8 Must-Consider Factors for Every Family Car

Really big family car

New baby on the way? Congrats! If you’re like most expecting parents, a new family car may be in the cards. At Shift, we have a number of new parents in the office, which got us thinking, what exactly makes a car family friendly or not? We asked them to find out.


1) Headcount

Small families can get away with significantly smaller cars than larger families can, so first take stock of your brood and figure out what car size is right for you.

“Even if you only have one or two kids, once they hit middle school you’ll be chauffeuring their friends too.” – Erica

“Your car requirements for baby #1 are going to be pretty different than for baby #3. If you have or are planning to have three or more kids, a car with third row seating is highly advisable (…as is a very good wine club membership.)” – Matt


2) Safety

“With kids, your car’s safety becomes important in a way it’s never been before. The two things you want to check out for any car you’re considering are their NHTSA and IIHS ratings. Both test different things, both are important.” – Kristin

Every year the NHTSA and IIHS publish their picks for safest cars. If your car is on this list or has been in recent years, that’s a great sign. Side impact airbags are especially important for kids in the backseats.

“The build quality of the doors alone are unlike anything else I was looking at. They are so thick and solid that in a side impact collision, I know the kids would be protected.” – Matt

3) Ease of cleaning

With kids, accidents happen. A lot. Pick a car with easy to clean surfaces, and don’t forget the various nooks and crannies. Kids will manage to stick stuff in every possible crack, so easily washable pockets, cup holders, and other storage areas is going to be a really big deal if you want to maintain any semblance of car cleanliness.

“Leather is perfect for kids, so easy to clean.” – Matt

“Some new minivans have a vacuum built into the trunk. It’s so useful for cleaning up a quick spill. Not all of them have it though so you definitely have to look/ask for it.” – Luke

“All weather floor mats are awesome. Prevents the crushed up Cheddar Bunnies from getting stuck in the stock carpet mats. You can just take them out and hose them off.” – Matt

4) Trunk capacity

There’s an exponential relationship between number of kids and quantity stuff. For all the various things parenting requires, get a car that’s up to the task. Fold-down “stow and go” rear seating can help a lot with this, so consider adding that to your checklist.

“Traveling with children likely means you will be carting around A LOT of stuff. My previous car was a 2008 Subaru WRX sedan which I absolutely loved, but the stroller alone took up the majority of my trunk space. Even with the Q7, road trips for long weekends leave me packed to the brim, but I’ve always been able to fit it all and not yet had to invest in the Thule box for the roof rack.” – Matt

“I bought an SUV just because trunk was high enough that I could change lay baby in the trunk and change diaper without having to look for a changing table. This was my #1 reason to get an SUV vs. sedan and I will never look back.” – Anya

5) Rear seat room

Modern baby car seats are bulkier than ever. Get a car with plenty of room for the car seat and what one of our parents called “kicking space.”

“This was something I had never considered before kids, but after we had our first daughter, I realized the impact a car seat can have on the driver or passenger’s leg room. In the 2007 Honda Pilot we had, the seat would need to come so far forward to clear the rear facing car seat, that your knees were touching the glove box. Now that my oldest is forward facing, an added bonus is that it’s a lot harder for her to kick the seats (Dad’s pet peeve!!)”  – Matt

“Also, if you prefer LATCH fastening, make sure all the seats have car seat fasteners. Some don’t have it in the middle seat.” – Lindsey

“Only the wider cars can fit 3 car seats in 1 row. My Acura TL can’t fit 3 but our Odyssey does no problem.” – Luke

6) Budget

There are great family cars across the budget range, but you’ll want to make sure that you and your significant other are in the same budgetary ballpark.

“Becoming a parent is rife with new daily charges that add up quickly and can throw a personal budget way off. Because of that, I think not having a car payment that carries interest, and working on living within your means is a pretty important concept when buying a car and becoming a parent.” – Kristin

When choosing on the approximate price range, don’t just think about base price. A lot of the features you’ll want will be in the more expensive trim levels. Then, there’s always the ongoing costs to consider, so let’s talk about that next.

7) Reliability and cost of ownership

These are both important factors that a lot of new car guides don’t typically touch upon but can be really make-or-break for a family car. A car that is constantly in the shop won’t do much good as a family car.

We went with a Honda CR-V for a lot of different reasons, but mainly because I knew that honda’s had really great service records, and were super reliable cars. Didn’t hurt that it was comfortable and fit our lifestyle. Once we had our baby, the car morphed easily into a family car, and we are still super happy with it. – Kristin

The second factor here is the ongoing price to own the car. Kids are expensive enough, so make sure you’re properly taking this into consideration. Edmunds has a great guide to estimate both of these costs for the family car you’re considering.

8) Features

Kids have totally unique needs when it comes to car features. Headrest TVs and charging ports are just some of the things you’ll want to think about when you consider the backseat passenger experience.

“I’m a huge fan of any automatic or one-handed features. You often have a kid or a carseat in your hand, so automatic doors are amazing, one hand fold down, fold up seats are great, one hand trunk opening is great too.” – Luke

What’d our parents miss? Are there any features that you consider must-have? Let us know in the comments.