Car Shopping Tips for New and Expecting Parents

Father, baby and car seat
Photo: Getty Images

Have a newborn baby -- or one on the way? Here are eight shopping tips that will help you find the car that's best for your growing family.

1. Buy your car seat first.

Not all cars will accommodate all car seats. If you're stuck on a particular model or type of car seat, buy it first and bring it to the dealership. Because...

2. Make sure you can properly install your car seat.

Improperly-installed car seats increase your baby's chances of injury or death in a car crash --and yet studies show that around 80% of child seats in the US are improperly used or installed.

A correctly and tightly installed car seat will move no more than an inch in any direction. New cars and seats have the LATCH (also known as ISOFIX) system, which provides better mounting than seat belts. If you have a convertible seat, test both rear- and front-facing installation. If in doubt, your test drive should include a stop at a free child seat inspection center. (In the U.S., call 1-866-SEAT-CHECK or visit www.seatcheck.org, In Canada, check out Transport Canada's Child Car Seat Clinic Finder.)

3. Try getting the baby in and out of the car.

Does the car you are considering require too much stretching or bending? Best to find out before you buy, right on the showroom floor. For car seats with detachable carriers, put some weight in the carrier (15-20 lbs or 7-9 kg -- they grow fast) and see how easy it is to get the carrier in and out of the car. If your seat does not detach, bring a life-size baby doll (or a life-size baby) and try putting the baby into the seat and taking him/her out.

In some cars, this will involve getting into the car yourself one- (or no-) handed. If you're planning to grow your family, consider how much more difficult the job will be when you're pregnant.

4. Stow the stroller.

Make sure the car has enough storage space to accommodate your stroller or carriage, with enough room left over for groceries, suitcases, or whatever else you'll be hauling around.

Don’t just plop the stroller in once and declare it good; lift the stroller in and out of the trunk or cargo bay a few times, as you’ll be doing a lot.

5. Check the rear window.

Some sedans and coupes have deeply-sloped rear windows that allow sunlight to stream down on a rear-facing child seat, which could cause sunburn, heatstroke, or other heat-related injuries.

6. Test out the locks and the doors.

Time for the dress rehearsal! Get into full baby-carrying mode, with your baby (or surrogate weights) in the carrier or stroller and baby bag over your shoulder. See how easy it is to unlock and open the doors and trunk/hatch and get loaded up. Now, do the reverse: Open the doors, gather up the gear, and make sure you can easily close and lock up the car.

7. Take a ride in the back.

From time to time, you (or your spouse/partner/doting grandparent/etc.) may want to ride next to baby, so part of your test drive should include a ride in the back seat next to the strapped-in child seat. Those child seats takes up more space than you might expect, so get in, close the door, and stay there for a while to make sure it’s comfortable. If you’re prone to motion sickness, take an extended ride to make sure the back seat won’t make you queasy.

8. Don’t rule out two-doors.

Some coupes and hatchbacks have front seats that slide forward far enough to make plenty of room to get baby in and out. Many have flip-forward seats and tall rooflines that allow shorter adults to get in and stand over the car seat, so getting baby in is easier than with many sedans. On the downside, coupes tend to have longer doors, which can be a problem in tight parking lots.