Being a parent is exciting and sometimes can be a cause for concern and worry. And since you want your child to be safe and secure in the car or wherever they are, we are providing this guide for parents to buy, maintain, and drive a family car.
This article is long, but it is divided into several sections. Feel free to skip to the part that you need to read and make sure to take action.
Parents Guide to Buying a Family Car
There are so many things to consider when you are expecting. It doesn’t matter if it’s your first time or your 4th time. You need to consider a thousand things before the baby arrives in your life–gear that you need for the baby, how to make your home safe for the little one, and how to ensure that your baby has everything she needs.
One of the biggest things that parents need to do is to choose a family car. You may already have a car that you use for your daily commute. But will that be enough for your new family’s needs?
If you are thinking of buying a family car, there are several things you need to consider.
I hate to start with money considerations. But that’s the truth. Having a baby is expensive! There’s no going around that fact. You will need to buy a car seat, a crib, feeding bottles, pack and play, bassinet, and a thousand other things you will need inside and outside the home.
This will be a personal decision that you need to run by your spouse or partner. Take a good look at your personal financial situation and decide on what you can afford. This will give you an idea of what options you can realistically take.
Don’t skimp on the essentials. The other considerations below should give you a good idea of the essentials that you cannot sacrifice. There are many options for you out there.
You can buy a new car or a used car for your family. But it will help you prioritize your needs for the baby and for your whole family.
Different cars have different safety ratings. Generally speaking, dads and moms tend to drive more carefully once a baby arrives into their lives. But safety is not just in the hands of parents.
Some drivers out there drive like they don’t care about other people. As parents, you need to secure the safety of your child.
Thankfully, safety ratings of most cars are available. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration provides a rating of each car based on crash testing. They also test a car’s rollover resistance. The NHTSA’s criteria results to a score between 1 – 5, with 5 being the highest.
Do check these ratings at http://SaferCar.gov.
In addition to the NHTSA, the Insurance Institute for Highway Safete (IIHS) also conducts a crash test for new cars. They are seen as more rigorous than the tests being done by NHTSA. They conduct tests for prevention of impact injury at the front, side, and rear of the car. They also test the strength of the car’s roof.
The cars that receive the Top Safety Pick+ Rating have been proven tough enough to survive the rigorous stress test that IIHS conducts. Access the ratings at http://iihs.org.
If you do not want to go through the lists of the NHTSA or IIHS, you can actually enjoy a short cut. There are multiple companies and websites that provide this information, depending on the year and models of the cars.
For example, some insurance providers provide a list of the safest cars: Elephant Insurance came up with a list of the Seven Safest Cars for 2018. On this list, the Subaru Impreza is at the top.
A simple Google search will help you narrow down the list of cars that you can include in your shortlist.
Space and Design
- Car seat
- Diaper bag
- Bassinet, swing, and/or sleeper
- Baby bottles
- Formula and other food items
- Cleaning accessories
The Bottom Line
The bottom line, though, is that buying a family car is pretty much the same as buying your personal car. You need to look at your budget and what you can afford. I strongly discourage you to buy an expensive car that you may end up not needing much anyway.
Consider the space, design, and how frequently you intend to travel as a family. It’s also very important to ensure that safety of your baby and your whole family. If you have identified that must-have features of your family car, read our comprehensive guide to buying a car.
How to Choose a Car Seat for Your Child
A child’s car seat is not a simple purchase to make. There are a lot of considerations to make, and the product you choose should check a few basic boxes.
It should be safe – first and foremost. That’s the whole point of having a car seat in the first place – to ensure the protection of your child in the event of an accident. Then it has to be big enough to suit the height and weight of your child, which links back to the safety point, but also, comfort. Babies and toddlers can be wriggly and fidgety enough without having to sit for ages in an uncomfortable seat.
So, before the decision of whether it should have ladybugs or race cars on it comes up, we’re going to take you on a whistle-stop tour of the considerations you need to make in choosing the right car seat for your child.
The Right Size
Different car seats apply to different children of different sizes, weights and age groups. With that, different laws apply – what seat do you legally require for your child at their current stage in life? Fortunately, they are categorized in accordance with a child’s height and weight. The laws may vary depending on your state, so make sure you do your homework and check what’s legal in your area.
The Right Fit
Getting the child to fit in the seat is one thing. Consider it has to fit in your vehicle too. It’s no use buying a car seat if it isn’t compatible with your car – it might not be safe for your child. Consider making a list of other vehicles your child is likely to be traveling in.
Do the right measurements before making your purchase. That is to say, check if it will fit securely in the back seats and that there are enough tether anchor points.
The Right Price
Don’t be tempted toward the mindset of “I can’t put a price on my child’s safety.” Much as it may be true, the more expensive models of car seat are not necessarily the best quality. Remember all products have to pass the safety tests before they can be distributed. In short, pay less attention to the price, and more to meet the requirements of keeping your child safe.
Also, don’t look to buy second – hand or pre-owned just for the sake of saving money. Think of the damage they may have sustained in accidents in the past, let alone wear and tear that comes with age. Besides, car seats have expiry dates. You should always check that before buying.
The Right Position
There are different laws for which car seats go with children of particular ages. Children less than a year old (two years old in some states – this is gradually becoming the norm so be aware of any changes to the laws in your state), they are required to face the rear of the vehicle.
After about 2 years of age, they can sit on a forward-facing car seat. Ensure you have the correct type of car seat. Convertible and all – in – one models are available to cater for the toddler years too.
Recommended Car Seat
We do recommend the Graco 4Ever 4-in-1 Car Seat because of its durability, very good reviews, and safety. It is a bit expensive but you can use it for around 4 years–from infant to Kindergarten. Do check it out on Amazon.
Essential Car Accessories for Parents
As parents, we want our kids to be comfortable and safe inside the house, when we are traveling by car, or just about any situation. One of the ways to ensure that they are safe and secure is to get several car accessories.
This one is a no-brainer. It is mandated by law and you cannot transport your young child if you do not have one. Many parents can testify to the blessing of having a car seat when they met an accident. Do not ever take the risk of transporting your child without a car seat. You may be apprehended by a police officer. Or worse, you meet an accident and you lose your child.
If you have a small car, do check our list of the best car seats for small cars.
The sun shade could protect your child from the harmful glare of the sun. It can help keep the cold of the car in the summer. Your sunshade is equally a health and safety measure as it is a means of entertainment for your child. It will keep the harmful sun rays out, off of the kids’ skin. And, if you choose one with interesting prints and designs, the cute pictures on the sunshade should keep them amused for a while.
Do check out this sun shade for kids at Amazon.com. It is inexpensive and costs less than $10.
Car Seat Baby Mirror
If you have a very young child, they need to sit on their car seat rear-facing. This means that you cannot see their face while you are driving. Sometimes, this could also be the reason why parents forget their kids in the car under the intense summer heat or winter cold.
Invest in a car seat mirror. It can help you see your child and make sure that they are safe. Do check out our reviews of the best car seat mirror here.
Tablet Mount or Holder
For the long journeys, you’re going to want to keep the kids’ entertained. This can save you a lot of grief! So, if you have a few of their favorite movies or TV shows downloaded to your tablet, you can put it on a mount for your car and they can watch or play for a portion of your journey.
Try this iKross Tablet Mount on Amazon. It costs around $20.
The play tray is something of a Swiss knife for traveling with kids. They hold food, coloring books, and other things that could occupy kids’ attention. Whatever you give your child to amuse themselves on your travels, a tray to enable them to do their activities for longer will be a Godsend to you. Not to mention, a weight off your blood pressure.
Check out this interesting Play Tray on Amazon, which costs around $25.
There are a lot more accessories you can get depending on the age of your child. But just be careful against overspending because you can certainly break the bank with too many accessories!
How to Correctly Use a Car Seat
I know what you’re probably thinking – “I know how to use a car seat!” It’s one of those things that are so seemingly self-explanatory that it’d be impossible to get it wrong. Well, you’d be surprised. In fact, it started out bad and is only getting worse!
Did you know a study in 2016 found that 59% of car seats not being used correctly? – That’s 13% more than another study done five years previously. And that motoring accidents still reign supreme as the top cause of death in children?
Many people ensure their child’s car seat checks all the right boxes – is it light enough to carry? Is it easy to fasten? Minor things. Compared to ensuring it will meet the requirements of keeping your child safe.
40% of child deaths in car crashes come down to there not appropriately restrained. So, a few small checks and steps in the fitting and maintenance of your car seat will help cut the fatality rates.
POSITION – Keep the child rear-facing or forward-facing depending on age and height and weight
It has been the standard to keep a child in a car seat facing the rear of a vehicle until they are a year old. That is gradually changing to two years old – already the case in nine states and New York are implementing the law in 2019.
It makes sense when spelled out, though. If an accident impacts the front of the vehicle, a child’s head, neck and spine will be protected since the car seat will absorb the impact. These are areas that are still developing and strengthening after a child is born, so they require ample protection.
POSITION – Anchor points
If you have or insist on having a forward-facing car seat; ensure that it tethered to all anchor points in the vehicle. There are between three and five anchor points in today’s vehicles and using them all will affect how far forward a child will move in the event of a crash. The inches you reduce could be the difference between life and death.
CONDITION – Check the expiration date
Yes, you read that correctly. Car seats have an expiration date for most products. If you’re using the same one your past three children had and the eldest is now ten, it’s likely that car seat is coming toward, if not already past, its expiration date. Not just the wear and tear, but the exposure to hot and cold temperatures – these can all be factors in the slow breakdown in quality of the product. Best to check the date every five years, most have a proposed lifetime of 6-10 years.
CONDITION – Post-accident measures
If you have been in a severe crash – and God forbid that you should be – make sure you dispose of and replace your current car seat. The impact from the accident could cause damage to the product that will prevent it doing its job efficiently next time.
Don’t think “oh, it’ll be fine, I’m going to be more careful from now on…” because you can’t predict other motorists. Don’t be complacent in learning from your mistakes and put your child’s safety in jeopardy. Get a new car seat following an accident.
And while it’s not necessarily a safety measure, here’s one final thing to consider too:
QUALITY – Think safe before cheap
One of the most commonly-made mistakes is believing that the more you pay for something, the better its quality. A product like a car seat cannot distribute to the public before meeting the same safety criteria. The cheap ones will do the same job as the expensive. Don’t make your assessment based on the aesthetics or special extras an expensive car seat might come with; If you’re doing it correctly, you will make your assessment based on your child’s height and weight.
Common Car Seat Mistakes
When buying and using something as seemingly self – explanatory as a car seat, it’s going to be easy to be a bit complacent. And with that come some common mistakes. Easy enough to make, easy enough to solve. When you have gone over the finer points on these errors, your child’s overall safety and security in the car will be all the more improved.
1. CHILD IS IN THE INCORRECT POSITION FOR THEIR AGE
It’s the law that a child should not face forward in their car seat until they are at least one year of age. That law has gone up to two years old now in some states, so be mindful of this. Therefore, don’t be tempted to face them forward sooner than they need.
2. THE SEAT IS NOT INSTALLED TIGHTLY ENOUGH
Once it has fitted to your vehicle, you should only be able to move the car seat an inch or less when the safety belt is pulled through. If you are unsure about this, inquire at your retailer – there may be an expert or a trained technician who can help you install and fit the car seat correctly.
3. CLIPS ARE OUT OF PLACE
The minor, insignificant things are easy to miss, but may pack a whole lot of importance. The harness retainer clip should be placed at the level of the child’s armpit.
The locking clip, which not needed on all car seats, should be arranged within an inch or less from the latch of the safety belt.
4. THE SEAT IS NOT ANGLED CORRECTLY IN THE VEHICLE
An infant’s car seat, i.e., a rear-facing one (see Points 1 and 6) should be reclined at no more than a 45 – degree angle from vertical. To be reclined too far back is as dangerous for the child as it is for them to flop too far forward.
4. THE CAR SEAT IS THE WRONG TYPE
Different sizes and styles of car seat apply to children of particular age groups, height, and weight. To ensure you have the most suitable one, check the labels on your product and consider your state’s child safety laws.
5. THE CHILD IS WEARING EXCESS PADDING OR HEAVY CLOTHING
Be mindful of how your child dressed when traveling in a car seat. It may sound ridiculous, but it is relevant and important to ensuring your child’s safety. Bearing in mind the test dummies for these car seats are dressed in light and unrestrictive clothing so that extra padding might do more harm than good.
6. THE CHILD IS NOT RESTRAINED AT ALL AVAILABLE POINTS
There are between 3 and 5 tether anchor points in today’s vehicles. Safety experts have opined that parents do not use at least one of them. Double check that your child’s car seat is tethered and secured in the car at all points possible.
7.TRAVELING WITHOUT THE CAR SEAT
Even on vacation abroad, your child will still need their car seat. Bear in mind how much you travel when you go to buy one, and you can consider how heavy they are to carry. Yes, it’s a chore, but is that more important than your child’s safety?
A lighter car seat is not necessarily going to be less safe – remember they all have to pass the same safety tests! There are also travel – friendly products available.