Finding a new family car has been a major item on the ‘to-do’ list over the last couple of months. We’d had our trusty old blue Renault Clio for almost seven years and been outgrowing it for some time now – the bigger Little Miss, got the smaller the car seemed and trying to get a wriggly toddler in and out of a car seat when you’ve only got two doors (I refuse to say three, the boot is not another door!) was starting to become a Krypton Factor-esque challenge (I’m an 80’s child, I actually loved that show).
Boot space, or lack of, was also an issue. Our Baby Jogger City Mini always fitted in fine (one of the reasons we chose it) but it didn’t leave much room for anything else – a couple of bags of shopping or a travel cot and weekend holdall were about the limit. When we went on holiday last summer we stacked most of our haul into the back seat next to Little Miss and my parents – who luckily came with us (and paid for it!) – had to take a fair bit of extra luggage in their car.
Aside from size mattering, Roo, as we affectionally called the Clio, was also starting to feel his age. In car terms he was an elderly gent, with more than 100,000 miles on the clock and a decade’s driving under his belt. Keeping him on the road was starting to cost more than he was worth.
So we went on the hunt for some new wheels, spending every weekend for a month or so checking out the local car show rooms and spending our evenings reading up online. Here’s what we learnt…
Start with a wish-list
Knowing what we wanted made it easier to narrow down the search. Our must-have list included four doors, a decent sized boot and the ability to fit two car seats plus the occasional adult across the back seats. My husband is tall so the space between the front driver seat and the car seats in the back was also a factor for us. Ideally, we also wanted a higher driving position than the Clio and, while we knew a bigger car would always be more expensive to run, we didn’t want to go completely over the top and end up with a something that would cost us a small fortune. And on top of that reliability and a good safety record were, of course, front of mind.
Used v new
When I say we got a new car, I actually mean new-ish. While we hadn’t discounted the idea of buying new at the start of our search, in the end the kind of car we needed was out of our price range new. That said, we did see some seriously tempting deals – such as chunks of money off or 0% finance. Dealers will work much harder to try and tempt you to go new so it could work in your favour. But there is the inevitable downside that it loses value as soon as you drive off the forecourt.
We also discovered the option of buying a pre-registered vehicle, which can be a good compromise if you really want an almost-new car. Pre-registered cars are pretty much brand new but much cheaper because they have already been registered to one owner, usually a car dealership.
Basically, the dealers buy certain models as a way of ensuring they meet or exceed their sales quotas. It means they take the hit in terms of the initial loss of value but does mean that you effectively become the second rather than first owner, which could in turn affect future resale value for you.
The big downside is that you’re restricted to whatever pre-registered vehicles happen to be available and we found these tended to be the less popular models. For us, the choice was just too limited. But it’s worth considering.
It was worth setting aside time to go and try lots of different models. Our favourites changed on a weekly basis and what we first thought would be the best choice for us definitely wasn’t in the long term. And if you’re looking at used cars – which is what we went for in the end – then new ones come on the market all the time. By being patient you can end up with a nicer, low mileage option at the right price. We ended up going for a three-year-old Ford C Max with one previous owner and just over 6,000 miles on the clock.
Test your car seats
Take your car seats with you and use them for a test drive. One salesman swore blind that another family had fitted three car seats across the back seat of a particular model. Maybe they had much smaller seats than us but we were only aiming for two car seats and enough space to squeeze in an adult and found it was never going to happen unless the adult was some kind if contortionist!
Another reason to test the car seats out is so you can see the position your child will be in. In some models we found Little Miss was much lower down and couldn’t really see out of the window. For her this would be annoying as she’s a nosey sort but also we suspect she may be prone to travel sickness so not being able to see out could make this worse. And the last thing we want is a new car being decorated with vomit!
Online research is really useful
We found the Which site invaluable. Here you can read detailed reviews and reliability ratings for loads of different models. We found it really useful for sussing out what was what and also finding ideas for other models to take a look at based on the kind of thing we already had in mind.
You can sign up for a one-month trial for just £1 then cancel your subscription once you’ve read all you need to.
Car sales men can be a strange breed!
At least the ones we saw were (and we didn’t encounter any ladies at all). There was the nice guy with the unnaturally orange tan – we never worked out whether he’d genuinely been away or if it was out of a bottle.
There was the younger lad who asked if our two-year-old could walk and talk yet, when she’d clearly already made her presence known in the showroom! He was then so desperate to please that when my husband rang to chase some details and mentioned that he’d already left a message he offered to hang up there and then, find the missing message, listen to it then call back again rather than just answer his questions there and then!
Then there was the guy that looked at me as if I’d landed from Mars when I asked if he had a printed list of details for the cars he was trying to sell us. Surely an obvious request?!
As well as our more official online research, I also took to Twitter to see if any fellow parents had any helpful advice. Of course they did…
– Light coloured upholstery is a no no! Leather upholstery is easier to clean, however you can get a Supaguard treatment for cloth which will make it more water resistant.
– Colour… it can get hot in summer, so stick to light coloured cars (whoops, we ended up with black!).
– Check your buggy/pram fits in the boot easily and still allows room for shopping.
– Check the car seat fits (she had to buy a new one).
Use the DVLA website so you can check when work’s been done and if it’s ever had serious faults etc.
Look for a ‘green’ car they chuck out less co2! They are also lower on road tax and insurance so cheaper for your bank balance.
If you can get separate chairs for everyone, that is brilliant. No “Mu-u-um, he’s breathing on me…!”
Recommends the Confused.com guide to buying a family car