Back to School: How to Choose the Perfect New (or New-To-You) Carpool Car

A Girls Guide To Cars | Back To School: How To Choose The Perfect New (Or New-To-You) Carpool Car - Sbccarpool

Your chariot awaits.

I know you’d rather be cruising to the beach in a brand new, sporty convertible right about now, but many of us are looking to buy a good used car right now to start the school year off right. That cute little Miata you’ve had your eye on won’t cut it for carpool duty. So this begs the question – what makes a good used carpooling vehicle?

Of course, you’re going to need room for your kids, maybe a few extra kids if you carpool, as well as book bags, lacrosse sticks, football helmets, dance bags, snacks and water bottles. Often this means vehicles that seat six or more, but what else should you consider? Here are some things to think about this fall.

Lane Departure Systems

Lane departure and lane assist systems help keep you safe. Photo: Creative Commons

Safety, First and Foremost

Your family is precious cargo so the first consideration when buying any vehicle is safety. Check for these features when shopping for your ideal carpool ride:

  • Excellent crash test scores. You can find by visiting the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety
  • Excellent side impact crash tests
  • Good visibility–both sight lines in the car and a rear view camera with a clear, crisp image; ideally, a surround g view camera is best
  • Rear view camera with collision alert
  • A complete suite of driver assist and safety systems including a blind spot warning system, lane departure warning and pre-collision assist
  • Air bags, including curtain airbags
Three Row Suv

Push buttons lower or raise third row seats; these buttons are located in the cargo area. Photo: Scotty Reiss

Convenient Seating and Easy Access

You need plenty of seating but the seating also needs to be convenient and easily accessible for your passengers.  Here are some things to consider:

  • Seating for 6, 7 or 8
  • Center row captain’s chairs with access between them to reach the third row
  • Center row seats that fold forward easily for third row access – can you do this with one hand? Push button options make this easy
  • Running boards on larger SUVs that have higher ground clearance make getting in and out easy for all your passengers

Checking out minivans. Credit: Martine Foreman for AGirlsGuidetoCars.

Considering a Minivan? These models are the best of their generation

Minivans were invented to be people haulers, and they do a great job. They have lots of passenger space, flexible seating and lots of room for gear. Here are some of the top ranking minivans and the cubic feet of space behind the 3rd row–a key measure when you’re thinking of acutally putting peope in the back.

2016 Ford Expedition Second Row

Second row seating of the 2016 Ford Expedition. Photo by Deb Steenhagen for A Girls Guide to Cars

Considering an SUV? These are some of our classic favorites

The combination of low gas prices and the need for space has made SUVs the most popular vehicle in the US. They are a great option if you just can’t bring yourself to drive a minivan.  What you’ll give up is space: most have less than 20 cubic feet of space behind the 3rd row and often, third row seats are better for smaller people. Still, like so many buyers, we’re sold. These are some of our favorites.

2016 Buick Enclave

Thumbs up for the Buick Enclave. Credit: Rene Syler for A Girls Guide to Cars.

Goodies that make life less stressful & more comfy

Don’t forget the little extras that make you smile and time in the car comfortable and productive.  After all, you’ll be spending a good chunk of time in the car and you deserve to be comfortable, too. Here are features to think about:

  • Minivans with double sliding power doors
  • Flip and fold center seats
  • Power rear hatches or rear hatches with a kick-release
  • Remote start (great for extreme hot or cold weather)
  • Smart key with push button start
  • Leather seats – makes cleaning spills easier and long rides more comfortable
  • Second row captain’s chairs
  • Sliding second row seats
  • Navigation
  • An entertainment system with wireless headphones (for peace)
  • Plenty of charge ports for phones and tablets; be sure all USB  ports charge–some don’t!
  • Household plug for charging computers
  • Refrigeration cool boxes
  • Plenty of cup holders and bottle holders in door panels

It’s not a deal if it doesn’t work for you.

Shopping and Buying: Things to remember

Brands are very competitive when it comes to features. If you can’t locate the exact car you want, try shopping a different dealer or brand.

Figure out the right purchase strategy for your budget and lifestyle. This is the lease/buy conundrum; but do the math, including the number of miles you drive each year, how long you plan to keep the car and how often you buy a new car and the answer should be clear.

Be sure to look at the incentives that are available from the manufacturer when you’re shopping. Some months offer better incentives, financing and lease rates than others. It is very important to look at what programs are being offered because sometimes you can get more for the money then you expected.

Know your limits, what you can spend, what the car you want costs and what you expect to get for your money. Remember, a deal isn’t a deal unless it works for you.

Oh, and don’t give up on that little 2-seater sports car, there’s plenty of time for that once the kids are grown and on their own–which sadly, happens faster than you think.

Terri Marshall grew up road-tripping around the country. Her love for the open road remains strong today. A travel... More about Terri Marshall