It's a well-known fact that for most of us, our family car is our second largest investment, eclipsed only by our home. That's why it's so important to make sure you choose the right car for your needs, to avoid costly mistakes! So, if you're considering upgrading your family car, this page will help you make the right choices when deciding on your next set of wheels.

1. Identifying your requirements

Firstly, it's really essential to make a list of things you want from your next car, and things you need. It's also important to understand the difference between them and allow yourself to compromise between them!

Examples of "wants" could be a particular brand or trim level, upgraded alloy wheels or a specific colour (the fun stuff), whereas "needs" are the practicalities such as boot space, number of seats, fuel economy or reliability. If you're trying to justify upgrading your car in your own mind, it will often be the needs that help you make the decision to go for it, and the wants will just make the prospect slightly more attractive!

Don't forget that it shouldn't just be about the needs, you'll be spending a lot of time driving your car and looking at it out on the driveway. If you don't consider the little perks of owning a particular car as well as the practical aspects, it will just disappoint you every time you drive it. Even those of you who only use the car for school runs need to enjoy the ownership experience.

Read more about the best small family cars here >

Read more about the best family SUVs here >

2. Factors to consider when making your decision

This is where you look at your needs in greater detail. Plan ahead to make sure the car will still be fit for your needs in a couple of years’ times.

  • Are you planning on growing your family?
  • Are you about to change jobs and give yourself a longer commute?

Perhaps consider the Diesel over the Petrol model for better fuel economy. If you have the heart versus head debate early on in your buying journey, you'll end up with the right car that will keep doing the job for you as long as you need it to, without you having to waste money changing it in a few months when your needs change. Research different cars online or visit dealers to see how they compare in terms of space, equipment and fuel economy. It's also well worth looking at owners' reviews online, to see what current owners really think of their cars. This will tell you what real owners think of factors such as fuel economy, reliability and practicality. If you've got a range of people complaining about a factor that is important to you, perhaps it's wise to scratch that car off your list.


Also take the time to look at less obvious factors such as if when old enough your children can learn to drive in this car, safety features and environmental considerations. Your family mean the world to you, so choosing the safest possible car will be an obvious benefit. Crash test results and details of safety features fitted to the car will give you some idea of how your car and its occupants would fare if the unthinkable happens, consider the importance of car seat safety and how this may be impacted by the car you drive.

Owners are now increasingly thinking about environmental factors such as CO2 emissions, and what proportion of components can be recycled at the end of its life. Recent bad press about Diesel emissions means that a lot of us are now turning back to petrol models, especially now technology has moved forward and some are nearly as economical as their Diesel counterparts. There are also a growing range of hybrid or electric-only models available, meaning that it's now easier than ever to own an environmentally friendly car.  

Read our pick of the 3 best family cars currently on the market >

3. Understand our finance options

Set yourself a rough budget, and see what you can find in your price bracket. This could be based on a cash sum, a desired monthly finance payment, or simply what you can justify to yourself. If you're looking to pay cash, don't discount the finance options because sometimes you can get a great value finance package, and leave the cash in your savings account for something else.

If you're looking at finance, there are a huge number of options available to suit all budgets. Be prepared to stretch a little for the right car if it's going to suit your needs for longer. As much as we all love a brand-new car on the newest plate, it's a known fact that some new cars depreciate quickly, the minute a person drives a new car off the lot it loses approximately 10 percent of its value. By the end of the first year, that car will lose an additional 10 percent on average (Carfax).

With each successive year, the rate of depreciation decreases significantly. Considering the same nearly new car with a low mileage could save you thousands, meaning you could get a better car for less money. 

Read more about setting a budget for your new family car >

Read more about your car finance options >

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4. Behind the wheel

Now for the fun bit! Go out to the dealers and have a play. As much as you may have one car you aspire to own, don't just look at one car from one brand, but make sure you look at several to give you a good idea of whether you can get everything you want and need, within your budget. Viewing a range of cars will also show you whether you really need and want the things you thought you did! 

Once you're sat in the driving seat, what do you need to be thinking about? Have a look around the car and ask yourself if it has enough room for all the passengers you need to transport. Is the boot big enough? Can you fit a buggy in, or accommodate your hobbies such as bicycles? Don't be afraid to bring extra people or the buggy to make sure they fit.

Have a play with all the controls to make sure everything is within easy reach and simple to operate, because something that starts off as a simple niggle can quickly become very annoying to live with. Set the seat and all the mirrors exactly how you'd want them, to check that it's comfortable for you. If you're going to drive a lot of miles, an uncomfortable seat could become a big problem. Make sure it has all the equipment you'd want it to have - don't be tempted to buy it if it's missing something important. Oh, and a top tip, make sure the stereo sounds good and has plenty of connectivity to make those long journeys more enjoyable!

Family cars

The test drive is an essential part of the buying process. Drive it on a range of roads to make sure it stands up to everything you'll demand of it. Particularly aim for roads that you use a lot, so you can assess factors such as road noise at motorway speeds, how easy it is to drive at low speeds in town, or how the suspension deals with bumpy country roads. Think about whether the seat is still comfortable, how it corners and whether it accelerates quick enough for a safe overtake. Drive several cars under the same conditions to see which one drives the best and stacks up against your list of needs and wants. Testing them all against the same benchmark should quickly identify a winner.

Read more about comfortable cars here > 

5. Choosing the right dealer

It is also important to consider where you want to buy your car. What kind of buying experience do you want? Is it a long-term relationship with a trusted dealer who can take care of all the servicing, maintenance and welcome you back when it's time to change again? Or are you just looking for a good value car anywhere in the country, where you can turn up, collect your car and go? Either way it's important to research dealers too, to make sure you'll get the best service and a car that's been well prepared. Ask friends and family to see if there's anyone they would recommend, or indeed anyone they think you should avoid!

Also look for online reviews to see what real customers think to the dealer. To give you an idea of how we like to treat our customers at Thame Cars, have a look at our TrustPilot reviews. The dealers who care about the way they treat their customers will also care about how they prepare their cars.

There is lots to think about when choosing the right family car for you, from equipment or reliability, to selecting the right dealer to buy from. It's essential to consider the important things, which will make sure you get the right car to suit your needs. It's also important to allow yourself to enjoy the buying process a little too!

Enjoy exploring the market, driving different cars and picking the perfect one, to make sure that not only will it serve your needs for the whole time you own it, but you'll feel that little bit of excitement every time you get in it for a spin. 

Read more about how to choose the right used car dealership for your needs >

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