As a childless car writer I frequently chastised parents for eschewing fun cars in order to buy safe boxes for their new families, but with a kid on the way and the threat of a massive blizzard in the back of my mind I gave into a mix of fear and marketing hype and reached for the safest thing I could borrow. My bad, you guys.
No one should be more immune to the mix of marketing hype and outdated conventional wisdom that keeps putting people in crossovers than someone who has driven everything. I know that while a company like Volvo has prioritized safety as a key differentiating factor of the cars they sell, the reality is that plenty of other people make perfectly safe cars.
Crossovers and SUVs, frequently with a higher center of gravity, haven’t historically been safer than wagons of equivalent size. And all-wheel-drive? A good set of snow tires is far more important than whether or not the wheels they’re wrapped around are powered.
My wife and I never planned to have our first child anywhere but Texas, let alone in a place where I wouldn’t regularly have access to a car on the edge of a winter that long-range forecasts had promised would be mild with one big late season snowstorm.
Compound that by the fact that the hospital my wife was planning to deliver our new child at was on the other side of a bunch of bridges and you can see where my paranoid brain goes: It’s late February, Winter Storm Gadhafi has blanketed New York with snow and wind, causing ambulance service to shut down. My family’s only hope is that I’ve secured a vehicle from the press fleet that can tackle all of that.
Fears were almost realized when shortly before my wife’s due date there was a massive winter storm that dumped a record amount of snow on the city for 24 hours. While the roads were still passable, the authorities shut down all the bridges into the city and suspended train service.
Now it was imperative I get something good. Raptor? Maybe a little too big and flashy. Pinzgauer? Kind of a rough ride. Kamaz Dakar Truck? Probably not in the press fleet. Eventually, I settled on the Volvo V60 Cross Country, which met my desire for a seemingly safe all-wheel-drive vehicle and I was legitimately curious about it.
The V60 CC was nice and would have made a great story about taking my daughter home in a Volvo wagon like the one her dad used to own. That didn’t happen.
My daughter doesn’t do well with vehicle schedules, it seems, and by the time the wagon had to be picked up she was still connected to my wife. A couple of days after returning the V60 CC I was roused at 2 a.m. with “I think my water broke.” I had no car.
Uber may be questionable as a company, but it is a useful service and, even though we didn’t have that much gear, I definitely shelled out for an Uber XL (but not a Black SUV because I’m not crazy.) Sixteen hours later we welcomed our first daughter Bette into the world.
Having a child changes you, but one thing it didn’t change for me was the strong desire I had to not bring my daughter home in a Toyota Camry. How could I live with myself if that was the story?
It’s here I pulled the dirtiest trick a car writer has ever pulled, and it was totally Bette’s move and not my own. While trying to rock Bette to sleep in the little recovery room in the hospital the three of us were sharing I got a call from the very nice dispatcher at the fleet who manages press cars and he said they’d have another car available but probably not until after we were being discharged from the hospital.
While quietly trying to explain that this would mean there’d be no story, Bette woke up and started screaming. I begged for a minute to deal with her and before I could set the phone down the dispatcher just said “We’ll figure it out” and that was that.
“Good work, Bette!”
While the XC60 wasn’t my first choice, it wasn’t a bad one. The skies were chilly but clear when we were discharged from the hospital and so a Hellcat Challenger would have been fine. The big Dodge, however, wouldn’t have come equipped with a hatchback for collapsing the stroller into.
Despite practicing on multiple cars, it took me a good ten minutes to figure out how to get the car seat locked into the backseat appropriately and to my standards with an actual baby inside. How long would it have taken with a coupe?
And, frankly, it was just one less thing to worry about. In the coming days Bette would develop jaundice and that required us to strap her cute little pumpkin-colored body into the car for near daily trips to the pediatrician’s office.
All parents are fixated on the health of their new baby, but I also had to worry about hospitalization and possible brain damage and all sorts of other scary things you read about when you turn to Dr. Google (jaundice can be serious if untreated but is otherwise common and extremely treatable.)
I was outside dropping something in the mail a couple of days later when we got the call that Bette was fine and wouldn’t require any additional hospitalization, just lots of fluids and rest by the window, and I let out a literal “Yippee” in front of a bunch of tourists and started crying.
I’d love to be the cool dad who did a burnout out of the hospital parking lot, but I’m glad I didn’t give into the temptation. Just being a dad and not seriously harming your child is, honestly, cool enough.
If you’ve got a kid and you go out and buy a minivan or a wagon or a whatever I’m no longer going to judge you about getting a car because you want to keep your family safe. I’ll judge your car choices for many other reasons, mind you, but not for that.
Now that I’ve gotten used to the idea of carting a kid around, though, it’s definitely time to be a cool dad, so I’m proud to announce that I’ll be picking up where Jason left off and doing more Will-it-Baby tests.
What should we test? What car do you want to own that you have to convince your husband or wife is appropriate for children?