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How to find the perfect family car - 7 tips for nailing your next purchase
With so much choice, looking for your next car can feel overwhelming. Check out our tips for helping you find the right car to suit your family’s lifestyle and budget.
By Gemma Wilcock | Last updated May 5, 2022
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When it comes to picking a family car, there are lots of things to consider. Gone are the days when you picked a car based on how it looks or what horsepower it has, now it’s all about storage and safety.
Whether you want a reliable car for ferrying your kids around on the school run or one that can be packed up for family holidays, there’s a huge variety of vehicles to choose from, including hefty SUVs and spacious estates - but how do you know which one is right for you?
To help you in your search, we scoured our Mumsnet forums to see what our Mumsnetters rated as the top features to look out for when shopping for a new car. Here are our tips for helping you find the vehicle to suit all your family’s needs.
What makes a good family car?
When deciding which car to go for, there are certain factors you need to consider. This is the car you’ll be ferrying around your precious cargo in, so top of the list should be making sure you pick a vehicle that is reliable and made to high safety standards.
A good family car should be affordable – this includes the cost and price of running the car – as well as being functional and practical for making life with a family easier. A car with plenty of space and storage for your growing children and all the things that come with them is also important.
Here are seven things to look out for in a family car, and two Mumsnetters advise you to avoid.
1. Make sure it’s within your budget
“I only lease as I like a high-end newish car. I do four years and pay £285 for an Audi Q3. I budget up to £300 a month and always manage to get something I am happy with for that. I only drive automatic, non-negotiable, so it’s a bit more, but if you’re happy with manual it’s cheaper.” Bluejuicyapple
Before you even start looking at upgrading your car, decide what your budget is. Family cars can be expensive and it can be easy to get carried away when test driving a new car with all the fancy bells and whistles.
Doing your research and working out the costs before you step foot on the sales floor will help you narrow down your search and work out which vehicles are better suited to your needs. This will also help you work out if you can buy a new car or opt for a second-hand vehicle to get the right one for your family.
If you want a higher spec model but don’t have the cash to pay for it, using finance can help you spread out the cost. Just make sure you can afford the repayments.
2. Check the storage capacity
“Must be able to fit two car seats without getting kneed in the back. D-dog must be able to fit comfortably and jump in himself. I'd like to be able to sling kids' bikes in the boot. Got to be efficient and comfortable, style optional!” Indecisivelurcher
This may be one of the most important factors to consider when looking for a family car. Start by looking at how big it is in the back - do you have enough space for all the family to sit comfortably? Do your children have enough leg room?
They may be little when you first buy the car but if you plan on keeping it for a long time, you will probably end up being kicked in the back by their growing legs. If you can, bring your children along for the test drive to see how they fit.
Also, think about your lifestyle and what you will need to use the car for. Will you need to use it for family holidays or carry bikes for trips to the park? Check how big the boot is and if you can easily fit your pushchair in. An ideal boot size for a family should hold a minimum of 300 litres, with many SUVs and estate cars offering up to around 900 litres.
3. Find a trustworthy car dealer
“I always buy from a dealer, for a three month warranty. You pay more but I'd rather have some peace of mind. I haggle hard and I'm not afraid to walk away if the price isn't right for me.” DramaAlpaca
Even if you have an idea of the kind of family car you want, finding a car dealer to buy it from can be a daunting choice in itself. With so many around, how do you know who you can trust to give you the best deal?
If you’re looking for a second-hand car – and it's likely lots of you are as 87% of Brits own or have previously owned a used car – online auto marketplace Your Red Car provides trusted listings to help make the process smooth and less confusing for buyers.
All of the Your Red Car dealers are approved by Santander Consumer Finance to give buyers extra peace of mind. The site has over 1,185 vetted car dealers and over 60,000 cars – from Ford Fiestas to Mercedes-Benzes - which can be narrowed down to help you find a vehicle that fits your needs and budget. Even better, buyers also benefit from a £75 e-gift card reward by purchasing through Your Red Car.
4. Make sure it’s future-proof for your growing family
“We went to a seven seater as soon as we had three. If you are buying a new car anyway, it makes sense to think a few years down the line and plan ahead. You’ll be transporting all the gear for whatever activity/ packing for holidays/ giving one or more child’s friend a ride somewhere, visiting Grandma and taking her out for the day, and someone is going to want a dog. A five-seater with three kids is a short term choice that doesn’t make financial sense and isn’t future-proof.” Nachthexe
If you have a growing brood, it’s important to work out what size vehicle you need both now and in the future. SUVs, minivans and estate cars are popular family cars as they provide a lot of space and versatility.
First, look at how many car seats you can fit in. While there may be three seats in the back, not all cars have enough space to fit three car seats so it’s worth checking if you plan to have more children down the line. It’s mandatory now that all cars have ISOFIX points to ensure car seats are fitted safely, but you’ll need to check this if you’re buying an older vehicle.
Some cars come with a third row of seats, with the ability to seat up to eight passengers. For extra versatility, look for one with rear seats which can be folded away when you need extra storage space.
5. Consider the running costs
“We have two DC with no more planned. We sometimes go away for a few nights to see family in the UK but don’t really drive on holiday. This car would be our main family car…It’s important to me that it’s a reliable car with good fuel economy.” Freshcutflowers
Whether you’ll be using it for everyday life like shopping trips and the school pick up or driving your car to get to work, the costs of running a vehicle can quickly mount up.
When it comes to fuel, do you want to go for a diesel or petrol? It’s thought a car with good fuel economy is around 50-60 mpg (miles per gallon) so do your research first as filling up your tank can get costly if you use your car a lot. Electric cars can be pricey initially, but will be more economical in the long term - just make sure you have somewhere to charge it.
Don’t forget to factor in other costs like your tax and insurance payments, as well as how costly maintenance and repairs will be if something goes wrong.
6. Read up on the safety credentials
“We are now a family of three so need a car that will fit three children (two in car seats) comfortably in the back and enough boot space to fit in all our stuff when we go on holiday. Priorities are that it is safe and reliable.” Grabmygran
Making sure the car is safe will be a high priority for lots of parents. Today’s cars are a lot safer than they used to be and that is because they have to pass a series of tests to be awarded a Euro NCAP (the European New Car Assessment Program) safety rating. Cars are graded 0-5 stars depending on how they perform.
One area parents may want to check before buying a new car is the child occupant protection scores which looks at the safety of the seat restraints and how well the vehicle accommodates child seats. Other safety features to look out for are back-up cameras, parking sensors, blind-spot warning technology and automatic emergency brake which can give you extra peace of mind when you’re on the road with your family.
7. Consider the extra features that you’ll use
“My phone connects by Bluetooth to the stereo. I use Amazon Prime for music (downloaded all the albums I like and made my own playlists) and BBC Sounds app for listening to Radio 2 played through Bluetooth too. This also works as hands free for taking phone calls, and as my sat nav using Google maps.” DartmoorChef
Modern cars come with lots of great features for making the car even more functional. Practical functions include touch screen infotainment systems, USB charging points and smartphone integrations which allows you to make calls, play your children’s favourite music or audiobook all through voice control so that you can keep your eyes on the road.
Other handy technology to look out for - which may not come as standard but can be added as part of a package - include integrated tablets for rear passengers, wi-fi connectivity and access to Netflix, YouTube and arcade games for keeping your children entertained while on the move.
8. Avoid interiors that are hard to clean
No matter how determined you are to keep your car clean, there’ll be spilled drinks, muddy shoes and dirty hand marks all over the car. While cloth-covered seats are standard in most vehicles (and also cheaper), they’re not always the easiest to clean. If you can, opt for a wipeable material, such as leather, which will help your vehicle last longer and save you time scrubbing away stains.
9. Avoid opting for style over substance
Before you have children, you may have had a fast, stylish car with all the fancy extras, but with a family, it is much more important to make sure the car is reliable. A car that is constantly breaking down won’t be of any use to you when you’re rushing out of the door on the school run or going away on holiday.
What are the best family cars to consider?
Excellent head and leg room and huge boot. We've just had a tow bar put on for a bike rack.
When it comes to storage, the Skoda Octavia Estate packs a punch. The boot offers up to 640-litres of space, which increases up to 1,700 litres when the rear seats are folded down – perfect for holidays or packing up the bikes for a day out. There’s also loads of room in the back for a family, so children have plenty of space to grow with enough room in the middle for another car seat or an older child.
A Volvo XC90, they have a built-in booster seat in the middle of the middle row seats and the boot is massive with the back seats down.
With the option to seat up to seven people, the Volvo XC90 is a great car for a growing family. The seats in the third row are spacious enough for adults or older teenagers and they can be easily folded away when not needed.
This is an SUV that is both luxurious and practical and is available in hybrid and mild-hybrid options with a host of clever technology, including an automatic braking system, satnav, rear parking sensors and the world-first air cleaning system, which has been designed to clean 95% of hazardous particles.
We’ve had two now and would definitely recommend them as a family car. The boot is huge...it’s also comfortable with two car seats and an adult in the back
Even if you don’t know much about cars, you’ll have probably seen one of these around - that’s because the Ford Focus has been a reliable family car for years.
This is due to it being comfortable, practical and competitively priced. The hatchback has lots of space without being too big and although the boot isn’t as big as the likes of the Octavia, it can hold up to 375 litres so there’s plenty of room for packing the pram and bags for a day out or a long weekend away.
I love my Hyundai Tucson. It's a couple of years old and it's a dream to drive, great handling, fairly nippy, feels big but not massive, roomy boot, enough gadgetry. Would highly recommend.
If you’re looking for a mid-size SUV that is good value for money, the Hyundai Tucson is a great option. It’s practical, spacious and comfortable for getting out and about with a family of four. There’s a huge boot (620 litres), space for a fifth person to sit in the back (great if you have an older child) and lots of legroom in both the front and back. The Tucson also has a five year warranty which will give you peace of mind if anything goes wrong.
About Your Red Car
Your Red Car is an online second hand car marketplace, powered by Santander UK. The platform was launched to make the car-buying process fair to all and simple to use. All dealers are approved by Santander Consumer Finance, providing customers with peace of mind when buying their next car. Customers will be rewarded with a £75 e-gift card for every successful purchase. The key messages here are the affordability of buying a secondhand car, and the reliability and trust elements of having the peace of mind that all dealers are approved by a reputable and trustworthy UK brand, Santander.