Shopping for cars can be a frustrating business. It's basically impossible to ever find your dream car, at least, not at an affordable price. Therefore, you need to narrow down your choices among a plethora of pretty good cars, none of which is perfect. If this is your first "family car" shopping experience, you might not even know what you ought to be looking for, which makes shopping even harder. To help you out, we've come up with the top 10 criteria for you to consider when purchasing a new family car.

Safety features

Air bags are an obvious must, but some cars have more of them or have them built into different areas of the car. Do you want child safety locks? How about tinted back windows? Figure out which of these safety features is most important to you before heading out to the car lot. If there is one feature in particular that could make or break your decision to buy a car, you'll want to know what that is so you don't waste time test-driving cars that won't work for your family.


This includes not only the initial price of the car, but also its upkeep. You'll want to find out how much insurance will be on your particular type of car, how often it needs maintenance, and how expensive repairs might be. Your insurance company can give you a quote on the car even if you don't yet own it.


Some car companies are known for making good, reliable cars that require minimal maintenance and will last you way past 100,000 miles. Other car companies make cheaper cars that might not be as reliable. Do your homework to find out which companies you would consider buying from. In addition, it's not a bad idea to take the car you're considering purchasing to an auto shop during the test drive. They can check the car out, for a fee, to see how well it's been maintained.

Gas mileage

"Family cars" by definition are usually a little larger and will therefore get lower gas mileage than the sleek, aerodynamic sedan you're likely used to. For instance, a 2012 Dodge Grand Caravan gets 17 miles to the gallon in town and 25 on the highway. Look up the gas mileage of the cars you're interested in so you can arrive at the dealership with reasonable expectations.

Number of doors

If you're buying a smaller family car, you may have to choose between having two doors or four doors. Two door cars tend to look sportier, but it's a pain to get in and out of the backseat and nearly impossible to negotiate with a car seat.

Car mileage

The lower the overall mileage, the longer you can keep the car without having to do major repairs. However, lower mileage means a higher price. You'll have to strike a balance between what you're willing to pay and how soon you want to have to repair or replace your car. A ballpark figure to look for is a car should have about 12-15,000 miles on it per year.

Trunk space

Maybe even bring a stroller or a suitcase with you to the dealership to test this out. If you do a lot of traveling or there are a lot of people in your family, a lack of sufficient trunk space could be a deal breaker.

Color of upholstery

Darker upholstery will hide stains and dirt better, which is especially important if you have messy little kids. Two-toned interiors are often more visually appealing, but will be more expensive.

Leg room

Though you may be used to thinking mainly of the front seat, a family car should also have good leg room in the back. Sure, your kids are small now, but plan ahead for when they're a few years older. Take a turn sitting in the back so you can test the relative comfort (or lack thereof).

Car length

My parents didn't think about this one until they'd already purchased their minivan and were attempting to park it in the garage for the first time. It turned out it was too long for the garage door to be able to close. They had to shave off a few inches of a protruding garage wall and then install a hanging tennis ball so they could tell how far to pull in each time they parked the car. Charming.

Car purchasing should not be done lightly. It's a huge investment and the vehicle you buy could be carrying some very precious cargo. Use this list before heading out to the dealership to come up with what kind of car you think you can live with. You'll save yourself some money and a considerable amount of time.

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