Essential features for parents to look out for before buying a vehicle

Functions of a family-friendly car

By George Kuruvilla

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Published: Thu 14 Sep 2023, 8:14 PM

As a parent, whether you are in the market to purchase your first family vehicle or wish to upgrade from a small or older car or SUV, choosing the right one is crucial for accomplishing fuss-free travel. You can achieve this by ticking off a list of factors to ensure that your future car meets your family’s needs in terms of comfort, utility, and technology. In this comprehensive guide, we will explore the essential car features that parents should look for while searching for their next ride.

Safety first

On August 5 1952, John W. Hetrick filed a patent for one of the greatest safety features in an automobile, the airbag. As per the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA), front airbags have saved as many as 50,457 lives from 1975 to 2017 in the US. And, of course, the corresponding number globally is much higher. It is mandated that all new cars in the GCC region have front airbags, but it also helps to add safety packages that include side, curtain, and knee airbags to protect passengers in various collision scenarios. Also, know that airbags only work when used in conjunction with fastened seat belts.

Front seats are a no-no for young children i.e., those under the age of 10 or below 145 cm, but if you plan to put them in the rear, make sure you have them strapped into size-appropriate child seats. These child seats must be anchored onto the ISOFIX points found between the seat backs and seat bottom of most modern vehicles. The Honda CR-V, for example, can accommodate up to three child seats in the second row while the Kia Carnival does five, in case you are curious. Also, know that these miniature seats, although made of plastic and fabric, have expiry dates, so do your due diligence before getting a used one.

Ensure that child locks for rear doors are easily accessible to prevent children from accidentally opening the rear doors, especially while the vehicle is in motion. Most vehicles have a mechanical child lock as standard, while some luxury vehicles have it electrically controlled via a button on the inside door handle on the driver’s side. This, in my opinion, is a must-have.

Something that most people ignore is crash test ratings, but there is a reason why manufacturers spend millions on developing robust cabins for their vehicles, which is to reduce the number of injuries and fatalities caused by road accidents. Safety organisations like the NHTSA and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) provide these ratings for American vehicles, while JNCAP does for Japanese vehicles, Euro NCAP for European vehicles, and CCAP for Chinese vehicles. Simply put, the higher the ratings, the better your chances are for survival.

Having a rearview camera is not only a feature of convenience but of safety too. In fact, I believe it is of such importance, it should be mandated in all vehicles. It aids in parking and provides an extra pair of eyes when reversing, reducing the risk of accidents with obstacles or pedestrians. Not to induce fear in already anxious parents, but incidents of family members reversing vehicles in their own garages into children (often while playing or hiding) are not uncommon. So, this is something we as a community must help prevent, and having vehicles with a simple rear camera setup helps alleviate this situation further.

Advanced Driver Assistance Systems (ADAS) are the latest technology-driven features that will help make your vehicle safer. These systems use camera and radar tech and include features like adaptive cruise control (which adjusts your speed to match the car ahead), lane departure warning and lane-keeping assist (which keeps you lane-centered), blind-spot monitoring (which warns of adjacent vehicles that you may have missed), and automatic emergency braking. On some vehicles, these are part of the standard equipment, while on others they are paid extras, but are well worth the cost.

Interior Comfort and Convenience

Room, room, and more room! When you go from being a couple to a family with kids you often upgrade from a studio or smaller apartment to a larger one or villa. Likewise in a car, you need a lot of space to accommodate extra family members. And I am not just talking of having just enough to accommodate their bodies, but breathing (or personal) space, or else you would have your children locking horns at every given instance. A sunroof or moonroof can also help brighten the interior and make it feel more spacious and airier. And nowadays most cars come with even a panoramic roof option, which is a sunroof that extends all the way to the back. Although not essential, it has its benefits.

Children can be messy artists and eaters, it is their way of learning. They may require feeding on the go or may have their toys and crayons always at their disposal, so prioritise stain-resistant upholstery and easy-to-clean surfaces to maintain your car’s interior. While leather is reserved for luxury vehicles, getting cars with faux leather is not such a bad idea in this respect. Dropped a beverage or have dinosaurs drawn onto the seat surfaces? Fear no more, a simple wipe should take it off.

Many family and luxury vehicles come equipped with built-in rear window shades. These roll-ups, besides providing privacy, also reduce the irritating glare for passengers, especially infants and toddlers. And as parents, you know that you do not want to disturb them, especially while sleeping.

While they are awake, a good rear entertainment system is an easy fix to counter boredom and keep them entertained on long hauls. This is an option that often comes in luxury vehicles and SUVs and usually includes dual screens and two pairs of headphones. Some even allow us hook up gaming consoles, if they are into that sort of thing. And to go with that, it helps to have multiple USB ports. These allow everyone to charge their electronic devices, keeping gadgets powered during road trips and everyday commutes. You can also consider getting a vehicle with Wi-Fi, for example, the Audi connect PLUS turns your Audi into a Wi-Fi hotspot, providing full-speed Internet connection for up to eight devices at a time. And this may be important going forward. If you have people with determination in your family or senior folk, perhaps consider getting an MPV with features like power sliding doors.

More to boot

Furthermore, with more people comes more stuff. In this regard, it is important to assess the size and access of the trunk or cargo area to ensure it can accommodate travel luggage, strollers, sports equipment, groceries, and other essentials for your family’s activities. SUVs have a one-up on cars in this respect, thanks to their sheer cargo volume and wide-opening tailgates while EVs like the Tesla Model Y have both a trunk and a frunk, which are things you may want to consider. Fold-flat rear seats can significantly expand cargo space when needed, making it easier to transport large items. And it helps if the second and third row (in SUVs and MPVs) will tumble and fold easily, either electronically with the touch of a button or mechanically with the pull of a lever.

Often, you may have a child or bags of groceries in your arms, and having a hands-free liftgate seems like a useful feature. Although it is not as reliable as the ads suggest, you would rather have it than not.

Also, if you have a large family, it may be sensible to get something with a larger motor. Yes, the cheaper SUVs and MPVs do their job, but on occasion, when loaded to their full capacity of seven or eight passengers (and their luggage), their low-displacement motors will struggle to get to speed, especially on the highway. To avoid that situation, consider getting a vehicle with a larger engine.

Finally, do not underestimate the importance of test-driving multiple vehicles. Get a first-hand feel for how each vehicle drives and how well it meets your family's requirements. After deciding on the vehicle, purchase a motor insurance policy to ensure that all occupants are covered from a medical standpoint. And whether you get a new vehicle or a used one, ensure the car is in optimum condition always, by frequently checking the operation and condition of the engine, transmission, brakes, tyres, and even safety features.

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