When a family walks into a car dealer, seldom do they realize the importance of the decisions they are about to make. A family car is more than just a means to go from point A to point B; it is actually a MEMBER of the family! Your family vehicle is with you when you drive your children to their thousand-and-one activities, it is with you when you take a family vacation, and it (hopefully) will be with you as your children become teenagers and as your teenagers become young adults.
If you are shopping for a new vehicle, you know there are many options, accessories and packages that are available to you. To make sense of it all, you need to understand your…well…needs.
If you have children, you know that they are often accompanied by a specific set of needs as well. You may be wondering which options, accessories or packages are best for them. We have attempted to group together a list that highlights what we feel should be added to your new car in order to make it more child-friendly.
1. Leather seats, the darker the better.
As any parent knows, children occasionally tend to spill things. Nothing hurts your vehicle’s resale value more than a large, smeary blue stain on beige fabric decorating your back seats. What usually happens is that your beautiful child will spill some sort of reddish or purple-ish concoction (that to this day, we do not understand why we bought in the first place) on the seat. Our valiant yet foolhardy attempts to correct the misdeed only serve to exaggerate the original error, leaving us no choice but to camouflage the whole mess with an attractive beach towel.
Sound familiar? Not to anyone with leather seats. Leather seats are the ultimate option for your new car that every parent with young children should absolutely select. Ideally you want to have graphite or black leather seats, but red and brown leather upholstery will also do. The beauty of leather is that it delays the absorption of any liquid splashed on top of it, giving the parent a much larger window of opportunity to clean up the mess. As a matter of fact, you can even go ahead and select pale colors such as tan or grey for your leather interior. The problem with light colors is that you will, after a while, begin to see dark stains generated by wear (all those jeans that rub the seats day in and day out), but that is about it. Stains from food or juice can be washed away as easily in a light interior as a darker one, provided it is made of leather!
2. Fabric Protector
Ok, I know some of you are on a budget when it comes to buying a new car, or maybe you just do not like leather. In that case, opt for the second best thing to protect your new car’s interior from your kids: fabric protector. You can usually buy fabric protector in the finance and insurance manager’s office (F&I) and it is usually offered to you after you have agreed to buy a particular new car while you fill out your credit application.
Fabric protectors create an invisible protective film on your seats that prevents any liquid or food from penetrating the fabric. Your car’s interior thus remains as beautiful over the years as the first day you bought it. Fabric protectors are not a huge investment either. Most will retail in the 150 US$ range, and do not hesitate to negotiate the price by at least 10%! Profit margin percentages on F&I products are higher than any other product in the dealership, included the new cars themselves. You can also opt to apply a protector to your leather seats but I would not recommend unless you select a light color leather and wish to prevent stains that naturally occur from wear over time. On darker leather colors, there really is no need to protect it from stains.
I know some of you will mention that this is a pretty big option! Others may wonder what it has to do with children. There are 2 reasons we include all-wheel-drive in our list of the top 10 best accessories for children: 1) Safety and 2) Convenience. Let’s talk safety first. There is no question that an all-wheel-drive vehicle, when driven appropriately of course, is safer than either front-wheel-drive or rear-wheel-drive vehicles. You will find an explanation of each available drive system in our article entitled Drivetrain Systems Explained and Compared: FWD, RWD, 4WD, AWD. The stability and cornering abilities of an all-wheel-drive new car are superior and provide sure-footed driving in any weather, not just winter. We believe we are not too far from the truth when we say that their children’s safety should be at the top of any parents list when shopping for a new car.
The second reason has to do with all the activities, outings, parties, school events, sporting events, and family vacations that (in the eyes of your children at least) are of life-or-death importance and absolutely cannot be canceled. Your child is unable to understand the potential problems associated with a January Nor’easter so you may want to opt for an all-wheel-drive vehicle and kick those problems to the curb yourself. This will allow you to stay right on schedule no matter what the weather brings.
4. Rear-view Camera
Kids tend to wander; that is not a secret for anyone. They also tend to leave their toys and bicycles in dangerous areas, like right behind your vehicle. If you are like, oh, 99% of the population, you probably do not have a peak behind your car before stepping in and backing out. Having a rear-view camera will allow you to see what is behind your car before you accidentally run over it potentially causing hundreds or even thousands of dollars of damage.
More importantly, rear-view cameras may help prevent injuries or worse. Some of you may remember the Lexus advertisement that ran in magazines a few years back. The ad showed a young child on her knees playing in the driveway. The image of the child was displayed via the rear-view camera and a caption below the picture wrote “according to your rear-view mirror, she isn’t there”. We all know children do not have the same perception or recognition of dangerous situations. Thus, it’s a good idea to have that extra pair of eyes just in case.
5. Rear Airbags
More and more vehicles now have side airbags that extent to the back. In the next couple of years, expect all vehicles to have this extra protection for all occupants. Unfortunately however, there are still new cars on the market today that only have 2 airbags, or that have side airbags that only protect the driver and passenger.
In our opinion, car shoppers should stay away from these vehicles, especially if they have children. Why on earth would a parent not choose to have each and every available protection for their kids? It also should be mentioned that all new cars engineered in the past 2 years almost all have rear passenger airbags. So if you are shopping for a new vehicle and come across a model that does not have this increased protection, it is likely that the vehicle is behind its competition in terms of technical and overall safety improvements. If that is case, we strongly recommend you shop elsewhere for your new car.
6. 4-zone climate control
When a sales representative wants to sell a vehicle with 4-zone climate control, they almost always have to stress to the parents that it will be great for the kids. Now some parents feel that this is a little too much luxury to provide for their children (and yes, 4 zone climate control is usually pricey or comes as part of the most expensive options package) while others do not see the benefits. For the first group, well, we certainly will not tell you how to do your job as a parent! For the second group, read on.
4-zone climate controls simply refer to a system that provides independent controls for heat and air-conditioning for the driver, the passenger and the occupants in the back. In other words, it allows everyone in the vehicle to select their own settings for temperature. If your family tends to use your car to go on trips, you know that kids are either too cold or too hot, and they will undoubtedly let you know about it…over and over and over. Having 4 zone climate controls allows everyone in the car to be happy. And if everyone’s happy, well, life is good.
7. Rear Seat DVD players
Similarly to 4-zone climate control mentioned above, Rear Seat DVD players are controversial and really depend on your family values. One thing is for certain however, if you value nice relaxing drives surrounded by total silence; you will absolutely need to add Rear Seat DVD players to your new car’s option list.
Contrary to popular belief, almost all vehicles can be equipped with rear seat DVDs. If the manufacturer does not offer them as new car options, the dealership often will provide an in-house installation. Of course the price of rear-seat DVDs hover around 1500 US$ but for some parents, it is a small price to pay to enjoy the much-more-expensive yearly family vacation…or the trip to grandma’s house.
8. Roof Box
It is a fact that the more children you have, the more “stuff” you have. As you children grow and become teens, you will have even more “stuff”. After a while, you will likely have more “stuff” than your current vehicle’s cargo area can handle. If that becomes the case, you need a roof box (sometimes called cargo box) which will allow you to increase the amount of, well, “stuff’, you can haul around.
If you are shopping for a new car, the roof box is something you should definitely ask to have included at no extra charge. As always, it may not be possible, but the roof box is often much more expensive to buy for the client than it is to give away for the dealer (i.e. high markup) and you may be able to get the extra cargo space included in the deal.
9. Heated Rear Seats
Heated rear seats are more appropriate for families living in the northern states and Canada. That being said, even southern states have their cold streaks (right Florida!). Adding the heated rear seats option to your new car is a nice way to ensure your children do not freeze their butts off (literally) while you are nice and toasty up front.
If you have followed this article’s advice, well, firstly, good for you, and secondly, that means your next new car will have leather seats. The importance of heated rear seats when your new family vehicle is equipped with leather upholstery cannot be overemphasized. Leather tends to reflect the temperature outside; if it is freezing outside; your leather seats will be glacial. Heated rear seats alleviate this problem.
10. Rear window screen
We finish off our list with a small, inexpensive accessory that is often overlooked by parents when buying a new car. The window screen has a variety of uses and really can be beneficial for young children as well as teens. The screen attaches to your rear car window, or windows (might as well get two) and blocks out not only the sun, but lights as well, reducing glare and making night time more relaxing for your kids.
Window screens will allow your children to keep cool and prevent the sun from pummeling them. If you are driving overnight, the screen will reduce the amount of light (from streetlights and stoplights) that comes in and will allow your kids to fall asleep faster and stay asleep longer. The price of a rear window screen is below 100 US$ in most cases and, we believe, worth the investment. Better yet, they often clip on and off so you can transfer them from one car to the next.
So there you have it, parents, a list that can help you choose your options for your new car. Now, we want to stress here that if you feel an item on this list is unnecessary or that you cannot add everything to your new vehicle for financial reasons, that is absolutely fine! This list is not meant to be an examination of your parenting skills, just a nice friendly list of items that sometimes parents do not even know exist.
Oh and by the way, children often ignore the existence of the rear seat DVD players. For your sake, we recommend you do not show this list to your kids!