incentives to get the best deal. If you do have a specific make and model in mind, then you’re usually better off looking at used vehicles if you can’t afford the latest model year.
8. Look At Fuel Efficiency
In some cases, you may not have much choice if your lifestyle requires a large SUV or truck. However, if it doesn’t, then opting for a minivan or a hybrid crossover is usually a better choice to get maximum fuel economy. If you don’t need as much room, then a four-door car with a four-cylinder engine typically gets better fuel economy than a larger vehicle or one with a six-cylinder engine. When it comes to trucks, you will generally get better fuel economy with a diesel engine versus a gas one.
9. Look at Safety Features
There’s no doubt that safety features are a very important consideration in choosing a family vehicle. Modern vehicles often have numerous safety features that are available standard as well as optional. If you intend to have regular rear passengers, then it’s important that your new vehicle comes with side airbags. However, you’ll also want to be aware of that if you place children in booster seats in the backseat as they should not be near the side airbags. Other important safety features to consider include warning systems for leaving things, children or pets in the backseat as well as driver-assist systems that warn and take action against impending crashes. It’s easy to get distracted when driving with children.
10. Consider the Interior
If your household includes small children, then you might want to consider the interior of your prospective vehicle and how it can guard against messes. Leather or faux leather upholstery is much easier to clean from spills and crumbs than fabric. The same goes for vehicles that use hard interior flooring versus carpeting. You may find this as an option in some trucks and SUVs. Also, take into account the color of the interior. Darker colors won’t look as dirty as light colors.
11. Entertainment Options
If you have kids in your household, then it’s almost inevitable that you’ll need to consider entertainment features in your next vehicle. This is especially true if you often take long road trips. Some vehicles definitely come more connected than others, from DVD and satellite options to USB ports and more.
12. Small Details
Along with entertainment options, it’s a good idea to look at other small details that might make life more comfortable in your new vehicle. For example, the number of cup holders in the rear seats or whether there are rear climate control options. Rear seat comfort and legroom are other important considerations. However, you should also prioritize useful features and strive not to pay for options and features that you won’t use or don’t really need.
13. Take a Test-Drive
Once you’ve picked out a vehicle that fits your needs, then it’s time to test-drive it. This is an important step that can make or break how well the vehicle really fits your household. It’s a good idea to have everyone along who will be riding in it, including mom, dad, and all kids. Both you and your spouse should drive it as well to make sure it works for both.
14. Close the Deal
If the test-drive meets your expectations, then it’s time to close the deal. Be aware of any charges on the paperwork that you didn’t expect and question them if necessary. It’s also important to make sure the financing terms are in line with what you expected.
15. Take Delivery
Finally, take advantage of the delivery moment to find out how your new vehicle’s equipment works. Anything you don’t understand, you should ask for an explanation. Ask about navigation, entertainment, safety features and anything else that you don’t fully understand how to use. There’s nothing worse than paying for optional equipment that you can’t use when you need it.