If you are car shopping and expecting a child or know you eventually want to expect a child, don’t make the same mistakes I made. What mistakes did I make? Oh, thank you for asking. Let me tell you.
When I was five months pregnant, it seemed like a good idea to replace our fifteen-year-old car. Price and safety were our number one concerns. I owned my previous car for the majority of my driving years and I planned on owning the next one for just as long.
So I researched and researched and researched (and cried a little under the pressure of making my first major purchase just before having my first child) and I bought my perfect new car (a 2012 Ford Fusion, a mid-size sedan) and I loved it... for four months. Then I had a baby, a deliciously chunky baby girl (a pleasant way of saying I had a big, heavy baby), and that car turned on me – and not in the way a car is supposed to turn.
The safest place for a rear-facing car seat in that sedan (as in most cars) was the middle of the back seat. That’s not an easy space to get to, especially if you’re tall. Imagine crawling on your knees into a three foot space while holding an awkward twenty-pound seat. And while the back of your head bangs the roof (as you try to secure said seat without waking the baby inside) you have a perfect view of your hunched mid-section rolling over maternity jeans (which you still wear post pregnancy because your "normal" jeans aren’t built for climbing in and out of a three foot space). Add direct sunlight hitting you from the slanted back windshield and the sweat that comes along with that and you’ll have a general idea of what getting my baby in and out of the low-back seat of that sedan felt like.
When our son was born and we were trying to get two kids in that low back seat, we decided to stop paying for a car that we didn’t love. So we sold our first major purchase after only two years and leased a small sport utility hatchback (a 2015 Mazda CX5). Our current car is a big improvement but, for our budget, we still couldn’t get everything we wanted. So I’m sharing insight from owning two different cars.
Here’s what I’ve learned about cars and little kids.
1. Get a comfortable car height.
You read the above description: getting an infant seat in and out of car is a workout. As Goldilocks would tell you, a car that sits low will work your back and a car that sits high will work your shoulders. But a car that sits just right will make your life easier.
2. Beware the back windshield.
A large slanted back windshield plus a rear facing car seat equals a baby tanning bed. The light was so bright and hot in the back seat of our sedan, we didn’t arrive anywhere without a red, sweaty baby. Her only options were to stare directly into the sun or stare into the dark under a blanket. The hatchback has worked much better with our rear facing car seat because the window doesn’t slant over the baby.
3. Look for air vents.
Air conditioning is a given but you need vents in the back seat. If you’ve never thought about it before, you’ll be amazed how many cars don’t have this. At the least, you need a great AC with well placed front vents so air can be felt in the back. And you’re probably going to have to freeze yourself out to try to get air to your poor babe in the rear facing seat. That’s where we are with our sport utility but it’s more manageable since we’re not battling heat from the back windshield.
I also encourage you to put the AC on full blast and see how loud it is. I can’t hear my toddler talking in the back seat when I have the air on high. I have to turn it down to have a conversation with her. Unfortunately, this just wasn’t something I knew to look for.
4. Remember room for a stroller.
The trunk or hatch space has to be big enough for a stroller but….wait for it…if you plan to have more than one kid, it needs to big enough for a double stroller and they’re twice as big because they’re double (you probably guessed that).
5. Study the middle of the back seat.
There are two considerations here. As I mentioned above, the safest place for a car seat in most cars is the middle of the back seat. You can check the car’s manual or website to be sure. The middle seat in our sedan was a hump and it made it very difficult to get the car seat in, level and tight enough.
Also, if you plan on more than one child, you’ll want to make sure that there is room for someone to sit in the middle of the back seat between two car seats. If we have a friend in town, I have to contort myself to fit between my kids’ car seats. It’s a friendly little reminder to exercise more. This is actually one of the few things I miss about the sedan. There was more space between the kids’ car seats for me.
6. Test the space between the front and back seats.
When my husband drives he’d like to have the driver’s seat further back, but it hits our rear facing infant car seat, so he drives uncomfortably close to the steering wheel. (This is the other thing I miss about our sedan. The second row was set back a little further, but that also meant it was further from the air vents.) Infant car seats are designed to give a little and should not be wedged in. So, before buying a car, adjust the front seats until they are comfortable for you and then try to fit an infant car seat in the seat behind you. There should be a little wiggle room.
7. Go with keyless entry.
Now I only dig in my purse once a day when I have to open the front door to our house, as opposed to needing to find my keys every time I start the car.
Also, look for the ability to open the hatch or trunk from the driver’s seat. I assumed all cars would have this but I was very wrong. It’s much more convenient when hands are full of kids and bags to have the back already open, but my current car doesn’t have a hatch release inside or on the key.
8. Do not get cloth seats.
I can’t really stress this one enough. When you have a car sick toddler, you’re gong to regret the day you didn’t pay a little more for the leather seats.
9. You need at least four doors.
And those doors should have windows as tinted as the law allows so you’re not throwing jackets on your kids’ heads to keep the sun out of their eyes mid car trip.
10. Voice command options and navigation are worth it.
It’s more money and may not be possible but if you can, get it. The real time traffic updates with navigation and children who need a bathroom is invaluable. And being able to say, "Play ‘Let It Go’" fifty times in a row is safer than searching your phone by hand.
We couldn’t get everything we wanted in a car even after we sold our first mistake and knew better what we wanted. I actually encourage you, if you have a safe and reliable car, to try to make it work for at least a little while post-baby. That way you’ll have a chance to judge for yourself what works or doesn’t work for you and your family. Maybe you won’t mind crawling into a three-foot space as much as I did.
If we had the money for a certain minivan, I would already own it. For our budget, we got a very safe car that’s a nice height for getting kids in and out and the hatch back doesn’t blind my children. I can’t have it all but at least I have a better chance of a car trip that doesn’t result in sunburned babies. I wish at least the same for you.
Happy car shopping!
Image: Intel Free Press