So you’re going to be a Dad (or Mom). Congratulations!

You should know to expect a lot of things to change when that little bundle of joy arrives. Time management (along with sleep) will be very important and so will budget control. For a few out there, part of the changes will be buying your first family car or trading up for one. But what should expecting parents look for in a new vehicle?

Bear in mind that space and size aren’t the only criteria for this purchase. If it is, you’ll be in line buying a panel van. That's not the only thing you should look at. Now is the time for the OC in you to take control and be as meticulous as possible.

Scour the internet for as much information about the vehicles you plan to buy. Look at all the tiny details to make sure you don’t leave anything out. One extra feature or added equipment not only increases its value-for-money proposition but may also end up saving your family’s life too.

Now, I know you’ll be busy with prenatal prep and reading parenting 101 books so I’ve gone ahead and compiled a list of very important qualities your (next) family car should have. Read and remember these so you know what to look for when you actually begin family car hunting.

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Body style/type

We’re not talking about your dad bod. This is about the different body styles to choose from. Price plays a major factor so the bigger (and taller) it is, the more expensive it will usually be.

Four-door sedans and hatchbacks will probably be a no-brainer for most mainly because it’s the budget-friendliest of all. The most obvious downside is space or lack of it, which makes it a counterproductive choice. The hatchback will have a little more cargo space but less legroom because of the shorter wheelbase.

Crossovers are a very slight upgrade from sedans. They’re also roomier because of the tailgate but the short wheelbase may not be too good for everyone except the baby. Another plus for this body type is higher ground clearance, which should get you safely over humps and steep ramps. Could be pricier than sedans and hatchbacks.

MPV/SUV body styles are the most popular in the Philippines for a reason. They’re reasonably big and spacious without sacrificing style and comfort. The MPV is designed to carry and load more so they’re usually seven-seaters with flat-folding rear seats that can accommodate cargo. SUVs are typically tall five-seaters with a certain level of off-road capability. MPVs are more versatile and utilitarian and are cheaper than SUVs.

Wagons are the long-forgotten ancestors of the hatchback. While its integrated trunk is such a desired feature, it keeps losing to SUVs because of the lack of ground clearance. Well, the wagon is answering back with bigger boot space in newer models. The downside is there aren’t that many affordable hatchbacks locally.

Vans have the most space over any of the body styles but will speak poorly about your personal style (unless you set it up like this). Having a rectangular interior makes its cabin extremely customizable. You can choose various configurations like captain’s chairs in the middle or sofa-type seating but this will cost you.

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Vehicle safety scores

In the Philippine setting, these scores are very much overlooked. But for a family, it shouldn't be. You want something with a good (if not maximum) rating under the latest crash test procedures. Preferably, these should come from a reputable program in the region you’re living in. For us, it’s the ASEAN NCAP (New Car Assessment Program for Southeast Asian Countries).

They are an independent body that performs a painstaking number of trials and checks on every new passenger vehicle model released in our market. Vehicles are tested based on their performance in the following: Adult Occupant Protection, Child Occupant Protection, Safety Assist, and Motorcyclist Safety.

The results are ratings on a five-star scale, with five stars being the highest.

Oftentimes, this is the last thing that gets checked (if at all) as customers make their vehicle purchase. A flashy design and a slim price tag are usually the main attractions.

Now that you’re about to be a parent, safety should be your #1 priority, which is why this is on top of the list. Always check your desired vehicle against this to have an idea of how safe it is should it end up in a collision.

Do note that on rare occasions, some models go through an NCAP from another region in the world like Australia/New Zealand, China, Euro, and even Global NCAP.

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Child seat compatibility

ISOfix is also known as LATCH (Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children) in the USA, Canfix in Canada, and globally as UCSSS (Universal Child Safety Seat System). This has been made standard in most cars since 2002. These are fixed anchor points in the seat that you can latch/attach a car seat to.

Another way to secure a car seat is by using the vehicle’s seatbelt. Certain models allow for seatbelts to be inserted through loops at the back of the car seat (for babies) and through the front (for toddlers).

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This is important to know so that you buy car seats that are compatible with your vehicle’s system.

It’s also important to note that RA 11229 mandates the use of an age-appropriate and quality child restraint system in motor vehicles and prohibits children below 12 years old (who are below 4 feet 11 inches) to sit beside the driver when the vehicle is moving.

However, the enforcement of the child seat law is on indefinite hold. President Duterte suspended its implementation last year after the law was met with criticism.

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Advanced safety features

Modern cars have a sufficient amount of safety features but newer cars get some of the really advanced stuff. Like with any merchandise, the more it has, the pricier it will be.

The must-haves are actually standard stuff like seatbelts (arguably the single most important vehicle safety equipment), Anti-lock Brake System or ABS (prevents wheels from locking up during hard braking), Traction Control (limits wheel spin for maximum traction), Electronic Stability Control (controls wheels so the vehicle can avoid slipping or skidding), and even reverse or backup cameras.

When it comes to airbags, choose the ones with dual-stage front airbags. These detect the weight and seat position of the front passengers. It then deactivates or reduces power when deployed to minimize the chance of injury to children. Also, get models with side curtain airbags as these protect heads better during a collision.

Then comes some of the optional, more advanced stuff. Some automakers offer them separately while others bundle it up as a package like Toyota Safety Sense or Honda Sensing. The following are accident avoidance systems, also known as driver assistance systems:

Brake assist - Detects when a driver initiates a panic stop and applies the brakes to maximum force.

Forward-collision warning (FCW) – Scans ahead for vehicles and alerts the driver if they are approaching one too fast and a crash is imminent.

Automatic emergency braking (AEB) - Senses a potential collision. If the driver doesn’t react in time, it will initiate automatic braking. Some brands know this by other names like Forward Collision Mitigation or Active City Brake. 

Pedestrian detection – Camera system or radar scan for pedestrians ahead and will alert the driver or start automatic emergency braking if a collision is imminent.

Adaptive cruise control (ACC) – Maintains a set distance between you and the car ahead with the help of cruise control.

Blind-spot warning (BSW) – Alerts driver that another vehicle is in the blind spot. Also known as BLIS.

Rear cross-traffic alert (RCTA) - Senses traffic behind your vehicle as you reverse.

Lane-departure warning (LDW) - Alerts the driver if the vehicle steers out of its lane without using the turn signals.

Lane-keeping assist system (LKAS) – In conjunction with LDW, it gently guides the vehicle back in its lane. Sometimes known by other names like Lane Tracing Assist. 

Parking assist systems – These are known by various names but all do one thing, assist the driver in parallel parking, sometimes even perpendicular parking. Basically, the vehicle does the steering and the driver just modulates the throttle or brakes.

Wouldn’t it be great to get all these in one vehicle? Yes, it would, but that would be expensive. Having some or all of those will be highly dependent on your budget.  

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Cargo space and versatility

While this feature may not mean life and death, lack of it may mean forgetting to bring baby equipment, which may cause your wife (or partner) to want to kill you. Choose wisely.

When looking at cargo spaces, know the lingo first. You’ll see ‘60/40’, sometimes ‘50/50’, ‘split-folding seats’ a lot. The former means you can fold 60% of the seat’s backrest and keep the other 40% up, and vice versa. The latter means it’s an even split of the seat’s backrest. Always pick the models with seats that split and then fold flat into the floor for a much larger cargo area. Also, take into consideration the way it folds. Some automakers have this one-touch feature so there aren’t that many levers or latches that need to be pulled to fold the seat. Use this for three- and two-row models.

Once you’ve figured out how the seats fold, take measurements based on the cabin’s different seating or loading configurations. Try it with only 60% of the rear seats folded and then 40% before folding all 100%. See how big the cargo space is side to side and from top to bottom.

Now you’ll have an idea if it’ll fit all the stuff your baby needs, including strollers, picnic umbrellas, etc.

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Cabin amenities and comfort features

Babies today, even toddlers, aren’t content with just simply looking out the window and enjoying the scenery, especially during a long drive.

Because of the internet, accessibility to baby tunes and shows is now easier than ever, and these kids know it. They want to listen to their songs and watch their episodes whenever they can, which is why it’s very important to know what kind of system, screen, and speakers these vehicles have.

In today’s auto market, Apple CarPlay and Android Auto have to come standard already. Having these immediately make it easier for you to access Spotify and play soothing baby music. It also makes Waze and other important apps easier to manage, so that’s one less thing on your mind.

Rear seat entertainment is a must if you’re driving toddlers around. They’re away for longer and babies need visual stimuli to stay still. Look for models with monitors that either pop down from the ceiling or are mounted on the rear of the front headrest/backrest.

Almost everything now is USB powered, including bottle warmers, disinfecting equipment, and even bottle sterilizers. Having ports available not just in the front row will make things a lot easier for you, mama, and yaya.

Hands-free liftgates are considered luxury features and aren’t quite as common. But if you do find one in a reasonably priced model, that’s a major plus point. As a new parent, you’ll be loading more than you can carry all the time. If you can use your feet to open the tailgate, that’s like having an extra arm without looking like a freak.

Electric coolers are more for the adults in the car. This will come in handy for beverages you want to keep cool for the long drive.

Conversation mirrors aren’t essential but would be great to have. As a parent, you’re always naturally protective of your offspring. It would be great to just glance up to see how they’re doing (especially if they won’t stop crying) instead of having to completely turn your head around. Remember, must keep your eyes on the road at all times.

Retractable sunshades are also another extra you can go without. If you picked a great tint brand, this will do the job just fine.

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Affordability and fuel efficiency

Now that you’ve got a family on the way, this gets major consideration because every peso you save goes to the diaper fund, or to milk, clothes, or even just straight to savings. And trust us, with enrollment prices now, you want to start saving early.

It isn’t a very hard and fast rule but in general, smaller displacement engines are more fuel-efficient. But since this segment is saturated with engines between 1.0L to 1.5L displacements, make an informed decision before putting your money down.

Also, try to get the best deal available. As auto brands are reinvigorating the market with awesome deals and offers, check with dealerships on what they have that can make the purchase easier on your pocket.

One last thing: ask around as to how much the maintenance of the vehicle actually costs. That will definitely be a factor over the long term.

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Now that you have a comprehensive list of what to look for, the final question you have to ask is an introspective one, “do I really need it?”

Note that car ownership does come with its own set of responsibilities and the cost of ownership details a long list of expenses that you must be ready for.

If your answer is a solid ‘yes’ and your mental ledger indicates that you’re in the black, get yourself that family mobile (just don’t forget the baby seat because it’s the law).