My car seat era is about to end. I am a father with kids who have nearly outgrown their car seats, and so I’m just about past the hell of juggling their seats between press cars, gathering up boosters before the parents of their friends pick them up, and digging food remains out of every crevasse of a car’s interior. I’m thinking about having a party to celebrate never having to deal with those damn seats again.
As a seasoned father -- the best dad in the world, just ask my kids -- it’s always fun to chat with people who are soon to be new parents. They’re aware that I know something about cars, and they want advice on what to buy before their first child arrives. I usually tell them to do nothing until after the birth. You can then figure out what you like and don’t like about your current car’s functionality and size after you actually become parents. My wife inherited my car when we tied the knot. It was a silver 2002 Subaru WRX sedan with no rear wing, and a manual gearbox. The perfect Scooby setup. It wasn’t the ideal family car but my wife loved driving the WRX. The street-legal four-door rally car easily accommodated both a Peg Perego infant car seat and, later, a Britax Roundabout convertible car seat. If we didn’t have room for all the items we thought we needed for a weekend getaway, we didn’t take them. Problem solved. But then kid No. 2 was upon us and we needed more space. It was time for a car-shopping adventure.
You don’t want to go car shopping with me. Well, you don’t want to tag along when I am car shopping. This time, it involved researching exactly what car seats I would need for both children as they grow and taking the seats to each dealership. How easy is each seat to install? How is access for getting the kids in and out of each seat? Are the ISOFIX car seat connection points and the rear seatbelt setups logically and functionally laid out? Obviously, we had to like the car but passion had to come after logic. The winner had to tick all the boxes for function first.
We bought a 2006 Subaru Legacy wagon. It was silver, had a manual gearbox, but was not the turbo (GT). The simplicity, fuel economy, and price of the peasant-spec version had a certain appeal. The Legacy proved an excellent car. It’s bigger than compact German wagons but smaller than midsize wagons. We later moved up to a BMW 530xi wagon, also with a manual gearbox. We wanted a bit more space, and I was looking for stability control and newer technology like Bluetooth and iPod integration. We then replaced the BMW with a Mercedes E350 4Matic wagon. With two kids, we’ve never needed more space than the Benz offers. The third-row seat on the E350 wagon is perfect for the occasional carpool run, which was the catalyst for the purchase.
While I wouldn’t necessarily recommend any of these wagons for other parents, my best advice is this: You don’t necessarily need a sport/utility vehicle or minivan. Check out a variety of offerings in different segments and set aside the time for a proper, lengthy test drive with your car seats in hand (and kids too, if that doesn’t scare you too much). Check out the ease and function of the car seat installation, access to all rows of seating with the car seats installed, and the layout and size of the cargo area. Check for blind spots and test the vehicle on the same or similar roads that you normally use. Take notes on what you liked and didn’t like about each model. It’s amazing to me how laid-back many buyers are, when you consider that an automobile is the second most expensive purchase for most of us.
When you’re done with the test-drive process, review your notes and come up with a list of top candidates. Then hop on the Internet and research in detail the various options and packages of your top picks. Next, get back in touch with the dealership(s) and run the numbers. If you still can’t decide, don’t be afraid to go back for another test drive.
An educated buyer is a skilled buyer. Driving away from the dealership in your new vehicle is far more exciting when you know you’ve done all you can to make the right decision for you and your family. And it’ll help you enjoy the car seat era of parenting a bit more. You’ll be more comfortable as you look forward to the send-off party for the day you never have to deal with those cumbersome, annoying automobile kid thrones again.