Buying a car is almost never as fun as it’s supposed to be. There’s way too much choice, it’s tough trying to work out how far your budget can actually get you and you’ve got all sorts of finance offers being thrown at you which you can’t figure out as to whether they’re a good deal or not. Chuck the fact that you’re looking for a family car into the mix, and the pressure to get things right is really on.
The good news is that if you do your research before you buy, it gets a lot easier to make the right choice. In further good news, picking a good family car can be boiled down to three fundamental areas: size, pricing and safety. Here’s a simple look into the thought process behind all three.
The family car market has changed quite significantly in recent years. Hatchbacks are bigger, and thus now more viable for smaller families. Crossover SUVs are now the car to have, they come in a variety of sizes ranging from slightly bigger bodied hatchbacks through to 7-seater beasts. Estate cars, once the family staple, appear to have shifted firmly towards the executive, company car market, but can still do a (rather posh) job for families. And then there are people carriers, or MPVs, the forgotten loyal servants of large families, which are still readily available to cram four teenagers in as and when required.
What the above word salad tells you about family cars is that your choice today is quite extensive, but there is quite a lot of variation within car types that can, for example, make some types of SUV much better for small families and others much better for big ones. As a general rule of thumb, smaller families (of up to 5 at a push) can now feasibly look to the hatchback and smaller SUV markets for quality, affordable options. If you’ve got a bigger family though, your options become slightly more limited, looking to 7-seater SUVs and ever reliable MPVs.
Whatever type of car you’re looking for, make sure it doesn’t just have the right number of seats, but actually has the practical room for your family to be comfortable and carry out the jobs you need it to do. Especially for those with younger kids or longer journeys on their hands, space and comfort is essential.
Every car purchase comes down to price to some degree, and once you’ve established the practical features you need from your car, your budget will be the defining factor in narrowing down your search. The bigger a family car gets, the more expensive it tends to get, too, so there are a couple of questions you need to ask yourself when going into a purchase:
- New or used: considering just how much more new cars cost than used, you should only really opt for a new option if absolute pristine reliability is of paramount importance to you. If you do go down that route, expect to take on a considerable, long term finance deal that needs to be factored into your wider family budget. In almost all other circumstances, you’re better off opting for a used car, as you can find reliable, high quality used family cars out there that offer significant reductions against new alternatives.
- Petrol or diesel: speaking in terms of economy, petrol cars are better for shorter, more stop-start trips, while diesel cars are better for longer haul drives. Petrol vs diesel is far from the only debate on this front these days, as you’ll be able to find plenty of affordable hybrid options, as well as tempting new electric options, that offer increased economy packages. Just make sure you’re paying attention to the upfront price, which can go way up the more electrified your chosen car gets.
Safety is always important in cars, but with a family car that’s going to carry your kids around, the safety features of a vehicle become even more of a focus. Once you’ve found a car big enough for your needs that fits your price criteria, it’s important you check off its key safety features to ensure you’re getting what you would expect from a modern vehicle. Things you should want are:
- A quality crash safety rating, which you can find via Euro NCAP
- Quality head restraints
- Additional airbags beyond those considered standard
- Pre-tension and load-limited seat belts
- Driver assist technologies – like the ones listed in this Which? article.
The amount of safety features you’ll get will largely depend on the age of the car, so the newer you can go when buying, at least in this regard, the better.
So, what does buying a family car come down to? By and large, a lot of common sense, but sometimes the most obvious stuff doesn’t occur to you, especially when kicking the tyres on a private seller’s used car. Use this guide as a quick refresher, and hopefully you’ll buy a vehicle that ticks every box and gives you a good few years of trusty service.