How to choose the right car for your new baby

Share this article:

New parents can be overwhelmed by the amount of work required to prepare for their new little one. In addition to baby clothes, cribs, toys and car seats, many parents make the decision that their current vehicle isn’t up to the job of carrying their new baby (and everything that goes with him or her).

Parents we talk to tend to have the same basic sets of concerns about their new car: safety, car-seat installation, and cargo and passenger space.


Car safety is an important issue for car shoppers in general, but something about caring for a tiny human makes it feel even more paramount. Parents want to know about crash test ratings and top safety picks as well as which new features they should get to help keep their family safe. 

While the number of available safety features is constantly growing (see Top car technology available now), we’ve compiled a list of those we recommended most for new parents.

  • Back-up cameras: Back-up cameras allow drivers to see what’s behind them when the car is in reverse. We highly recommend them for new parents both to prevent the tragedy of backover crashes and to avoid minor accidents such as backing up in a busy parking lot. Automakers will be required to install back-up cameras in all new cars by May 2018.
  • Blind-spot monitoring: Blind-spot monitors alert drivers to other vehicles that they may not be able to see in their side and rearview mirrors. This additional information can be critical in larger vehicles and for parents whose attention can easily be diverted from the road (or who may be suffering from lack of sleep).
  • Collision avoidance systems: Many vehicles now offer a number of features that work to prevent crashes. These include forward and rear collision warning, autobrake, and lane departure warning and prevention. We recommend these to new parents to prevent accidents that can be caused by distracted or weary drivers. (See Should your next car have a crash prevention system?)
  • Traction control: Traction control systems monitor the speed of each wheel and automatically apply the brakes to any wheel that is spinning faster than the others. This can prevent hydroplaning under snowy or rainy conditions. Traction control is especially useful for larger vehicles such a SUVs and minivans.
  • Parking sensors: Parking sensors alert drivers to objects that are in their path while parking. These are highly useful for urban parents who need to parallel park frequently.


Cargo and passenger space

Any parent can attest that babies require stuff—lots and lots of stuff. From car seats to strollers to giant boxes of diapers, odds are good that some additional storage room will make life a lot more manageable for new parents. (For more see How to choose the right family car) The rear-facing seats required for new babies can be difficult to maneuver in some vehicles (especially those with two doors or smaller back seats). Below is a brief analysis of the pros and cons of popular body styles:

  • Sedan: Many sedans offer larger sized trunks that can accommodate a fair amount of baby accessories and often have back seats that are large enough to maneuver a removable car carrier in and out of. However, it can be cumbersome to pull a stroller up and out of a standard trunk, especially when it’s loaded up with shopping.
  • Wagon/Crossover: Wagons and crossovers can be a great choice for new parents. The low, flat rear storage area makes it easy to pull out a bulky stroller. Wagons often have comparable or more cargo space than their SUV cousins with more car-like handling. (See our ongoing SUV vs. Wagon series of posts)
  • SUV: SUVs offer plentiful seating and storage and a higher ride that makes many parents feel safer driving. Larger models offer third rows that make carpooling or multiple children far easier. A small to mid-size SUV can work well for new parents who don’t yet have to worry about multiple children.
  • Minivan: The quintessential minivan may be a little large for parents with just one newborn, but it definitely provides room to grow if more children are planned. Today’s minivans offer amenities such as rear entertainment, a panoramic moon roof and even a built-in vacuum. (See a list of our Top-Selling Family Vehicles)


Car seat installation:

Buying a new car seat can be even more challenging than buying the car itself (especially with Cartelligent!). The law states that new parents can’t bring their new baby home from the hospital unless they have a properly installed car seat.

LATCH anchors were mandated in 2002 to make it easier for parents to secure a car seat in any new car. They can be used for children up to 65 pounds (although many manufacturers limit LATCH use at around 40 pounds).

In California, state law requires that each child be properly restrained in a child safety seat, booster seat or other restraint system in the back seat until the child is eight years old OR at least 4’9” in height. The California Highway Patrol currently recommends the following:

Step 1 – Rear-facing seats

  • Infant only or rear-facing convertible seat
  • Age: Newborn to at least one year
  • Weight: 0 to at least 20 pounds


Step 2 – Forward-facing seats (with harness)

  • Convertible or combination seat
  • Age: At least one year
  • Weight: At least 20 pounds


Step 3 – Booster seats (high-back or backless)

  • Infant only or rear-facing convertible seat
  • Age: Under eight years old
  • Height: Under 4’9”


Step 4 – Seat belt

  • Child can sit with back against vehicle seat back
  • Knees bend naturally over the edge of the seat
  • Lap belt fits low and snug across top of thighs
  • Shoulder belt crosses the collar bone and center of chest


The CHP can inspect your car seat to ensure it is installed correctly. Find the location of the nearest office here

Consumer Reports: Car Seat Shopping Guide

Driver Knowledge: Car Seat Safety Guide


Keeping children safe in crashes: Overview


Keeping children safe in crashes: Rear facing


Keeping children safe in crashes: Forward facing


Keeping children safe in crashes: Booster seats


Keeping children safe in crashes: Adult belts


Whether you're having your first baby or your third, Cartelligent can help you choose a safe vehicle for your family and get you a fantastic deal on it. Call our team of car-buying experts at 888-427-4270 or get started today.