Since your pregnancy was confirmed, you've been busy deciding which room to convert into the nursery, stocking up on sleepers in neutral colors and picking out an amazing car seat. You're all set for now, right? Maybe.
Have you thought about where exactly you're going to put that car seat? While you think to yourself, "In the car, of course," why don't you walk over to the garage and take a closer look.
While that Honda Fit might have worked well as a commute car, the interior is going to be a tight fit for you, baby and a full diaper bag. Your husband might have to stay home during your first trip to the folks. Not that he'd mind. (Oh, wait, that would be my husband.) Regardless, you need to think about whether or not your current vehicles will continue to meet your needs.
But don't take my word for it. According to Melody Ruehling, a high school English teacher from Dayton, Tennessee, she and her husband started looking for a family-friendly car almost a year before she became pregnant.
"We hadn't definitely decided when we were going to have kids, but knew that it would be in the life cycle of this car," she says. "We couldn't afford an SUV or a minivan, so we just focused on sedans." They chose a Toyota Camry for its affordability and roominess. "We decided that the Camry was a good buy for safety and for longevity," Melody continued.
A Saturn station wagon was the choice for Debbi McAtee, a bank officer from Wheeling, Illinois. She and her husband realized early on in her pregnancy that they and their two large dogs already crowded their small sedan.
"We usually travel (to see the inlaws) about four to five times a year. Since this is a first grandchild, that may be increasing," says Debbi. The wagon "has the required room in the back for the 'big kids,' a luggage rack on the top for the larger stuff, and plenty of room for growing."
For first time parents, like Debbi and Melody, there was no pressing need to purchase a multi-seat minivan. However, when a family has three or more children, or when the babies grow into grade-schoolers, you need to look at something larger than a mid-size sedan.
"We realized we needed a new (vehicle) shortly after we got our two foster kids," said Jodi Sides, a stay-at-home mom from Hot Springs, South Dakota, with five kids under five years old. "We needed a vehicle that could hold seven people comfortably. We also needed one that could hold five car seats."
They ended up with a used Mercury Voyager to drive the kids around and to make the 800-mile round trip to visit Jodi's inlaws. "My husband really wanted the TV/VCR combo, but it was a little too far out of our budget," she says.
A tight budget not only makes it difficult to purchase the extras, but also puts minivans and sports-utility vehicles, even used ones, out of many families' reach.
"We were were really frustrated to find that most 'family cars' that have a decent safety rating and that won't fall apart in a few years were out of most families' budgets," Melody says.
For those who can afford them, though, they make chauffeuring the kids around much easier and more pleasant for everyone. "There is enough room for three small kids to change into soccer gear in the car after school," said Laura CMenard of her minivan. "There is room on the floor for the dog or a diaper change."
Laura, a stay-at-home mom from Saratoga, California, has progressively purchased larger vehicles with more features with each child. Now with number four on the way, she is happy with her Silhouette and her husband's Jeep Grand Cherokee (purchased during pregnancy number one), which can still hold three car seats. They have a third vehicle, as well. "It's a convertible, for fun, parents-only times," Laura said.
Kim Mitchell, a full-time student and stay-at-home mom with three kids said her husband's car is a Porsche 944. "He's a mechanic and those are his specialty," Kim said. "But he is also desperately clinging to his youth and balances out the 'minivan' image with it."
An important factor to consider when shopping for a family vehicle: Do you really need to trade in your Miata for a minivan? Not necessarily. You can keep the sports car... as long as your second vehicle can fit your new car seat.
You can do your own car-buying research by taking a trip to the library, making a few phone calls, or, better yet, using the web. Happy hunting!
Here are the websites for some of SUV, car and minivan manufacturers, including those mentioned above:
Car buying guides:
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