Parenthood is an exciting, transformative journey — one that comes with a fair share of lifestyle changes to plan for. Often, one of those changes is transitioning to a child-friendly vehicle that’ll better fit the needs of your growing family. It might be tempting to search “best cars for new parents” and simply buy the first one on the list, but that may not be practical. The reality is, finding the best car for your family is often as personal as the decision to become new parents in the first place and may deserve just as much careful consideration.
Finding the best vehicle for new parents: Getting started
The first step to finding the best vehicle for your family might be to ask yourself what type of vehicle would fit in with, or improve, your lifestyle as new parents. Think about what features, like extra cabin space for baby supplies, could assist your day-to-day life, and let those answers guide you to a better-informed decision.
As a new parent, you may already know that, although specifics may vary by state, child car seats are mandatory in some form or other across the United States. You might also have found that these child seats take up a good amount of space you may need to accommodate for. Consider cars with spacious cabins, like SUVs or minivans, to help you maximize your legroom and comfortability — which is also helpful if you need a pet-friendly car, too. You may also ask yourself what size family you’re planning. If you prefer a big family where your kids have lots of siblings, features like third-row seating might be worth looking out for.
When you bring a baby into the fold, you may not realize how much stuff comes with them. Diapers, bottles, formula, toys, blankets, changes of clothing — that’s just some of the stuff you’ll likely need to bring along when you head out to show them off to the rest of your family. The best car for a new mom or dad is often one that has ample storage space to accommodate all these essentials, some extra groceries and several larger items you may not be used to — like strollers or carriages. When trying to find the best cabin space to seat everyone, SUVs, crossovers and minivans may be your best bet for extra cargo capacity. If you don’t think cargo capacity is as pressing a concern, some sedans may have large enough trunks to suit your needs, possibly with folding rear seats to allow access to the trunk from the cabin.
The best car for a new family living in the city could be different from one living in more rural areas. If you’re an urban driver, you may want to consider sedans since they tend to be more agile and easier to maneuver around sharp corners and busy roads. A smaller sedan may also help your ability to park in tight spaces, but will likely come at the cost of cabin and cargo space.
New families driving down rougher backroads or living areas prone to inclement weather may choose to opt for a truck or SUV, possibly with off-roading capabilities. The best SUVs for new parents in rural areas typically emphasize better traction for icy or muddy roads. If you plan on towing a boat or trailer for family adventures, you may want to opt for a truck with a sufficient payload capacity – though SUVs also have towing capabilities, they’re typically more limited than heavy-duty trucks.
Your future needs
There are many factors to weigh when deciding which vehicle would be the best for you as a new parent. While you may be focused on accommodating your new addition, it’s also helpful to think about your future. Are you considering growing your family further? Will your children need space for sports gear or instruments? Are you considering purchasing a trailer or boat, and will that need to be towed?
The criteria you set for what the best vehicle for your family looks like will be unique to your lifestyle and circumstances — take your time and consider which features will be most valuable to your family's needs down the road.
Seeking safe cars for babies
As a new parent, safety features are likely a top priority. Choosing a safe car for a new baby is an important decision you may not be taking lightly. Fortunately, most modern cars come with a selection of advanced safety features you might be able to add to your vehicle — with a few that could benefit new parents in particular.
Check for safety ratings
Modern cars often come with several standard safety features available, but due to differences in design and manufacturing, they may have varying safety abilities. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) and National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA) conduct crash tests and provide safety ratings through a standardized system for a wide range of vehicles on the road. These may be great resources to educate yourself about safe cars for babies with information from trusted sources.
Lower anchor and tethers for children (LATCH)
Modern children's car seats are often affixed to a LATCH system rather than a seatbelt. LATCH systems consist of built-in straps and anchors that may make attachment easier and safer than a seatbelt. When you’re considering safe cars for babies, this feature may be especially important to look out for.
Advanced driver assist systems (ADS)
Advanced driver assist systems (ADS) are designed to improve the safety and convenience of driving your vehicle. They work by monitoring the environment around your car to provide real-time information and alerts to avoid collisions and other potential hazards. Depending on the system available, features could include lane departure warnings, adaptive cruise control and corrective steering — all of which may be helpful safety measures for everyday driving.
Rear-door child safety locks
Children love to reach and grab, so having rear-door child safety locks may be essential for your peace of mind. This system typically consists of buttons on the driver’s door that allow the window switches and door panels to be locked individually. Not every car comes with complete individual controls, so be sure to double check if this is a feature in the car you’re considering.
Although not often found as a standard feature, new parents may upgrade their car's safety by installing a mirror on the passenger headrest above a rear-facing car seat. This way, you can still see your new baby’s rosy cheeks from your rearview mirror and keep a watchful eye over their safety.
Planning for a car as a new mom or dad
Finding the best car as a new mom or dad means planning thoroughly to be sure you're making the right decision for your family. Factoring in things such as the practicality of your vehicle and your ability to afford it may be an important part of your decision-making process.
Plan for your budget
Starting a family typically comes at a considerable financial cost, and you may want to be sure that you can adequately afford to finance a new vehicle as a new parent. Creating a detailed budget will likely mean considering financial costs like:
- Monthly car payments: Children typically come with a lot of costs, like diapers, baby food, clothing, education and medical expenses. You may need to think about how a potential monthly car payment fits into all this. You could consider buying a used car vs. new car if you’re looking to potentially spend less, but bear in mind that older models may not be equipped with certain advanced safety features.
- The cost of insurance: While requirements vary based on your state, you will be required to buy some form of car insurance for your vehicle and maintain that policy throughout your ownership. Your insurance cost will depend on the type of coverage you’re considering and personal factors such as your age and driving habits.
- Extra costs of car ownership: Consider every single cost associated with owning a vehicle and how that fits with your budget. Paying for gas may be an example of a necessary cost that you could potentially lower with vehicles that offer better miles-per-gallon. You also may want to remember the cost of routine maintenance, as it may be important to be diligent with your car maintenance schedule to possibly avoid an expensive repair in the future.
Look into convenience features
As a new mom or dad, you may want to streamline your car to be as hassle-free as possible while you navigate the waters of parenting. The best vehicle for a mom or dad may include the smaller details that make your life easier like:
- Easy-to-clean fabrics: Crying over literal spilled milk? Choosing a liquid-friendly interior fabric could be a gamechanger for maintaining a clean car. Typically, leather is the easiest to clean as its flat, relatively non-porous surface makes wiping liquids away easier than fabric — however, this often comes at an extra cost.
- Cupholder capacity: As your family grows, so may the need for adequate drive-through cup storage. While this may be a matter of convenience, it could factor into your everyday comfortability.
- USB ports: You may want to charge your own devices, and as your child grows, they’ll likely want to charge up their own technology. Having USB ports throughout the vehicle cabin may make your life in the modern age just a bit easier.
- Infotainment systems: Modern car infotainment systems can be a lot of fun to use, and versions that are available in the rear seats may be especially useful for parents looking to keep young ones busy while they stay focused on the road.
In truth, finding the best car as a new parent might come down to asking yourself important, personal questions about what kind of car would fit into or improve your new lifestyle. This helps make it easier to narrow down your choices and make an informed decision, so you can get to the most exciting step — proudly slapping that “Baby Onboard” decal onto your first family car.