Choosing a car always involves an element of compromise. You may not be able to get everything you want or need for the price you can afford.
Which type of car?
The right car for you and your family is one that has room for all of you and anything else you need to carry. It's also one that's easy to get you and your equipment into and out of.
Hatchbacks are better than saloons if you have a buggy or something else that needs to go in the boot. They usually have lower sills and wider openings. If you have a lot to carry, get an estate, as it will have an even bigger boot. To look for cars by boot size, see our Advanced car search.
For carrying lots of people in comfort, you'll need a multi-purpose vehicle - usually just called an MPV. These have more space in the back. Seven-seat MPVs have a third row in the back. In more compact seven-seaters, these seats can be folded away into the boot floor - you don't get much space for luggage with the seats up. These fold-up seats may not be big enough for large children and may become uncomfortable on long journeys.
You'll certainly need the extra row of seats if you have more than two children who need child seats, as you won't be able to fit three standard child seats next to each other. However, Multimac makes three- and four-child car seats, which can be fitted to the rear seats of most cars; they take children up to 12 years (36kg). A baby seat is also available.
Getting in and out
Fitting a child seat and lifting a child in and out is easier if the door is high and wide, and opens at a wide angle. Some cars have sliding doors in the back, which is especially useful in car parks.
If you have a child with physical disabilities, there are a number of things you'll also need to consider; see Getting disabled children into and out of a car.
Everybody in the car needs to be seated comfortably and securely. In the case of children younger than 12 or under 135cm tall (about 4' 5"), this means they must have a suitable child seat. Children need different seats, depending on what they weigh:
- babies up to 13kg (about 2 stone) - Group 0 and Group 0+ backward-facing seats
- babies and children between 9 and 18kg (1.5 to 3 stone) - Group I forward- or backward-facing seats
- children from 15 to 25kg (2.5 to 4 stone) - Group II forward-facing car seats (booster seats)
- children above 22kg (3.5 stone) - Group III booster cushions
Group 0 and Group I seats are attached to the car seat using the existing seat belt or using the ISOFIX system. ISOFIX seats are easier to put into the car because they just clip into anchor points mounted in the car. All new cars have ISOFIX anchor points, but not all older cars have, so you must check this before you get the seat.
Child seats must also conform to the United Nations standard, ECE Regulation 44.04. Look for the 'E' mark label on the seat. Alternatively, the child seat may conform to the EU ‘i-size’ safety regulations for child car seats (ECE R129), introduced in July 2013 to make child car seats easier to fit, provide better protection from side impacts and keep children rearward-facing for longer. ‘I-size’ regulations only apply to Isofix seats.
Backward-facing seats must not be used in a seat that has an airbag. If you want to use one of these seats in the front of the car, check that the airbag can be switched off. If you have smaller children in forward-facing seats, you'll also need to switch off the airbag.
Which? have some useful child car seat safety checks on their site.
Standard features and extras
Many standard features and extras can make driving with children easier and more comfortable. Look out for the following:
Many cars have adjustable seats in the front, but some also have them in the back. If the back seats can slide backwards and forwards, it makes it easier for your back-seat passengers to get in and out, and to get themselves comfortable.
Raised back seats (stadium seats)
In some MPVs, the back seats are higher than the front seats. This allows the back-seat passengers to see over the seats in front, which is more pleasant and can help prevent car-sickness.
Look for roomy door pockets and clever storage solutions such as lockers in the roof lining or the floor.
Music, video and video games can help keep children happy on long journeys. Some cars have built-in DVD players in the back, or you can get your own and fix it to the headrest of the front seat (they usually come with straps for this). Check that there are 12V power points in the back.
Tinted windows in the back can give extra privacy.
This information is unbiased and we hope it will help you choose the right option to meet your needs. We don't sell products.
Last updated: August 2018