Searching for a new family car can be a difficult process. There are many body styles to choose from -- car, van, wagon, SUV -- and a wide variety of different makes, models and trim levels. But we happen to think that family-friendly features are just as important as any of those items, so we've listed our favorite features that you should be sure to include in your next family vehicle.
You might think a backup camera is most effective at keeping you from hitting a column in a dimly lit parking garage or maybe from colliding with another car in a tight lot. But in reality, there are many backover accidents every year in the United States where unsuspecting drivers hit children, largely because children are often too small to be seen in most rearview mirrors. Enter the backup camera, which will soon become a federal safety requirement in all new cars. Designed to show drivers what they can't see in a rearview mirror, a backup camera is one of the most useful safety features a parent can have in a modern family car.
Blind Spot Warnings
Of all the modern safety features -- items including forward-collision alert, adaptive cruise control and rear cross-traffic alert -- we think that a blind spot warning system is the best safety feature for a family vehicle. Our reasoning is that drivers who spend a lot of time hauling around their children are often distracted, whether it's breaking up a fight, talking to the kids or just keeping an eye on the passengers in back. That means you won't always have the time to scan the areas around your car for other vehicles. The blind spot monitor will do that for you, keeping you and your kids safe from potentially dangerous lane changes.
When you're behind the wheel of a car full of children, the last thing you'll want to do is talk on a handheld phone. You'll need your hands free to drive and for the usual parental tasks of settling arguments and opening the occasional snack or drink. That's why Bluetooth is an essential feature for shoppers interested in a family vehicle. Even better, we suggest that you choose a vehicle with a text-to-talk feature. Some of the best examples of this technology can even read your text messages out loud, which means you never have to take your hands off the wheel while you're driving.
For car shoppers interested in an SUV, a station wagon or a sedan, this one won't apply. But if you're interested in a new minivan, trust us when we say that power-sliding doors will change your life. This is especially true if you have a smaller child who may not be able to open and close a minivan's heavy doors. Opt for a van with power-sliding doors, and the doors open and close automatically with the push of a button, and best of all, they stop if they detect something in the way. No more smashed fingers and no more headaches when you're trying to get children in and out of a van.
Simple LATCH System
The LATCH system -- an acronym for "lower anchors and tethers for children" -- is designed to make it especially easy to load a child seat into a car. In spite of this, some cars are still much easier than others for installing a child seat. If you're a new parent, we suggest bringing a car seat along with you to the test drive. That way, you can figure out whether or not it's easy to install the seat in the car you're considering, and you can save yourself the trouble of buying a new car with seating that makes it difficult to install a child seat.
We've all seen them: those stick-on sunshades that many car owners place on their rear windows to keep the sun out of children's eyes. The problem is that many of them aren't very effective, and they often fall down. Fortunately, many automakers offer built-in sunshades that block the whole window and eliminate this problem entirely. While this feature still isn't as common as it should be, it's becoming more widespread, and we suggest you make sure your next car includes it so you don't waste time fumbling with a stick-on sunshade that just won't stay in place.
For many parents, third-row seating is a must-have feature in any new family vehicle. But many parents or soon-to-be parents aren't sure why they need the feature. After all, it's just two parents and one or two kids, so why do you need seating for seven? The problem is that your children will soon make friends, and that extra row will come in handy when they need to come over for a sleepover, a school project or a playdate. Our advice: Spring for the third row, because it's a lot cheaper than buying one car now and hastily trading it in later if you find out it's not practical enough.