Questions when choosing a family car that will carry children

When choosing a car, you have to ask yourself...

Big or small car?

How well a car protects children is based on the use of child safety seats. For this reason, you should choose a vehicle that has enough space for the number of seats you need to install and use safely and comfortably. Whenever possible, children should ride in the back seat of the vehicle, and not all cars allow three children in car seats to ride in the rear at the same time.

Remember: Bigger is better and… be ready for whatever comes!

Three or more doors?

Installing a child seat in the vehicle, as well as seating and buckling a child into it, are operations that normally require some freedom of movement and easy access to the rear seats. Three-door vehicles do not allow for easy maneuvering, so four- or five-door vehicles are much more comfortable in terms of access.

Five doors are better than three

And the trunk?

When traveling with children, especially when they are younger, we seem to have rather a lot of luggage: strollers, bottles, diapers, changing tables, toys, food, travel cots, and the list goes on. All this should be taken into account when looking for a family vehicle.

Space is needed for a day care center.

Can all child seats be installed in all vehicles?

Although many child seats are currently compatible with the vast majority of vehicles, it can be difficult to correctly install certain models of child seats in certain vehicles. To dispel any doubts you may have, you should try to install the child seat in the vehicle you are planning to purchase. Some ISOFIX seats (dictionary link), on the other hand, can only be installed in certain vehicle models (the list of approved vehicles always appears in the instructions for each seat).

Although most are compatible, it is necessary to find out all the necessary information beforehand.

Is it better to have a car with or without ISOFIX?

Both systems are very safe and everything depends on knowing how to install the seat properly. 

While with ISOFIX anchorages there is no room for error, if you are installing a car seat using a safety belt you must carefully follow each and every one of the steps indicated by the manufacturer, in other words, you must pass the belt through the slots of the child restraint system  as indicated by the manufacturer (click here to see the different ways to install a car seat).

The ISOFIX anchorage prevents installation mistakes, so the seat is always positioned correctly and it is much easier to fix in the car. When it comes to installing the seat with the seat belt, it must pass through all the slots and be pulled tight and not folded in any way. 

Whichever system you end up choosing, both are extremely safe and essential options. You should read the manufacturer’s instructions carefully and follow all the steps indicated when installing the seat and when securing the child in it.

What types of vehicle safety systems can contribute to the safety of young children?

There are a number of different safety systems or devices inside cars which help improve road safety for children and which should therefore be taken into account when choosing a vehicle.

A child restraint system, known as a CRS, is the best possible safety system for young children. Vehicles with ISOFIX anchorages help ensure that the seats are installed correctly and therefore also contribute to overall safety. Securing a child car seat with a seat belt is also safe to do (providing this is indicated by the manufacturer) although we must make sure we follow each and every one of the steps in order not to make any mistakes. Here you can see how to install and correctly secure a child car seat and how to put the child in the seat properly.

Now, many cars are equipped with ‘i-Size’ seats, which are larger and allow for the fitting of car seats approved under the R-129 standard (here you can see what this consists of). These cars usually have a reinforced floor in order to be able to install child car seats with a Support Leg while some have a Top Tether.

One important factor to take into account in terms of large families (2 MB) is to ensure that the rear seats are independent of one another and that there are three completely separate seats, allowing child car seats to be installed on each one. 

Another very important option is the possibility of disabling the front passenger seat airbag, especially if we place children in rear-facing seats. We should not forget that they must travel on the rear seats save for the three exceptions detailed here.

It is also very important for the car to have automatic door locks so that children cannot open the doors when the car is moving, as well as window locks. The car’s mirrors also help us keep an eye on young children, particularly the rear-view mirror. By attaching a mirror to the headrest of the rear seat where the rear-facing child seat is located, the driver can observe the child’s face through the center rear-view mirror without taking their eyes off the road. 

Vehicles now come equipped with advanced front airbags that can detect the severity of an accident and even the size of the passenger, whether they are using a seat belt or a child car seat, as well as the seat’s position. There are even systems capable of overruling airbag deployment in the case of young children. Side airbags, which protect passengers in the event of side impacts are also very useful. Because these deploy rapidly, it is highly advisable for children to travel in the central rear seat.

We will also come across automatic windows that can detect whether there is something in the way, a trunk that can be opened from the inside in case a child is left locked in a vehicle and a very important system, an audible alarm that warns us if a passenger is not wearing their seat belt, which can also be applied to child restraint systems.

Safer does not mean more expensive

It is necessary to find out which are the safest cars in general terms. The EuroNCAP program (www.euroncap.com) is a very reliable source of information. It is advisable to choose the best rated vehicle and always require an overall rating of at least four or five stars.

The rear seat is the safest place for children

The central rear seat is the safest option due to the fact that is furthest from any potential impact zone, providing that the child seat can be correctly installed in that seat.

In fact, the law requires children who are 135 cm tall or less to ride in the rear seats. There are only three exceptions that mean they can travel in the front passenger seat:

  • When the vehicle does not have rear seats.
  • If all the rear seats are already occupied by other children in their respective child restraint systems.
  • If a child restraint system cannot be installed on the rear seats.

If one of these three exceptions occurs, the child may travel on the passenger seat. A child must never be placed in a rear-facing child seat on the passenger seat if the airbag cannot be disabled.

Important: if one of the side rear seats has ISOFIX anchorages and the child seat is compatible with this system, it is advisable to position the CRS on one of these places, since you are less likely to make a mistake when installing the seat. In this case, we recommend the place behind the passenger seat

If the central seat only has a 2-point seatbelt, it would then be best to place the child in one of the side rear seats with 3-point seatbelts. 

If the central rear seat does not have a headrest and the child is tall enough to need one, it would also be safer to use a side rear seat with a headrest.

In terms of the side rear seats, the right-hand seat is safer than the left, given that, firstly, it means that the child can get in and out of the car away from traffic and, secondly, because the driver can see the child better when they are sitting on the opposite side and not behind the driver themselves. In the case of forward-facing child seats, the driver can see the child better through the rear-view mirror when the child is seated on the middle rear seat.

Some manufacturers design the seats to interact with the rest of the car's safety systems; for example, with the side airbags.

This system protects passengers in the event of a side impact. Because they deploy quickly, it is best to place your child in the center rear seat.

Most vehicle manufacturers carry out safety tests to check the risk to little ones when these side airbags are triggered. The NHTSA believes that the safety they offer is preferable to the potential consequences of not having them.

It is good to make sure that the car has an unbuckled seatbelt warning system for the rear seats

In recent years, various devices have been developed to remind vehicle occupants to buckle up. Typically these consist of a flashing light on the dashboard and a very loud warning tone, the intensity of which increases as speed increases. Initially they only worked for the driver’s seat, but there are new systems that can be applied to any seat.

Always better with ISOFIX

The ISOFIX system greatly facilitates the installation of child seats and, in addition, this fastening is firmer and safer. Some vehicles have this system in all their passenger seats.

This mechanism helps to correctly adjust the belt across the child's body

It is useful to know if, for the rear belts of the vehicle, you can adjust the height at which the upper belt, also called the thoracic belt, exits the belt housing.

The vehicle must have a clearly visible optical indicator of poorly closed doors

It is important that the car has a lock for the doors and rear windows to prevent children from opening the door from the inside. These also prevent children from sticking out their arm or head, and avoids the consequences that this could have when the car is moving. The controls are located in the driver’s seat and are also useful when parking, as they can prevent, for example, children from exiting on the side with traffic.

Currently there are cars that lock the doors when the vehicle exceeds a certain speed but if your car is not one of these, simply by pressing a button, you can lock the doors. There are also special child safety systems to stop the doors from being opened from the inside.

The self-closing power window is a dangerous and tempting form of entertainment for a child

To avoid injury if the child sticks their arms or head out when the window is closing, there are cars on the market with an anti-pinch system on the rear electric windows.

Due to the size of children, rear-view and side mirrors are sometimes not enough

Rear obstacle sensors and rear cameras are both very effective systems for avoiding scares and accidents with children. More and more models of car include these extras, which are very useful if we frequently reverse out of our parking space.

Interior trunk release

Almost all vehicles on the market now feature the possibility of opening the trunk from the inside. This is particularly useful if anyone is trapped inside it after an accident.

With the safety of your children in mind, there are never too many extras

There are various other features that make a significant indirect contribution to the safety of children in the car:
  • Frontal anti-collision systems.
  • Fatigue detection system.
  • Involuntary lane departure warning system.
  • Air pressure sensors in tires.
  • Rear sunshades and tinted or thermally protected rear windows.
  • Climate and temperature control systems.
  • Interior mirrors to allow you to observe the rear seats without having to turn your head, etc.