We’ve become quite the seasoned travelers in the last couple years. From Atlanta to Texas, Michigan, Tennessee, North Carolina, South Carolina, Florida and more. We’ve put some miles on our van and there is no stopping us from adding more. Fingers crossed that as long as we keep up with our van maintenance, we won’t be car shopping for while. But, I know how quickly that can change. After a recent trip to CarMax to scope out vehicle features and combining that with the number of trips we’ve taken and what to look for, I’ve come up with 11 must-have features to look for when car shopping for our big family and road trips.
Our curent vans are a 2011 Dodge Grand Caravan and a 2004 Honda Odyssey. Yes. We have old vans. But they are paid off. We purchased our Honda Odyssey about 4 weeks after our second daughter was born in 2008. It’s been with us for a while. The Dodge was purchased in 2013. Having two very similar but very different vans, I think it’s safe to say we know what we like to see in our vehicles for our family of 6. I hope this will help you in the purchase of your new vehicle for your big family to enjoy on road trips during the summer, or even during the holidays.
Holiday Road Trips
According to a recent Google Consumer Survey of U.S. online consumers, people will go far to visit family and friends. Nearly 1 in 4 respondents (24.9%) drive more than 100 miles to celebrate holidays. But on the flip side, nearly 1 in 3 respondents (31.9%) drive 25 miles or less to celebrate holidays. Surprisingly for the holidays, we don’t usually travel to see family, but we will meet up with friends.
Since it’s been a while since we bought a car, and our cars are older, the features and amenities of newer cars are greatly improved compared to what we’re driving. Fortunately, Jesus at CarMax, the nation’s largest retailer of used cars, was able to take me through several different vehicles, all of which seated 6 or more people. Why CarMax? Because we won’t buy a brand new car. It’s just not in us. But they had some on the lot that were less than 6 months old!
When I told Jesus what we were looking for, he brought me straight to the minivans, which was perfect, of course.
We also looked at a couple large SUVs and he helped point out some of the features I hadn’t thought of for a big family. While CarMax has bigger vehicles with more seats, this location didn’t have them regularly on their lot. But CarMax has 180+ locations across the country and they are growing. So if your location doesn’t have the car you want, CarMax can ship a car from one CarMax store to another, with no obligation.
So, what are these features to look for in a vehicle when shopping for our big family?
1. How many people does it seat?
Seems like a no-brainer, but make sure your big family will fit in seats…with seatbelts. For us, we need 6 seats. This was really our staring point for looking at vehicles. We knew a sedan wasn’t going to cut it in our vehicle search. Also, do you want a middle seat in the middle row, an aisle, or removable seats?
2. Your children’s carseats
Learn from our mistake. You need to take your existing carseats to the vehicles and test out the arrangements. Can you shuffle them around? Are you stuck with only one configuration? How many LATCH + tether arrangements are there in the back seat? The Dodge and Chrysler minivans can only have one forward-facing carseat in the back row which could be a big deal breaker and something you might not think to check for.
3. Entertainment system
We use the DVD player in our van on almost every road trip. We get to listen along and all of the girls watch the same movie. They get to practice compromising and give and take and we get to sing along to the classics. So, if this is important for you, you should note that 2015 models and later no longer include entertainment systems. It’s more affordable for each person to have their own device with their own entertainment.
4. All of the power
No, I’m not talking about the engine. That’s for another time and place. I’m talking about powering all of those entertainment devices. Does the car have a built-in inverter creating 110 volt outlets, or USB outlets? When you are on a 14+ hour road trip, you don’t want the batteries to die on devices.
Where is the storage and will it work for your family? We tend to use the back of our van and fill it almost all the way. Now that we don’t need diapers, we bring less, but we at least need 4 suitcases for every trip.
Some families like to take advantage of roof racks or trailer hitch racks. Just make sure what you prefer is an option.
Can you safely communicate with somebody while in the car? Bluetooth is a hot commodity for communicating as well as making GPS directions heard over the main speakers. It might not be something you really need, but it’s high up on the want list.
7. Back seat
Can your children or extra adults easily get to the back seat and third row? Also, consider if there will be a carseat on this seat. It’s nice that the seats can fold forward or into the floorboard, but make sure you think about a carseat also being in the seat and if people can walk around it. You’ll notice further up, a van had a console between those two seats. This could make it tricky to get to the back if there was a carseat on this folding seat.
Also, make sure you pay attention to the leg room. Our 11 year old can’t actually get her feet down between the rows of some vehicles. This was the case for all of the mid and large size SUVs. It’s just a smaller seating space.
8. Backup Camera
Yes. You need one. If you’ve driven a vehicle with one and then without, you will know why. They really help you see all around behind the vehicle. With a big family on the road, you might have a lot of people in the car. Or, you might be loading up and forget that one suitcase. Backup camera to the rescue.
safety ratings (safercar.gov)
9. Sliding Doors
Not only can your kids not ding neighboring doors anymore, but it’s so much easier for them to get out of the car. On a windy day, you don’t have to worry about it shutting on them. We are team sliding doors all the way.
10. Safety Ratings
Jesus mentioned that he likes all customers to check out safety ratings for all vehicles on safercar.gov where you can compare them between cars.
Is the vehicle comfortable? You are going to be sitting in it for potentially a long time. You want to make sure your body is as happy as it can be while seated behind the steering wheel. But make sure you check out the other seats too. There might be that time when you are needed in the back and end up sitting in the way back for a road trip. You want to make sure you like it back there.
Buying at CarMax
With CarMax’s no haggle pricing, CarMax makes it easy to find the right car for you at a price you can trust. Your car’s no-haggle price is the same online as it is on the lot, and they offer flexible financing options. The price is displayed in the window as well as several financing options to give you an idea of a payment if that’s something you are interested in.
Before going to CarMax you can search their entire inventory online and see many pictures of the vehicles. You can even see their free auto check online to tell you the history of the vehicle and it’s title.
If you are looking to trade your car, they will do that, too. They will buy your car even if you don’t buy theirs. CarMax’ fast, free appraisals take as little as 30 minutes, and the offer is good for seven days at any CarMax location. And they will buy any car, no matter its age or condition.
We are hopefully a ways away from purchasing another vehicle, but I know these are the must-have features to look for when car shopping for our big family…some of them allow for wiggle, others not so much.
What are your must-have car features?