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How to… Choose the Best Family Car

When gas prices go up, the most common response is to drive less. Unfortunately, that’s not an option for many families — just try driving the carpool when your car is a bike. Instead, your family may be thinking about trading in your current cars for something more fuel efficient. But buying a car, whether it’s to try and save on gas, or simply because the family doesn’t fit in a roadster anymore, is a stressful proposition. It doesn’t have to be: With a little research and a cool head for negotiating, buying a new family car doesn’t have to be all that bad.

Choose Wisely

“The most important thing a family should look for in a car is flexibility and room to grow,” says Kristin Varela, founder and senior editor of Motherproof.com, a Cars.com website that posts professional car reviews written by mothers. Varela recommends taking the long view with your family car purchase. Sure, your infant may fit in that compact now, but will he be able to kick the back of the driver’s seat when he’s a toddler? And do you need all the room of a giant SUV when your preteens will be driving themselves in a few years? “Think through the lifecycle of the next few years,” recommends Varela, “so as your family lifestyle and dynamic changes, you won’t have to buy a new car.”

Lather, Research, Repeat

Once you’ve narrowed the type of car that will work best for your family in the long run, it’s time to research – obsessively. Hop online to find out exactly what a car’s features, safety scores and fuel economy ratings are. Don’t just stick to the manufactures’ sites. Online research sites like Edmunds.com, Cars.com and Rankingsandreviews.com offer in-depth car reviews, so you can not only see what features a car has, but how well those features perform. “Be aware that sales people aren’t entirely educated on your specific vehicle,” advises Varela. “Finding the correct information yourself gives you an extra coat of armor.”

Take ‘Er for a Spin

One of the most important parts of car buying is the test drive. Varela recommends taking at least two trips to the dealership. The first should be without the kids, so you can take your time and go over the vehicle in detail. The second should be with the kids (and their carseats, booster seats, school backpacks, or anything else you’ll be using on a daily basis) so you can see if the car works for the whole family. Ask everyone’s opinion — if the backseat is too small to be shared comfortably, you’ll be hearing about it for some time. Some dealerships even offer 24 hour test drives. If they do, take them up on it and use the car to do your regular running around.

Don’t Hesitate to Negotiate

With few exceptions, car sales have stagnated, leaving buyers in a strong negotiating position. Still, the only way to get a good price is to do your research. “It’s all about educating yourself,” says Varela. “The more you arm yourself with information, the better prepared you are to negotiate a good deal.” Use the internet to your advantage. Most car research sites allow you to get free quotes from multiple dealers in your area, so you can compare prices. Most dealerships even have an internet sales person who can negotiate over email. You can decide on a price before you even step into the dealership. Some banks and membership services (like Costco) also have services that will negotiate a new car deal for you. If you don’t even want to do that, Valera recommends using a broker —  they can negotiate the price, handle the paperwork and even deliver the car to you.

Jamie Page Deaton is the Lead Automotive Editor of U.S. News and World Report’s www.rankingsandreviews.com

Chesapeake Family serves parents and families in Annapolis, Anne Arundel County, Baltimore, Bowie, Calvert and Prince George’s County and the Eastern Shore of Maryland

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