Traditionally, driving a minivan was the only way to commute the fam. CNBC reported in March of this year that the minivan share of the new car market is down to just 3 percent. More options are available, which is good news for the young and hip family that can choose among crossover SUVs, wagons, sedans, and yes, even minivans. Here are a few things to consider while you’re shopping for the new family cruiser.

Safety

No cargo is more precious than your family, so safety first. Standardized crash testing has been performed by the Department of Transportation and the IIHS for years, and the results are available on their websites, www.safercar.gov and www.iihs.org. Search their databases to see which vehicles perform best.

It’s common knowledge that younger kids should ride in special purpose safety seats. Vehicles built since 2002 use the LATCH system, short for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children, for securing child seats. If a brand new vehicle isn’t in your budget, try to buy one with this safety feature.

Reliability

Stranded on the side of the road is every parent’s nightmare, so reliability is essential. Consumer Reports is perhaps the best known source of independent reliability information, so study their data. Keep in mind you’ll need to sign up for membership, but it’s money well-spent.

Easy Access

Kids are going to ride in the back, and lifting them in and out can be physically strenuous on your back. Score one for sliding doors! Don’t forget that you’ll also be lifting a stroller and other gear in and out of the trunk. A big SUV or wagon-style liftgate makes it so much easier for loading. And if you’re splurging, newer vehicles feature power opening and closing to make life even easier.

Low Running Costs

College tuition, school sports, summer camps – families are expensive, so you don’t want to spend more than you need for transportation. Gas mileage adds up, and you can learn more about it at www.fueleconomy.gov. Don’t overlook the impact of depreciation. Buying a vehicle that holds its value can save you thousands over one that gets an extra mile per gallon. KBB’s “5-Year Cost to Own” tool is a great resource for understanding vehicles that are the most and least expensive.

Practical Features

As any mom will tell you, the best family vehicles have plenty of storage cubbies for wipes and snacks. You’ll even find places to put all the trash that kids generate too. Experienced dads will also point out the value of additional power outlets in the back. Plugging in a DVD player is a great way to mute those cries of “are we there yet?”

There have never been more choices for your first family vehicle, and thorough research ensures you’ll find family-friendly automobiles for sale that meet your family’s needs.

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