What to look for when buying a family car

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When the number of family members increases, a small car is often no longer sufficient. We look at the different types of cars for families of four or more and what features you need to consider when choosing your new vehicle.

There seems to be some unwritten rule that when we have a family, the amount of stuff we have to cart around in the car increases exponentially with each extra family member. If you've a large family, just going away for a long weekend can seem like a logistical exercise the equivalent of preparing for a trek to the South Pole. Getting everything together and packed is bad enough, leaving something behind could spell disaster!

Choose a car that suits your family, budget and lifestyle.

For families of four or more, the idea that you can reduce the amount of gear you take with you is nice, but most likely it's a pipe dream. Once you accept that fact, you can begin to get prepared. One starting point is to invest in roof boxes, gear racks, bike carriers and other vehicle storage equipment. However, if you've reached the point of considering buying a trailer (box, not semi), or if your family has more members than there are seats in your current car, it's time to look at buying a … family car.

You might want to take a seat

Five seats are standard in cars in Australia whether it's a compact, mid-size or larger car. For a family of four, there might be enough seat space to be comfortable in a hatchback, but it's likely that even with a roof box there will not be enough storage space. Likewise a smaller five seat car, for a family of five where the family members are heading into adulthood, is going to be a squeeze. Even if everyone gets on really well, the three seats in the back are going to be a tight fit: a long extended road trip is really not worth contemplating.

Families of four with a reasonable expectation on the amount of luggage they take should be able to manage with a small- to mid-size wagon or small to mid-size 4WD/AWD/SUV. If that's tight, consider if a roof box or rack will solve the space problem. A family of five with similar reasonable luggage expectations might be able to manage with a large family sedan, but a large wagon, or mid-size to large five seat 4WD/AWD/SUV will provide far greater comfort and flexibility.

If your family needs more than five seats your options are to get a seven-seat vehicle, use two cars, or leave someone behind. Given the third option is usually not desirable and in many circumstances not legal, we'll focus on seven-seat vehicles.

If this scene is familiar, it could be time to look for a bigger car.

There was a time - not that long time ago - when if you needed seven seats it was either a minivan or a station wagon with rear-facing jumpseats, like the Volvo 240. The jumpseats - like those used for temporary travel in aircraft - were pretty basic. Facing to the rear, passengers would also be constantly staring at the cars behind hoping the approaching drivers would pull up in time. Minivans were generally also, at that time, more like their namesake - vans - than cars.

Since then, things have come a long way. Minivans are now generally referred to as people movers, are far better to drive, much safer and offer extensive creature comforts for all occupants. They even look good and are more aerodynamic! They're joined by many large 4WD/AWDs that can have 7 seats and offer high levels of driving and passenger refinement. Vehicles like the Toyota Prado and LandCruiser 200, Nissan Pathfinder and Patrol and Ford Territory. These people movers, 4WDs and AWDs feature collapsible seats so that space can be made for items like prams, luggage, groceries or even the family dog.

The Honda Odyssey has easily collapsible seats and the third row can even have child seats fitted. The Peugot 308 Touring offers European styling and diesel or petrol engines with fuel consumption of 7.6 and 6.7L/km respectively. The Kia Sorrento SLi diesel has plenty of space, a five-year warranty and a fuel efficiency of 7.3L per 100km. Meanwhile the Toyota Tarago, a vehicle synonymous with moving around large families since its launch in the early 1980s, can accommodate eight full size adults.

Safety and the environment

Safety is a key priority for any vehicle. Buying a family car with up-to-date safety features such as side-curtain airbags, ABS brakes and electronic stability controli, and a good Australasian New Car Assessment Program (ANCAP) rating is importantii. If you're concerned about the environment, investigate your potential vehicle's green credentials at the Federal Government's Green Vehicle Guide. You'll find a Green Vehicle Guide star rating and emissions data for each vehicle, as well as information that can save you money like fuel consumption figuresiii.

Purchase price and running costs

Not surprisingly, more seats, more features and more space are all going to have an impact on both the purchase price and running costs. While a larger vehicle might be within your price range for purchase, you may find running costs to be prohibitive. Alternatively, some of the vehicles which offer greater fuel economy might be prohibitively expensive to buy and maintain. So it's important to consider all factors when you're in the market for your new family machine.

When you finally do make that new family car purchase, it's important to protect your investment in case the unexpected happens. Allianz car insurance can provide cover for accidental loss or damage as well as cover against loss or damage to someone else's property.

i Bell, K 2013, 'Top 10 Family-Friendly Car Features', MSN Autos, viewed 21 November 2013,

ii ANCAP 2010, Home, viewed 6 November 2013,

iii Department of Infrastructure and Regional Development, Australian Government 2013, Tips for choosing a new car, viewed 6 November 2013,