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Now it’s time to check into kid-friendly vehicles. And because needs change as your kids grow, we have divided the advice here into three categories—families with small children, families with school-age kids, and families with teenage drivers—incorporating all the things parents should keep in mind as they go about considering their next set of wheels.
You probably don’t want to take the kids along as you check out all the possibilities at dealerships, but do take them to check out your final choice. Before signing papers you want to make sure everyone fits comfortably in the new vehicle and has easy access to what they need.
Families with small childrenWhen you have an infant or child small enough for a child restraint, car shopping means zeroing in on three things: Child safety, easy access, and cargo area, says Jen Stockburger, manager of Consumer Reports’ Vehicle and Child Safety Program.
Consider the car seat
Child safety, no surprise, has everything to do with the child car seat. Apart from the seat’s safety features and price, part of what makes a car seat the right one for you is how easily you can securely install it in your car. So, if you already own a car seat, or car seats, bring them along when car shopping so you can see if it and your car-to-be are made for each other.
Keep in mind that for your baby’s first two years, she should ride in a rear-facing infant or convertible car seat, as recently recommended by the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration and the American Academy of Pediatrics. That means the backseat of your new car will need to accommodate a seat in the rear-facing position longer. Some sedans that offer plenty of backseat room to accommodate a rear-facing convertible seat include the Nissan Altima, Honda Accord, and Chevrolet Malibu.
As for access, you want to be able to install and remove the car seat and its little passenger (who will be getting less little every day) without turning yourself into a pretzel or straining your back. Same goes for all that baby gear you’ll be toting. Wider door openings and a seat height that doesn’t require too much lifting or bending are features to look for.
If you are in the market for a car seat, see our buying advice and Ratings of every type, for the latest models.
Consider cargo capacity
How much stuff will you be lugging along?
If you plan to have just one child during the life of this car, a sedan’s trunk should suffice—one that can hold a stroller, if not a portable playpen—while larger families can choose larger vehicles such as a minivan, crossover, or SUV.