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The Family Car

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By Lissa Poirot

Life before kids meant you could choose a car that suited your style. Rugged outdoorsmen could go for a Jeep Wrangler or a Ford F-150. Stylish women on the go could soak up rays in a Sebring convertible. But now you have kids and the rules change. There are some things you need to consider before purchasing a family car, whether you're making way for baby or accommodating a soccer-loving 10 year old (and most of his friends). We spoke to a few Gwinnett car dealerships about the trends, the needs and the best buys.

Safety
In a 2004 Consumer Reports review of the automobiles that fared the best in crash tests with child-size dummies, the tops by far were minivans and SUVs. In both types of vehicles, accidents resulted in less damage to the cars and had an increased chance of survival for passengers. Because SUVs have a higher rollover rate, the minivan came out slightly ahead, with Consumer Reports naming the Toyota Sienna minivan as their favorite.

"As the saying goes, the bigger the car and the more hardware you can get around you, the better chance you have of coming out alive," says Jim Valentine of Lou Sobh Automotive, Duluth.

While SUVs and minivans may be considered the safest vehicles, some manufacturers are also known specifically for safety, including Saab, Volvo and Mercedes. "The Mercedes reputation is built on its safety and engineering," says Cathy Ellis of Atlanta Classic Cars, Duluth. "As far as I”m concerned, you can”t be in a safer car."

More Safety
You can never be too safe when it comes to your children, and outside of crash tests, there are safety features to be aware of. Rear sensors are a hot safety feature that alerts the driver to objects behind the vehicle. Check for child locks on power windows and doors that can be controlled from the driver seat so children cannot open doors or windows on their own. In sedans and other cars, watch for interior trunk releases, in case your child accidentally locks himself in the trunk. (Hey! It can happen.)

"Rear safety sensors are very popular in the market right now," says Valentine. "While they were originally found only in minivans, they are appearing in more and more SUVs and vehicles now. Anything in regards to safety is going to be a key feature to parents."

Ease of Entry
When test-driving a new car, as difficult as it may seem, bring the kids. Check the safety harnesses to make sure they can accommodate a car seat, or that they are adjustable to your child”s size and fit properly. Check for roominess and that your car seat can actually fit in the space, and that it is easy for you to get your children in and out of the car. On SUVs, trucks and minivans, running boards can make big steps easier on little ones.

"The minivan is the best vehicle for parents of small children because of the ease of reach in and out and that they don”t have to step up and in to get into the vehicle," says Mike Hayes of Hayes Chrysler, Lawrenceville. "While SUVs are great, and we”ve seen a trend in families wanting SUVs to avoid becoming “minivan moms,” if children are anywhere from infant to age 10, you”ll want a vehicle that is easy to get the kids into, as well as all of their gear. And most minivans feature stow-and-go seating for a