Checklist for Buying Your First Family Car

Couple sitting in back of car

By Manny Mendoza

They say things change when you start a family. When it comes to big-ticket items like a car, your mindset needs to be one of them. Finding a vehicle that matches your family’s current lifestyle takes some forethought. Between new technologies, family safety and your ever-changing budget, you need a checklist of things to consider before selecting your first family car.

What Will Life Be Like in Five Years?

Ask yourself what might be different about your family in five years? Right now, it consists of you, your partner, perhaps a dog and maybe a new baby. Before you know it, that baby will grow and there may be a few more little ones to drive around town. It might seem practical to pick a fuel-friendly vehicle like a sub-compact, but decide whether that choice still makes sense five years from now.

Couples need to reflect on the long-term consequences when picking a car. Financing something new every time your family circumstances change isn’t really an option, so think ahead to what might be going on in five years.

Safety, Safety, Safety

Once you get a short list of models together, start checking safety ratings. National Highway Traffic Safety Administration explains they offer a database that covers 5-car crash-test ratings and allows consumer to keep up on automotive safety news available at You can look for specific safety issues, as well. For example, several complaints are on file against Toyota for poor child seat belt restraints. Chrysler recalled certain Sebring and Dodge Avenger models earlier this year for malfunctioning head restraints.

The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety also conducts tests on both new and used cars, according to the website. Both of these organizations test mostly volume sellers, but it will give you an idea of what safety features matter in a vehicle carrying kids.

What about Buying Used

The Kelley Blue Book five-year cost to own model is a comprehensive budgeting tool that shows the true price of a new car. It allows you to compare factors such as fuel cost and depreciation to decide if a used vehicle might be a better option.

You can use the cost to own model to calculate the actual expense of a car new and then the search tool to look at the same model under used cars on Kelley Blue Book to gain perspective. A 2013 Toyota Camry lists at 20,689 new, but over five years it will add up 33,525 dollars when you factor in depreciation, finance charges and fees. One similar vehicle used, 2011 Toyota Camry, costs around 17,000 in Lincoln, Nebraska and has less than 25,000 miles. The options vary by location too. There is a 2012 Camry XLE in Kissimmee, Florida listed at 20,000 dollars with just over 5,000 miles.

Can You Afford that Car?

The cost of the baby might not seem too bad at the beginning, but eventually you will feel the pinch. Every new baby brings its own set of expenses, too, so your budget is a priority. MSN Money suggests that you keep car payments to less than 20 percent of your take home pay as a couple. Try using a payment calculator as you look at cars to stay under that 20 percent. Most car dealerships offer one on their website or try the one on MSN.

Manny Mendoza operates a small auto repair shop in his hometown of Pittsburgh and blogs about his passion on the weekend.

2 thoughts on “Checklist for Buying Your First Family Car

  1. Hey Susan, I agree with you that Kelly Blue Book is a great tool to let you know pretty much any pricing information you could ever need. Also, you want to focus on how reliable the car is as well as how well it is going to maintain its value.

    Honda is a great example of what I am talking about here. They are reliable as well as maintain value over time. I am in no way trying to push Honda as a company just using it as an example for this.

    Figured I would add some thoughts to this article. Good luck!

  2. It makes sense that safety checks are really important when it comes to buying our first family car. My wife and I are expecting our first child in a couple of months. We’ve been trying to prepare as best we can before he comes. One of the things we’ve thought about is getting a safer car; ours is about 15 years old. It works well for us but I think we can get a much safer car, even if we buy a used one. So that will be our next big project to get ready. Thanks for explaining the best way to find a safe car, I appreciate it!

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