If You Are Going To Buy A Family Car, Don’t Forget The Family Part

People buy vehicles for all kinds of reasons. Some of them are rational, and some of them are emotional. There is nothing wrong with buying a car because it’s fast, or stylish, or it just makes you feel good when you drive it. However, when the primary objective is to transport the family, too many buyers forget to focus on the key question: “Which car will make this task easier?”

I’m not the handiest guy, but I like having a multitool in my drawer. Not only do those things look cool, but they are also great for small jobs like unscrewing a motorized toy to replace a battery, opening a box, a quick tightening of a nut and so on. But if I have a task that requires serious cutting power, installing several screws, or torquing down multiple nuts, I’m going to get the toolbox and get the dedicated tool for that job.

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The problem I see with a lot of car buyers is when they are shopping for a vehicle that has the primary job of transporting the entire family, those people are taking the multitool approach.

Often this happens in two ways. The first one we have discussed at length, and that is the choice of the mid-size crossover over the minivan. Of course, we can go on and on about the need for all-wheel-drive, but the crux of that decision often comes down to a style over ultimate function.

The other scenario that I see play out is folks that are choosing something that isn’t necessarily too small for family use, but not ideal. Now that new cars are becoming very expensive some shoppers are wisely looking at more affordable alternatives, and there is a nice selection of small (subcompact) crossovers like the Hyundai Kona, Subaru Crosstrek, Honda HR-V and others that offer a lot of quality and features for a fairly reasonable price.

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What often comes up in conversations with my clients is that some of them hear “crossover” and think it’s going to work fine as a family car. What a lot of folks don’t realize is that these small CUVs are really just compact hatchbacks with some lift on them. It’s not that these smaller vehicles are bad family cars, but they aren’t ideally suited for that task.

For example, my Volkswagen GTI is very similar to the multitool. It does a lot of things really well, including being fun to drive, but it also works fairly well at hauling the kids to practice,  doctor’s appointments or a grocery store run. Our friend Benjamin Preston recently wrote a review on how the GTI can “baby” pretty well. However, if we’re doing a road trip or plan on being in the car for more than a short time, you better believe we are going to use the Toyota Sienna because that is the best tool for the job.

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The reality is when you have several people in a car, no one complains about too much space. But feeling cramped with multiple passengers, and then taking into account strollers, gear, groceries, and other items is an important aspect to consider. When someone has something like a Crosstrek on their radar, I will often sway them folks towards maybe a used bigger car like a Toyota RAV4, Subaru Forester, Mazda CX-5 and the like to give them a little more space for the money.

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Of course, I’m not suggesting everyone go out and buy the biggest road monster you can afford just for family duty, but rather avoid focusing on just one aspect of the vehicle like cost, style or features. What buyers should do is keep the primary use in focus and find a balance between all those attributes.

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About the author

Tom McParland

Tom is a contributing writer for Jalopnik and runs AutomatchConsulting.com. He saves people money and takes the hassle out of buying or leasing a car. (Facebook.com/AutomatchConsulting)