Which Car for Two or More Kids?

Parent Q&A

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  • Need to buy a second car - hybrid?

    (9 replies)

    Hi BPN-After 12 years as a happy 1 compact car family, now, with two kids in two different schools, we’re realizing we need to buy another car. We are NOT car people-really coming at this without any knowledge. Our driving is mainly local school drop off, weekend adventures (rarely longer than 70 miles), and the 2-4 times a year long drive to Tahoe or Southern California. Our plan was always to wait to buy another car until electric cars came down in price-ha!-but recent supply issues tell us that day is no where near. I’m finding the whole search overwhelming-would love someone to just say: here’s the car for you. Any advice from EV or plug-in hybrid owners? So far, the Hyundai Tucson Plug-In Hybrid and the Chevy EUV seem most in-line with our needs (fits four of us, reasonable-ish, good range), but would love any suggestions or tips if there’s other models parents recommend. This will be a pretty significant purchase for us, so I’m trying to be practical. Thank you!

    Hey, We are in exactly the same boat! And second hand cars (EV) seems to be more expensive bc of the supply issue.Going to tang along here and see if anyone has any great tips. Good luck, thks 

    We’re a one car family with two small kids. We bought the Tesla Model Y when our second was born and couldn’t be happier to have gone electric! It’s roomy (can have a third row) but not a huge suv. We got the long range version which I would recommend. 
    good luck with your car search. 

    I would highly recommend an electric cargo bike. We are a one car family and our electric bike is our primary form of transportation for anything under 5 miles. If your schools are close, e-bike is a great way to do it, possibly even quicker than driving depending on traffic and parking. And way more fun. It truly replaces a car for local trips - I can carry two kids and all their stuff or a week's worth of groceries and don't worry about hills with the pedal assist. We have a Radwagon, which is one of the more affordable ones (and there is a showroom in Berkeley!) but depending on your needs there are A LOT of other options out there - I'd be happy to share more about other models if you want or direct you to some resources for researching them.

    I can also share a little about our EV experience. We have a 2015 Nissan Leaf with a range of about 80 miles. We got it cheap because it's an older model (EVs are advancing fast so 2015 is old) but of course we pay for it with the low range. We priced it out and decided that it would be better financially to get the cheaper EV and then use the money saved to rent a car any time we need it for a longer trip.

    We have a plug-in hybrid Hyundai Sonata and it's been great - it has a 25-mile range on a full charge and most days we don't use any gas at all for trips to school, grocery store, etc. When it does kick over to gas on longer trips the transition is seamless and the mileage is still pretty good. The back seat is the roomiest of any car I've ever owned - plenty of room for 2-3 people. I had a regular hybrid before and after driving this one for a year I'm totally sold on the plug-in hybrid idea.

    Hi there,

    We just bought a Hyundai Ionic 5 which gets over 300 miles to a charge and we really like it. We bought it at Fremont Hyundai through the car broker Cartelligent right before the gas prices hit the roof. There are several incentives going on for buying EVs including a $7500 federal; tax rebate, a $2000 Clean air rebate, and a state rebate. If you are interested in electric cars, call Cartelligent who negotiated with the dealer. Our broker was Vincent vdenis [at] cartelligent.com, and he was incredibly helpful and patient as we took months to make up our minds. Feel free to tell him that Jamie recommended him. The care wasn't cheap, but the rebates made it much more affordable, and we are hopeful that this will be our forever car.

    We have two Chevy Bolts in our family and we love them! I've definitely had my eye on their EUV. I can't speak for any of the other options, so maybe there's something better out there, but I would absolutely recommend the Bolt or the EUV. Good luck with the car hunt!

    I too am not a car person and have only bought 1 car in my life. That car was a 2007 Hyundai Elantra that I bought new. We still drive the car as a daily driver. We have a camper van that we use for trips so its mostly an around town car now. But I still love this car. It was cheap ($16k then) and came with a 10 year warranty.  It has had almost no problems (a cracked ac belt and a small thing to pass smog) in its 16 years / 120k+ miles. I can't speak to other models but I am so happy with Hyundai.  I know lots of people love their Subarus too. But I am pretty sure we will replace this hyundai with another one. And I bet we get many more years from this one.  Still drives great. Has great pick up. Really no complaints. 

    We have a Nissan Leaf (purchased used) that we love - the hatchback trunk makes it easy to load strollers and other kid gear easily. We also rarely drive long distances, so range was not a huge concern for us and we were able to buy it cheap. Very happy with our purchase!

    Some new cars have these odd handles on the back doors that are way up near the roof - like the Honda HRV and the Toyota C-HR. I'd never thought about it but read in a review that kids can't open these kind of handles! So that could make it harder for kids to be independent getting in and out of the car. Just wanted to mention since I'd never considered that and it's what crossed the Honda HRV off my list.

    And I assume you've checked out Consumer Reports? Definitely worth the membership price with so much info about any given car.

    Good luck in your decision!

  • We are mourning the sudden decimation of our beloved 1998 Honda Odyssey's transmission. With 240K miles and after having put in $3,300 worth of work last summer, the thought of spending another $3,600 on a new transmission for her has left us without much choice than to replace her. But, here's the thing: it's our perfect car! The car is completely utilitarian, functional, and safe. Big enough to accommodate our frequent road and camping trips with two small children, but small enough not to feel like a behemoth and easy to park/pretty good gas mileage. We thought about replacing her with another car from the same generation (1995-1998), but they are all fairly old at this point (obviously), with high miles, and who knows what that needs repair. I have always had old cars and enjoy the relative "deal" you can get on them, the lack of worry that comes from owning an old car that you don't care about cosmetic issues, spills, et al. with, and just the overall look and feel of old cars. I find that even in the non-luxury car sector, cars have really been "souped up" and rendered far more sleekly in aesthetics than they were in the 90s and early 2000s. That said, we are feeling overwhelmed by choices, and would love to find something that will work for us for quite some time to come, as we are sick of fixing old cars at the moment. The new Honda Odyssey (and its mate, the Toyota Sienna) seem far too big for our liking, so we are looking at the following options: the Mazda 5, the Toyota Highlander, the Honda Pilot, and CR-V (seems too small), the Prius V (this is a long shot, as it has the least amount of space for our massive hauling of stuff and lower clearance for forest roads), and xxx? I am combating the voice in my head that instantly shoots down every car because it is not our Odyssey, and trying to make space for the reality that we need to buy a new car with lower miles, but it is hard for me! Can people chime in with their take on the aforementioned cars or suggestions along the lines of what we are seeking: simple, relatively fuel efficient, roomy for road tripping/camping but also good for city driving. We have had really good luck with Hondas and Toyotas over the years, so will likely stick with those makes, aside from viewing the Mazda, but happy to hear other stories as well. We had two Subarus in the past, both without luck and with much grief, so despite the fact that we know they are beloved by many, we are not considering them this time around. Our budget is max $18,000, but we are more comfortable in the $12-14K range, and we will be buying old rather than new. For comparison sake, our last car purchase was $2,700 for the 1998 Odyssey four years ago! Spending $10K+ more is a bitter pill to swallow, and we would prefer to spend less! Thank you for your reviews/suggestions.

    I recently faced a similar conundrum, needing to replace my 2005 Honda Odyssey (Touring Model). My main bugaboo was that I needed adjustable pedals, which is very hard to find in a used vehicle. I ended up going to Enterprise Rental Car's Auto Sales Lot and looking at and buying a 2014 Dodge Grand Caravan. It has lots of space, many features similar to my Odyssey, and because it was in Enterprise's fleet it was well-maintained and looked great. I found the experience of buying this vehicle very positive, and they have a very buyer-friendly approach to sales. For example, you get a one week cooling off period, so if you decide during that week that you don't want the vehicle you can return it and only pay a nominal $200 fee for the privilege of driving it for a week. We also found their financing very favorable. So, this is not a vehicle you mentioned, but it has great storage capacity, and unlike the Honda, the seats are stow and go, they basically hide inside the vehicle, so you never need to take the seats out if you need to maximize the storage capacity. When we were looking, they had two Grand Caravans (former ride share vehicles). I don't know how often they have them, but I suggest it's worth a look. Or possibly they might have other vans as well. They have a sales lot in San Leandro, also in Redwood City and I believe Concord. And they move the vehicles around for you too! We first saw one in San Leandro but then the one in Redwood City had lower miles, so we wanted that one, and they brought it over to San Leandro for us. Like I said, great customer service! And they have a good warranty program too. Good luck. I still miss my Odyssey, but this vehicle does the trick for me.

    We LOVE our 2009 Toyota Highlander hybrid.  It gets good gas mileage for an SUV, it's super comfy and "drivable" - doesn't feel like a tank.  And it fits a ton of stuff.  We used to have a Subaru and the main advantage of the Highlander is the ability to haul 6 kids, which makes carpooling easier (I've fit 6 kids + 6 unicycles in that baby!).  We also have a Prius, and I have to say, it fits a ton of stuff too, just not as many people.  My brother had a Honda Pilot that he and his family LOVED; I don't know if they make hybrids now but didn't when we were looking, thus we didn't consider it.  Anyway, we've had our Highlander 8 years now and no problems whatsoever, so I definitely recommend it.

    We were in a similar situation, although we don't do much camping, and were at a real impasse. My wife was advocating for an Odyssey or Sienna. We test drove one and I felt like I was driving our living room--too big! My brother, also with 2 small children, was in a similar quandary and ended up with an old Mercedes station wagon, I think the 300 series. I asked around about them (I think they were discontinued in 2006) and everyone that had one really liked it. Say what you will about Mercedes, one thing they are is dependable. My father had one for over 20 years and during that time it was driven hard by three teenage sons. My wife wasn't interested in going that route so we settled on the Mazda 5, a mini mini van we call it. Smaller than the behemoths but still roomy enough for bikes and gear when the four of us load up. Prices were good on them and we really like it!

    We've had a Highlander (hybrid) for a few years and like it a lot.  We test-drove the Pilot before buying the Highlander and the Pilot felt too bulky.  The Highlander is good at EITHER hauling 7 people OR a lot of stuff, but if you use the 2 rear seats there's almost no cargo space.  The hybrid gets good gas mileage, although I can't speak for the regular Highlander.  In my experience (I'm also an used car buyer and keep them a long time), the gas mileage on any new car is going to be a vast improvement over a 90s car.  A few years ago I replaced our 1994 sedan with a 2008 model and the efficiency and comfort (and probably the safety features) have improved a ton over those decades - you don't have to go new, but you won't regret upgrading to car made in this century, I promise. :)

    I'm so sorry to hear about your car issues. It's hard to say goodbye to a family car!! My family just embarked on the same car search, trying to replace a 99 Honda Civic. The hatchback had been wonderful for our many trips, but with two big dogs, a big kid and lots of camping gear/snow gear, we were looking for something bigger than the Civic. We originally started looking for an older car, knowing we could get a great value. We considered a variety of makes, including Honda, Subaru, Mazda, Mitsubishi, Toyota, and luxury brands. I really loved the Honda Element. My sister had one years ago and it was great for muddy bikes and wet dogs! But, my partner wasn't much of a fan. I also liked the Subaru Crosstrek, which he didn't like either. We looked at an older Isuzu Trooper which was actually really cool - but also made us realize that we preferred to spend a little more so that we could get a newer car with fewer miles and better gas mileage. We scoured the dealerships for used cars and found a few we were interested in. While at one lot, we saw a Toyota Highlander Hybrid. It was slightly over our price range, listed at $20,000, but we took it for a test drive. We negotiated the price to $17K, which, like you, was the top of what we had wanted to spend. But, we haven't had a single regret and absolutely love the car. It's been perfect for our needs and a joy to drive. Good luck with your search!!

    I have had a Mazda 5 since 2009, and I've been happy with it overall.


    • Better gas mileage than most other 6-passenger cars, especially on the freeway.
    • Good handling: it has the turning radius of a roller skate. 
    • Easy to park: It has the same footprint as my Honda Civic.
    • Front and middle seats are comfy.
    • With 4 people in the car, there's tons of room for people and cargo. It's a great road trip car with 4 people.


    • It hasn't aged as gracefully as the Hondas and Toyotas I have owned. When I first bought it (new), my mechanic said "expect to spend a lot of money on repairs starting at about 40K miles." He was right. The rear suspension needed replacement at 38K miles, the front suspension at 50K miles, and now at 65K miles the rear suspension is starting to get loud again.
    • With more than 4 people in the car, there isn't much room for people or stuff. With 6 people in the car, you can fit a few bags of groceries in the remaining cargo space. If you're driving a carload of kids on a field trip, they'll have to put their backpacks on their laps or at their feet.
    • Anybody over 5' tall (most people over 10 years old...) will be chewing on their knees in the rear row of seats.

    We researched all of these cars, plus the Nissan Rogue and Murano and Rav-4. What sealed the deal for the CR-V that we bought was that it fit the infant stroller the best in the trunk. We thought we'd go with the Highlander, but we didn't love the middle seat (for the model year that we were looking). The CR-V has some pick-up issues, but we otherwise love it. Our neighbors have a Pilot that looks so roomy, but parking it on local streets is a beast.

Archived Q&A and Reviews


Which two cars for commuting to work and driving 3 kids around?

Sept 2013

We recently went from a 4-person to 5-person family and need to figure out the best two cars for our family. We recently moved here with no cars and know we need to buy two as my husband is shuttling the kids around most days and I have a short un-BARTable commute from N. Berkeley to Emeryville. There is too much chaos with a new baby and home and job for me to bike or rely on carpooling at least in the short-term. I have been so happy in our last two homes to make do with one simple car and am feeling overwhelmed at the prospect of needing two cars, let alone anything too big or fussy or expensive. Our first thought was that we needed an SUV with three rows bc otherwise how would we go to Tahoe, shuttle bikes, sports gear, etc., and then get a simple, smaller car for my commute and zooming around town in general. So, we ended up buying a Prius wagon which fits the baby in her infant seat and our two older who are out of boosters plus a surprising amount of groceries, gear, etc. quite well. This was meant to be my ''little'' car but now I am seriosuly thinking this should be the ''big'' car my husband drives while I should really get a Honda Fit, Nissan Versa, etc., something that truly is just for commuting and very rarely holds the whole family for anything. My husband still insists we need the SUV, especially for roadtrips (2x a year??) and if we want to be able to carpool with our boys' friends, but this feels like a big nice to have and also in general big expense as well as gas guzzling that we don't necessarily need with a move in process as well. So, two questions- one, advice from families with three kids of what kind of car set-up you have/ would recommend, and two, is there any way past doing a monthly rental at Hertz or something to set up a short-term (3-9 months) lease/rental that would let us have an extra little car for this year while we test our lifestyle bf we go buy a big car we might not need? Jessica 

My wife and I have two boys aged 3 and 6 and are in process of upgrading to a seven seater. We have found we are missing out on carpooling to activities and only see this issue growing in the future. It's not the cargo space that a SUV offers, after all you can get a roof rack with a box, but the ability to combine families and join larger carpools that would make our life easier and increase social interaction. We are looking at a Mazda CX9, not huge but seats 7. AA

You said your commute was un-BART-able, but N. Berkeley to Emeryville sounds like a commute that might be bus-able. Have you looked into AC Transit? It might be an alternative to buying a commuting car, if you really don't want one. Former bus commuter 

If you are considering the Prius your family car, what about a Mini Cooper for the second? 40MPG and great fun! If you are still wanting a family car consider a Saab 9-5 wagon. Lots of creature comforts, space and 30MPG on the highway. Drives great compared to an SUV or Volvo. Andrew

We, too, are a family of five. You don't say how old your children are, but we went straight to the minivan option with the birth of #3. I admire your green, ecologically-minded attitude, which I share (lots of walking in our family!), but the van has been so incredibly useful. Our kids are now all school-age and we do lots and lots of carpooling, to soccer games, to birthday parties, even just running errands with a friend along. We can fit the grandparents in also, so we don't have to take two cars on our family excursions. I also do some driving on field trips and it's very useful to fit 5-6 kids into one vehicle. We have not a single regret with our minivan purchase (bought a used Honda Odyssey). Minivan Mama

I agree with your thinking mostly.

You need one family car for all the times you do something together. The prius is your family car (but see below).

Buy a small second car that you can drive to work, and run errands around town. You will rarely, if ever, need to have a second car that fits the entire family. Most small cars will fit 3+ adults reasonably comfortably for shorter distances. There are many smaller cars from most brands. Look at the Scion. Ford, Nissan, Toyota and most others have one or two small cars. the fiat 500 is way too overpriced for what you get.

We researched the issue of family transportation extensively and read many expert opinions, spoke to many dealers and other parents. My brother in law is a tech writer in the car business and I'll give you some of the hints he gave us when we were looking:

The car(s) you buy should meet most of your regular needs. The most common mistake people make is to overbuy. If your regular daily need for a car is well defined, buy the car that will serve that need. Don't buy a car that will meet needs you may only have once or twice a year, or just in case.

For hybrids, his first reaction is to ask ''why''. Apparently most hybrids are bought for the wrong reasons. They make most sense for long commutes, not short distance driving. And their lifecycle environmental footprint is bigger than that of a well-maintained nicely driven gasoline car.

The best car for moving lots of people and gear around is a minivan. If you expect you will _regularly_ be driving your kids and their friends to games and what not that's the car you need.

if you are certain you will be driving to tahoe every weekend in the winter, your main/family car needs to be an AWD of some kind. If you only go once or twice each winter, rent.

Smaller SUVs can sort of fit near minivans. There are many in that category and you'll need to dig through the engine size, car length, fuel economy rating, AWD/FWD, etc to see where they fit in.

Large SUVs are almost never used in an optimal way. They are intended only for when you know you will be carrying lots of passengers AND towing a heavy load on a _regular_ basis. Otherwise, they are way too big, too expensive, and inefficient.

As for safety, look at the safety ratings and crash test results for any cars you like. SUVs are not the safest. Apparently that mis-perception of safety also causes SUV drivers to develop very poor driving habits and make driving more dangerous for everyone around them.

Renting an awd or minivan when we need it has not been a problem for us. It may seem expensive, but our own cars (a sedan, and a civic) are about as economical and cheap cost-wise as we could ever hope for).

You may want to get a car sharing membership. they may have most of the cars you'd occasionally need. car dad


Cars that fit 3 car seats COMFORTABLY

Aug 2012

We have a 7 year old son and are expecting a baby in February. My car is a car with only 2 seat belts in the back because the seats fold on the side so once we have the baby we couldn't transport anyone else.

My husband is gone all day, i work part-time and have come to rely on my village of moms. We help each other out a lot with pick up and drop off and i need to be able to continue. Plus with the age difference, i need to be able to transport friends for playdates ect.

We are about ready to buy a car and are looking at the Honda Pilot. However, i wanted to see if anyone had other suggestions or ideas. It is important to me that the seats not be crammed against each other and that it not be overly complicated to buckle everyone. Thank you

We like our Mazda5. We are also a family of four that needs to be able to accommodate carpools, etc. Third row seats easily fold up or down. It's economical, has the same footprint as a sedan for parking, and gets good mileage. Anon

Get a minivan. You won't be sorry. Love my Toyota minivan

get a van. cars or SUVs trying to vans, are just that. they are never going to be as comfortable for kids getting in and out, than a van. BIL and SIL have a mazda 5 with the mini third row, and basically they envy our minivan. buy used and it shouldn't be too bad. L

Get a Minivan! I considered a Honda Pilot and a Highlander Hybrid, but in the end got a Honda Odyssey. I have never regretted it, and even my husband (who was too cool for a minivan) agrees it is comfortable, practical and a nice ride. It is the best for carpooling and carting stuff around. In love with my minivan

Which Car for Carpooling with Groceries & Dogs?

May 2011

Do you love your car? Can you recommend a car that:
-will seat 6 or 7 people (for school carpooling),
-has a somewhat separate area for our two 45& 65 lb dogs
-and has a space for several bags of groceries, without the bags being at kids' feet or with the dogs (bags stored in a compartment under the dogs, perhaps?) ?

Does such a car exist with all three items on my list? Style-wise, I'm crossing my fingers for something closer to a crossover than a minivan or an SUV. We currently have a Subaru Outback wagon, which is 2/3 of the way to my wish list. Thanks!! Multitasking Carpooler

Yes. It's called a mini-van. Seats 7. Don't know how we'd have gotten by without ours.

We love our Mazda5 but I don't think it would work for you. When you are using the third row seats, the amount of room left for cargo is very small (2-3 grocery bags or a few backpacks), too small for two large dogs. You'd have to choose the dogs OR the carpool kids, which would be a pain. I am writing because it sounded like the Mazda5 might be the type of crossover you're hoping would work, but I much as I like it, I don't think it would. Anon

The best fit for you is a minivan - low floors, lots of room. Not what you really wanted to hear, I suppose. I've identified the Ford Flex as being a good car for my needs because it hits all the same points you identified. Seats 7, has ample room for dogs + people + stuff, good mileage, and it's built on the fairly reliable shared platform with Volvo that all of the classic volvo wagons have been built on. Also comes with AWD (essential for me, since I don't drive much except to the mountains). Jeremy Smith

We just went through this very same process and looked at a ton of different cars that would seat at least 6, room for our two big dogs (both over 70 lbs) and have room for storage, etc. We looked at the Nissan Murano (too small for the dogs), Chrysler Pacifica, Mercedes R350, Saturn Vue (with the 3rd seat), Buick Rendevous and Enclave, Ford Edge and many others too numerous to mention. We were looking at USED cars since all the new ones were $40K or more and that was outside our budget of $25K. We ended up focusing on the Chrysler Pacifica and the Mercedes R350 and in the end, found a GREAT R350 that is a 2006, one owner, less than 40K miles on it and in great shape. We paid $23K for it. What a steal! It seats 6 (all bucket seats, so tons of room) and the back folds down and is roomy enough for our huge dogs to lay down in the back). It's very luxurious and I love the ride and feel of the car. It replaced a very aging Chrysler Town and Country mini van. We specifically didn't want to get another mini-van, so the cross-over look of the Pacifica and R350 were more appealing to us. The Pacifica is a slightly lower version of the R350, with bucket seats and lots of room, but we found all the used ones seemed to be really beaten up.

If we are using all 6 seats, there is still room on the floor for the dogs to lay down and room in the back for groceries, but we are trying to not take the dogs with us everywhere like we did in our van, so that the car doesn't smell like dogs all the time .

Good luck in your choice. I highly recommend you use a car broker. I can recommend one to you if you don't know any. It will save you at least $2K. Sue Lehman susan

Minivan vs. SUV for 3 kids and lots of camping

Nov 2010

We are expecting our third child this winter, and are looking for advice. My husband's car will not fit three carseats in the back, so we need to get a new car for him. Mine will fit three across, but without leaving room for other passengers. We have family members in town who often ride with us as well as playdates with other kids, so we're thinking we need to get something else. We are both reluctant to buy an SUV unless it is a hybrid, which is more than we can afford. Minivans have the space, but we camp a lot and go to the snow several times a year, and are wondering about minivans handling the snow and rougher terrain. Seems like the Odyssey and Sienna are very popular, but does anyone know much about the Kia Sedona? Any advice would be appreciated, included those of you who ended up with an SUV and pros and cons of that as well. Thanks.

We bought an Odyssey Minivan in 2000 and it has worked great for camping. We only have two kids but the current model has an extra seat in the 2nd row so three people/car seats can sit there. You lower the 3rd row seat into the floor and you have a huge area for cargo. You can also put a bag/box on the top if needed if you buy the roof rails and cross bars. With the 3rd seat up, you can transport 8 people.

The only SUVs with comparable cargo space are the super huge ones.

For snow, you have to put chains on, but Thule makes some easy to put on chains that work great.

Sure it would be better to have four wheel drive, but we only go to the snow 1-2 times per year. The Toyota Sienna has an all-wheel drive model that we would have considered if we went to the snow more often. We are going to buy a 2011 Odyssey next year. Minivan family

We have two kids and like camping, too. We have a 2005 AWD Sienna and have been happy with it. The two captains chairs can be removed and the back seat (which holds 3) can be put down flat to open the whole back for sleeping, if necessary. We travel to the Sierras a lot and the AWD is critical. The downside is that the AWD means the Sienna doesn't have a spare tire and has run-flat tires instead. Which are pricey to replace. But I still wouldn't trade the AWD. Congrats on your 3rd and good luck. Rachel

I never thought I'd own a minivan, but I'm actually much happier with it than I expected!

We have extended family visit us quite a bit and now that we have a HUGE car seat for our toddler, we just couldn't fit everyone in our Jeep. We considered a crossover, but those back seats are not meant for adults! We wanted our guests to feel comfortable back there, so we opted for the minivan.

I now appreciate all the room even when we don't have family visiting because I have plenty of room for my kid's stuff (stroller, etc.) AND because we have a Dodge with stow-away seats, I keep one of the seats folded into the floor, which leaves room for me to do diaper changes, etc.

I can't speak to driving it in the mountains, but our Dodge was great for our summer roadtrips! Comfortable for 6 adults and one toddler and all of our stuff for 10 days!

So anyway, I'm happy with a minivan for now, although we probably won't get another one once we no longer need convertible car seats and diaper changes! minivan-convert

I had an SUV that I had loved and three kids in car seats. After a year of that crap, I got a minivan. I had SWORN I would NEVER get a minivan. Well, I am a total convert. Minivan Mamma. Loving it. And so is my husband. With the SUV, unless you have a Suburban or whatever the biggest Tahoe-ish thing is now called, there is NO cargo space once you put that third row up. I believe the Siena comes with or has the option of AWD but I got the Odyssey. Go test drive 'em. I have heard not such good things about the Kia. Go for quality. You have three kids, you want this sucker to last! minivan convert

Good car for 2 babies in carseats

Aug 2009

We have a 15 month old and a newborn (1 week old). Our current car (Toyota Camry) fits both rear facing car seats in the back seat with barely enough room for an adult to sit between. Any recommendations on a good car or SUV that is child friendly and can offer the kind of space needed for two little ones with an adult in the middle, plus storage/trunk space for all the equipment required when going on a road trip? Also, keeping in mind that eventually they will be forward facing, etc. Would specifically love to hear from those who have 2+ kids and any additional advice you might have in general. Thanks! roger

I was very concerned with this same issue when my kids were between the ages of 0-4. But after that, we used boosters, which are much slimmer than the baby carseats. So you may be talking about a 3.5-4 yr period where there's little room in the back. If this issue is not terribly important to you and you want to save your $, you might want to stick with what you've got. We did not change our cars. We had a Volvo wagon and a Passat. Do you really need that room in the back for an adult? How often will you be doing road trips? I'm a 5'4'' petite and was able to squeeze between two Britax carseats in the back of a Volvo V70 on occasion if the trip was extra long. (Now they're making such big carseats, like the Marathon, it's crazy. Not sure if I would fit and those carseats are intended to be used longer, until 60 lbs, which is about 8 yrs old, far beyond when the kids no longer want to be seen in a ''baby'' carseat.) The Volvo has that usual wagon space in the back, which is great. Also makes for a nice, flat platform if you need to change a diaper or two. Once in a while, we had wished for a mini-van for convenience-sake (or imagined conveniences) such as when you want to go in back to retrieve something during a trip. But we resisted the urge and, now that we're out of the woods, are very glad we did. But our kids now get very excited if they ever have to ride in a mini-van. Being in the back row is very cool. Mother of two

Get a 5-person car for a 6-person family?

June 2009

My aging car is due for replacement, and I'm wondering about what size car to get to replace it. I have a blended family and an ''accordion household'' that goes from 2 to 6 people depending on which day of the week it is. Right now it's fairly uncommon for all 6 of us to go someplace together, and when we do we take 2 cars.

I would like to get a car that's as fuel-efficient as possible, but I also like the idea of being able to put the whole family into one car, even though that only happens 2-3 times a month. Has anybody else been in the situation of having more people in your household than seats in your car? How did it work?

Any insights into the environmental side of all this? (For the record, my idea of a larger car is a Mazda5, which averages about 25 mpg, so it's not like I'm trying to choose between a Suburban and a Yaris. And my partner's car is a Civic Hybrid, so we already score some environmental brownie points.) Thanks. On the Fence

We had a similar problem. We have 2 kids but when anyone came to visit we always had to use 2 cars. We bought the Mazda 5 and love it, it is like having the benefits of a mini van (without all the unnecessary features and cost) and so much smaller. I couldn't wait to go to the berkeley bowl and the parking was so much easier. The gas milage is great and it has good pick up. I love my car and it is great for company and play dates. Not to mention it is at a low price. Mazda 5 fan

I love your term accordion family. Our family accordion'd first from 2 to 5 for a number of years, and then 3 to 6, during which period neither my husband nor I had a car that could accommodate more than 4. It was totally fine. For the 2-3 times a month that all of us were going somewhere at once, taking 2 cars was no problem. Actually, if you are talking about a 'blended family' situation, I thought it was a plus - even 20 minutes of one-on-one time driving a couple of my stepkids while my husband drove the others was a good new dimension to our relationship. All too quickly they were driving themselves! Now on those increasingly rare occasions when we are all six going to the same place at once, taking two cars means one of them driving me while the others drive with dad. And it is still fun - deciding whether we will have a 'boy car' and a 'girl car' or dividing up by music tastes, or whatever. Fran

- It depends on how old your kids are. If any of them are in carseats, you definitely can't squeeze in more people. With two carseats in the backseat, we can barely get a third person in the middle.

If you're looking for space and ''environmental brownie points'', check out the Highlander Hybrid. We get about 30 mph and it seats 7. Back seat goes down when we don't need all the seats and gives us room for bikes, groceries, etc.

In planning for the arrival of baby #2, we had to get rid of our truck for something that could comfortably house 2 carseats and lots of cargo so we went with the Pontiac Vibe. I know GM is phasing this out, but it's a really good little ''big'' car and after 2 yrs of ownership, we've had NO problems with it and are really happy with it. Check out the specks on Edmunds.com and the consumer ratings - pretty high. Fuel economy is pretty good, have taken it to Reno, LA, and lots of local day trips and it's been great for hauling, comfortable for passengers and lots of cargo space. There is about a 1 ft difference between my husband and my height and we're both able to adjust the seat perfectly to accomodate our driving needs, also, the sliding visors (for the front seat) is also a fantastic idea..all cars should have this! You really do get a lot of bang for your buck with this one, just test drive one and see how it feels. Good luck! Happy with our hatchback

I am very envious of our friend's new-ish KIA Rondo. It has an extra seat fold down seat in the back, so it can seat up to 7, it was pretty cheap for a newer car, and it gets decent mileage. It's way more more convenient than our Subaru wagon and abt the same size. Car envy

You don't say how old all the family members are. If some of them are little, you might consider a Toyota Highlander Hybrid. It has a pop up third seat that has two seats for the 10 and under crowd. I use this car for carpool (seats 7). I get about 25 MPG and it's great in the snow too. Like my hybrid

Need a car for four carseats

May 2008

With another kid on the way, we need a new vehicle. Since we also transport my nephew, it will need to fit at least 4 carseats. Do we have a choice other than a minivan? What is a good, energy-efficient option for us? Anon

We were in a similar situation, but I just couldn't face buying (or driving!) either a mini-van or SUV. We ended up with a Mazda 5 -- what my friends call my ''mini mini-van.'' It's about 6 inches longer than our Prius, but has a third row of seats that fold out of the way when not needed to give you a bigger trunk. The car seats 6 comfortably in individual bucket seats, although I have to admit that the back two seats are best for kids, and probably shorter-legged kids under 12. The Mazda 5 -- while not an exciting car -- is extremely affordable (about $22K), especially for what you get (good design, seat warmers, GPS option). It also gets pretty good mileage (mid-to-high 20s for city driving). Susan

You might be able to find a non-minivan that 4 car seats will fit in to, but you should also consider how hard it is to get the four kids into their carseats! The nice thing about a minivan is the side doors slide open, and the floor is lower (than an SUV type vehicle) so it's easier to put a heavy baby into the carseat. Access into the third row is also much easier. You don't want to be crawling over the babies in the middle row to get the kids into the way back! I really think you should go with the minivan. We love ours!

Our car won't hold everyone - keep anyway?

April 2008

We have a 3-year old, a 1-year old, and a baby on the way. We also have a Honda Civic. Originally we were thinking of getting a minivan to tote everyone around (plus company when we have it), but now we are starting to think that we should just keep our car, even if we can't transport everyone at once. Is this nuts? Does anyone have a car that doesn't fit anyone? Does it work? Is it a huge pain? We just think it is wasteful to have a car with worse gas mileage and to get rid of a car that works perfectly well. I'd rather wait a few years until EVs or at least better hybrids come out. Anon

For safety reasons alone, you should have a car that holds all of your children. What if you're home with your kids and one of them needs to get to the doctor right away, or there is some other type of emergency? Practically and logistically speaking, I cannot imagine our day to day existence without our minivan (or some other vehicle that would hold three carseats). Sorry to say, but unless you have A LOT of family and friends around at all times to help out, I think you are in denial about what your life is going to be like. And what about all the equipment you will undoubtedly need to haul around as well? Best wishes! Mom of three under 5

I would stick with the car you have. It's a great car. If you have company, and you don't want to take two cars or walk, you could always rent a mini-van just for the time you need it. Honda owner

We went through the same decision (I was driving an Accord and my husband the Civic) and wound up buying the Odyssey. Even though we only have 2 kids, once my older child started preschool, we were doing carpools, etc which is just not possible with the two big carseats (unless your 3rd passenger is a kid no longer in a booster - I'm pretty small and I have to sit uncomfortably sideways to fit in the back)! Long story short, I rationalized it by realizing that we are saving gas, emissions, etc if you consider that I'm carpooling whenever possible and the city is less one car on the road. I have to say we've been very happy with our decision and will be taking a trip to LA soon with 5 kids and 3 adults in the Odyssey! been there...

Did I get this right? You are thinking of making 2 trips to places rather than getting a car that can fit everybody? Think of the environmental damage with the 2 trips! With the size of the car seats I don't think you can get them all in (you're talking about 3 car seats with backs because of the ages of the kids). I would look into wider cars possibly if you don't want to go the minivan route. Are there any station wagons these days that have a 3rd row? The emissions from those are similar to sedans (vs SUVs). The reality is that you need a larger car. Anon

We've got a Honda Civic and a Subaru wagon, with two kids now both in elementary school... we can fit both kids in either, but only the wagon would take three (and that's a bit tight... really can't with three infant/kid car seats). I'd suggest you go for a larger car, including for the reason that you're going to want to fit *other* people's kids, e.g., when two of yours want to go with two others on some outing. Our friends with a minivan can take their two and our two, and it's vastly easier than a caravan. We've also got a soft cartop carrier for the Subaru... look for a car that can handle everything when, say, the five of you head somewhere for an overnight. Maybe not in the next few years, but it's coming fast... WAHD

We just bought a Mazda 5, which is a mini-mini van. It's length and width is the same as our Honda Accord, but the hatchback has two seats in it so it seats 6. Adults couldn't sit in the third row, but it does work great for kids. Gas mileage isn't stellar but better than the regular minivans (Sienna and Odyssey). If you have three kids and only one car, it might be a little tricky for you. But if you do think you need a car to hold all 5 family memebers, its worth taking a look at the Mazda 5. kim

There are many ways to do this!

First, make sure that you really won't all fit. I have found that I can fit three carseats even in ''compact'' cars as long as there is 48'' across the backseat. Use your tape measure and go buy new 16'' wide carseats. I had good luck with Graco seats at Sears.

Second, we've been without a car that will fit everyone for about 9 months now. We rent a car when everyone will be driving somewhere together. It is a bit of a pain sometimes and it does cut down on spontaneous full-family activities, but it has saved us a TON of money. You DO have options!

Maybe you are looking at the question wrong...I am sure that someone on BPN has figured out which three car seats will fit across the back bench of a Honda Civic (it does have three seat belts back there, right?) Maybe just have to buy three new car seats. Or maybe you two year old is gong to be three when the baby is born and will be able to graduate to a booster (always narrower).

That said, you are probably not too many years away from having children with friends. I have three or four kids aged five and under in my car at some point during the day most days of the week. That may be the sort of person that I am (hey, we are headed to the zoo...do your kids want to come along? You can have a few hours to yourself.) or I may be normal. So factor that into your car buying decision if in fact there is not combo of car seats that will fit across your back bench. jan

You don't need a mini van! There are many ''wagon type'' cars that are plenty big enough. Try a Subaru, a CRV, a Scion XD or just stick with what you have. You only need to have your immediate family fit. You can always rent a larger vehicle for special trips. no mini vans in my life

You'll certainly want a car that can fit all three of your kids and their car seats and boosters comfortably and safely. I'm assuming you weren't asking whether you need a car that fits all your kids. Of course you need to be able to transport them all at once. I wouldn't worry about extra passengers, but all three kids might not fit in the backseat of your Civic, given current car seat and booster laws. You don't have to make the big jump to minivan. Maybe a small wagon or even a Highlander Hybrid.

When my second was born, we decided to buy a mini van because with the two carseats and us in our mazda protege, my tall husband was very cramped and being all post hormonal, I insisted we buy a van. I found a used one and it happened. Then, the gas prices skyrocketed. I hate having a big gas guzzling thing. But, I will say there are great advantages to the van. Our oldest has play dates and we also pick up a neighbor's kid from school once in a while. We use it for preschool field trips. A few times a baby was having a fit and I was able to pull over and deal with it without exiting the van.

My advice is to see if it works and try not to buy the bigger car for a while. When relatives are in town, you can easily rent a van, which we did a few times when we just had one kid. then, if it really is a pain, go ahead and buy it. Ours gets decent mileage. We didn't go lux and opted for a used dodge caravan. We trash it. We don't worry about it and we don't use it unless we absolutely have to. We still have our mazda. reluctant van mama

We have sort of lived your dilemna as we had a small Honda 4 cylinder, transitioned to a larger 6 cylinder sedan after a child was born, and then got an SUV for carpooling with other families. The child grew, carpooling ended, and now my wife drives around alone in the guzzler SUV, I use the guzzler sedan, and the small Honda 4 cylinder sits. We kept all 3 and pay for alot of gas, insurance, and license fees. I am planning to transition back to the 4 cylinder Honda for daily 1-2 person driving. If you have the space for parking and can afford the license fees and insurance you can have both vehicles and use them according as needed. You can also suspend licensing and keep a vehicle in non-op status while reducing insurance to comprehensive only when not driving. You are correct that the electric vehicles and/or hybrids are not yet environmentally friendly or cost effective. I too am waiting for a plug in electric car like those EVs of years ago people loved. I hear they are selling the few still around for around $50,000. It might be wise to hang on to the small car for a couple more years until a suitable electric or diesel or ? vehicle becomes available. I am able to turn on and off my insurance pretty easily so that when I need the big vehicles for visitors or hauling I just make a phone call and upgrade to full insurance or basic liability as needed and can drive the same day as long as I keep the registration current. I feel guilty driving around in bigger vehicles than we need but I also consider the safety aspect of collision(with some giant SUV or worse)and like the idea of being surrounded by more metal-(preferrably steel not plastic). If only everybody would drive the same size economical cars things might be different but these days a collision is likely to involve a large vehicle. Compared to all the huge SUV folks on the road we are already being much more conservative, but I want to do better. You are on the right track thinking this through. anon

It seems like you are asking two different questions, one about transportation, and one about environmentalism.

For the first, I think you should consider questions such as: How often do you go out now with your whole family/one parent and kids? Are you a stay-at-home parent, or do you need to take your kids to daycare and then go to work? What about your partner? What will you do when your third child is born and you need to take the other two out, and your partner is at work, or even away? Is there family nearby that you often/sometimes take your children to see? Even without the other parent in the car, it is physically impossible to fit three car seats in the back seat, as you probably know. How often do you take public transportation now? Are you prepared to do that with three children, when (not if) the situation presents itself? I may be paranoid, but I would be very worried if there were an emergency and I was not able to keep all of my children with me. (I'm not talking about a tsunami or earthquake, even, but a medical emergency, partner emergency, good friend emergency, etc.) How would you manage that?

I would say that you are really putting yourself into a bind by not having a car that fits everyone. Life can be so challenging without adding this other stressor to it.

As for the environmentalism part of the question, you did not mention how old your Civic is. Is it new (past two years), or more than five years old? No car keeps the same fuel efficiency that it did when it was brand new. You may want to check a couple of web sites to see what its CURRENT fuel efficiency is. I wouldn't call a Honda dealer, as they may not know/may make something up. (Maybe Consumer Reports or similar has something about this, but I don't know.) You may find that there are SUV hybrids that get similar/same fuel economy to that of your Civic. Diesel engines get excellent mpg, as well. You did not say if your Civic is paid off, so there may be that financial consideration for your family as well.

You also said that you had considered getting a larger car for company. To drive your Civic and have your company drive their car is wasteful. I only point this out because you say that you do not want to buy a larger car because worse fuel economy is wasteful, so that seems to be important to you. Anon

We are in the same situation as you--#3 coming in October and driving a Honda Civic. We will be getting a larger vehicle. I can't imagine our only car not being able to accommodate our immediate family. Do you really think there will never be a time when all five of you will need to travel together? What about attending a family function? A school function? A family road trip? It seems vaguely dangerous to have a too- small car also--what if you all need to evacuate in case of earthquake or fire? Get a bigger car!

Unless you have weekly visitors it would work to use your Civic day to day, and either join a car share program or rent a mini- van when you have visitors. I used the car share/rental/Muni plan for over a year, and generally thought it was much cheaper and less hassle than owning a car. Kean

Check the mazda 5. It will fit everybody but it is still a compact car with the price and gas millage of a civic berkeley one

oh i wish i had seen this last week!!! try the RADIAN 65 or 80 CAR SEATS!!!!!!! here's the spec's page: http://sunshinekidsbaby.comfortfirst.com/radian_specifications.htm it is only 17'' wide, and so you may be able to fit 3 across the back. it is also tied with britex for safest seat, as it has a steel frame (which allows for it's strentgh without bulkiness). this site might also help you choose seats to fit your car: http://www.carseatdata.org/ if you are checking for the radian, it's listed under ''sunshine kids'' brand signed: squeezed in

Expecting twins, have a toddler, need a new car

Jan 2008

We're expecting twins and we need to upgrade at least 1 of our two cars to something that will hold 3 car seats - we have a toddler - in their various forms for the foreseable feature, and various equipment stroller(s), bike etc. etc. etc. You get the picture. Anyway, I'd like to stay away from the SUV category if I can. However, my research, so far has not yielded a car capacious enough (sitting all 3 kids on a back seat I'd need at least 58'' in width), with enough restraints and anchors, or a boot capable enough to carry a double stroller and 4 bags of groceries for example. How have other families of multiples+toddler coped with the whole multiple car seat situation? It seams like there may not be any other alternatives but an SUV (yuk!!!!!). All suggestions welcome Looking for transportation

You have a lot more options than you think! We drove with our three car seats in the back seat of a Ford Focus for almost 2 years with no problems. You really only need 48'' in the back seat if you buy thin, 16'' car seats (Graco seats worked well for us). Buying three brand new car seats is a lot cheaper than either buying a more expensive car or spending $80 to fill up the gas tank. Smaller cars will only have 2 LATCH connections, but you can hook up the third car seat with the seat belt.

We also rent cars a lot and I was recently pleased to discover that both the Pontiac G6 and the Dodge Charger had LATCH connections for 3 car seats in the back seat. Both of these cars had plenty of passenger room and trunk space and would meet your needs just fine. The SUV is not your only option!

Check out the Mazda 5 (so called because it seats six--great name, huh?). You can find many recommendations for it on BPN. It is no longer than a station wagon and the back seats can be folded down (individually) for extra cargo space when not needed for passengers. We love ours. Mazda 5 carpooler

I have quite a bit of experience in this category! I have twins and an older child and my brother has twins and an older child (lucky us, huh?!). I have driven various combinations of us around in an SUV and in a minivan. I know you didn't ask about a minivan but bear with me! The problem with lining them all up in the back seat of a regular car, even supposing you can fit all the seats, is the problem of having to lift and reach across to the middle. Infant seats take up a surprising amount of space and if you put you toddler on the outside then you will have to reach right into the the middle seat with one of the bulky, heavy carseats and if you put him/her in the middle then the poor child is jammed in between them, with much opportunity to mess with the two babies!

The reason I would recommend a minivan over an SUV is a) they get better gas milage b) they handle more like a car c) SUVs are so high you have to lift your child/carseat up into them and believe me, you will get a sore back with multiples and a toddler! d) if you buy an SUV without a third row then you have the same crowding problem as I described above with a regular car and if you do go with the third row option then you lose quite a bit of boot space for the double stroller, groceries etc, plus it is a trickier to access that back row because you have to fold the middle seat forward (impossible with a carseat installed). e)The whole sliding door thing is sooo convenient with multiple kids as is being able to walk back into the car to sort 'em out .

We were initially reluctant to go the minivan route but it turned out to be the best purchase we have made. Life can be tough with twins and a toddler and you need every little convenience you can get! Feel free to contact me! If you haven't done so already, I recommend joining Twins By the Bay. They have an excellent email forum where you can get loads of great advice about this kind of stuff! Good luck! Elizabeth

Honda Odyssey. We love ours (though we don't have twins, just 2 under the age of 2)...but there are 2 families at our daycare that have twins + and older sibling (all in car seats still) that have the Odyssey and recommended it to us. Having the rear seat way in the back do a 2/3 vs 1/3 split makes it big enough back there that you can put in a double stroller WITHOUT having to fold it down. Amazing. If you fold it, there is still tons of room for groceries and whatnot. Happy Honda Owner

Two kids, one car - is it possible?

April 2006

We have one toddler and one car that we happily don't use much, but we are expecting another child later this year. For environmental and other reasons, we don't want to purchase another car. Two kids, one car - can it work? Any tips how how to make a one car life (or even no car life) work with kids would be great. Thanks!
Reluctant car user

We have two kids, two adults, one car, and have always been able to work out transportation. It's extremely rare that both parents would need our car--and I don't think the second child has changed that. As before, we have our own legs, strollers, baby carriers (including Baby Bjorn and Ergo), a bike with child seat, and public transportation as alternatives to our car. (We haven't even needed a double stroller!) Everyone's travel habits are different, and I know it also depends on your neighborhood, so I'm not sure I can give more specific advice. However, I'd recommend you give your one car a try and buy another later if necessary.
one two-door car

We have one kid and NO car! We are heavy users of public transit (kids love the bus), I commute to work by bicycle (I even have a trailer for the munchkin for weekend rides in the park), and we are members of City Carshare. I would highly recommend looking into City Carshare if you are worried about needing a second car just for occasional use running errands and such. their website is http://www.citycarshare.org.
carfree mom

We have two kids and NO CAR! We did have one car til the kids were 4 and 6 but it was stolen and we could not afford a new one and now we bus, BART, walk, bike (with trailer) and joined City CarShare www.citycarshare.org and occasionally rent a car for out of town trips. (Rent a relic in Oakland is only $25 a day). We do have the advantage of living near kids' school and and we did not use the car to commute.

You can do it! We save at least $2000-3000 per year by not having a car - even when we had a 10-year old car it was alot to pay insurance, maintenance, gas, tickets - so I give myself permission to use CCS and rent a car whenever I need to because it really still is much cheaper over the year, just takes a bit more planning. I am pleasantly surprised at the new habits and seeing more of the local streets and slowing down to see gardens and get more exercise ''Forget low-carb, go on the low-car diet.''

I've come to view cars as the root of much environmental evil in modern life so I salute your desire to avoid two cars! I have two kids (five and nine) and one car. Here's what makes it work: 1) we can easily walk to BART & kids school 2) we don't HAVE to have a car for work. My husband and I have access to rental cars if needed for work (a pain to arrange but you get use to it). Or I carpool with fellow meeting attendees -- B a great chance to get to know people. There are times where having a second car would make life easier. But I know if we had a second car we wouldn't take public transit or walk or bike as much 'cuz it's easy to forget about the costs (gas, insurance) or the impacts to the environment (considerable and far beyond just air pollution and gas consumption). I've found one car to work fine and we save a ton of money but we do experience slightly more (but only slightly) inconvenience.
One car family

We just got a second car for the first time when my older child started driving. My husband biked, bused, or walked to work for 17 years. In bad weather, or when shedule necessitated it, I sometimes drove him, or he took a cab, or on occasion, we rented a car, and he is delighted to be driving to work now (I'm the one who was more environmentally concerned; we got a Prius). There were some challenges (softball game and baseball game on opposite sides of town at the exact same time), but it worked prettey well for all those years. In fact, I always considered it a little strange when families would leave places in two separate cars! You don't give enough detail to explain what you think the problem will be, so I have more questions than suggestions. How will two kids require more cars than one child? You are both managing to get where you need to go with one (and sometimes no) car, so how will that change? Especially since it sounds like you BOTH prefer - for various reasons - one car, I don't see why you can't make it work. Does one of you need the car daily for work? Are you concerned about getting two kids to different day-care sites on time each day? Are you close to convenient public transit that goes where you want to go? Do you/can you ride a bike with a two-child trailer?
One car can be plenty.

It is possible to have two kids with one car. We have two boys (4 1/2 and 2 1/2) and one car, and it's been great. That being said, we unfortunately have to get another car soon - our kids will be attending different schools in the fall and getting out at two different times, so we will need another car. You really can get by with one car; it will just depend on your work schedules, and how often each of you need to drive, but with some planning it can be done! Good luck!

I am puzzled by your post. Why on earth would having a second child require a second car? Would you and your spouse/partner be splitting up where you're going, one child per adult, all the time? Otherwise, I can't see why you wouldn't be able to get two children, one adult, or two children, two adults, in one car. The children won't be driving themselves places, yet, right? (: For the record, although it's not particularly comfortable, we do fine with 2 kids and one Civic.
-Would prefer not to need a car at all

until i went to high school, my family only had one car. i have one sibling. it worked perfectly fine for us as it has for so many families in this country and yes, even in the bay area. two cars or more seem like a luxury, more than a necessity. and we lived in the suburbs, not in a major city with easy mass transportation.
one car was fine

Sure, but it isn't always easy. We have two kids (8, 4) and one car, and here's what happens: my husband rides his bike to work; if I am responsible for drop-off and pick-up of kids, I drive; otherwise I walk to BART and take it to work and leave the car at home for him to get the kids. We also joined City Car Share for those times (fairly rare) when we both have to have a car; we have a CCS pod near our house. If you live anywhere near a CCS pod, you can probably manage. But you have to want to; the $5000 or so we save a year helps me want to.

Family of 4 needs safe, fuel efficient, reliable car

October 2002

Our 10-year-old Honda Civic now needs alot of work (probably a new transmission and timing belt), and we are considering getting a new car instead. We are a family of four (two kids in car seats) and have only one car. We drive about 7500 miles a year, mainly in the city.

Of course, we could read Consumer Reports, etc., but the problem is that we have so many conflicting ideas, ideals and prejudices concerning cars, we can't even begin. Also Consumer Reports doesn't seem to compare cars between their narrow categories. I'm hoping for some advice. I list our legitimate criteria below:
* We want a fuel efficient car.
* We want a car that uses regular (not premium) gas.
* We want a car with four doors.
* We want a ''safe'' car (meaning side air bags, and anti-lock brakes.)
* We want a car that will be reliable for at least 10 years.

Other criteria:
* We don't want to spend more than say $25,000.
* We don't want anything that even resembles an SUV.
* We would like a hybrid, but we worry that they are more expensive and less road tested than conventional cars. Also they generally have less cargo space.
* We would like air-conditioning and a CD player.

We find that with our roof rack, we can fit almost anything we need onto our present Honda Civic. We carry 10-foot long pipes, our tandem, lumber, suitcases, and boxes of Cost Co diapers up there. We use the trunk for smaller loads (like groceries.) Other people seem to need minivans the instant they become parents. Is there something we're missing? Are there other criteria we should add? Are there criteria we should drop? In Need of Car Counseling

I just saw a friend's new Mazda Protege wagon, a model I've been admiring for a couple of months. It is great looking, a small station wagon size, under $20k, gets good gas mileage (she says 25 - 30 mpg) and has a roof rack that can hold 100 lbs. I'm guessing it would be reliable, too. I'd buy one in a second. anon

If you've liked your Honda Civic, I would seriously consider looking into the new Civic hybrid. We are currently considering getting one and I was also concerned that it hadn't been around very long but the Honda Insight has been around for awhile and my cousins have one that they love. My assumption is that the technology in the new hybrid Civic is pretty dead-on the Insight's technology. Worth a look at least. Jennifer

If you're willing to spend $25,000, try the Honda CR-V. The EX model has all the features you want (including side air bags and ABS). It's classified as a ''wagon'' and gets 20-25 miles per gallon. It has TONS of trunk space and lots of cool features. I just bought one and I love it. If you're already a Honda fan, you'll appreciate this car. It's supposed to last at least 10 years, or so the salesman said! Good luck. Anon.

we bought a saturn station wagon 6 years ago and we just love it. it gets great gas mileage about 45 mpg on the freeway, we had one repair that costs about $100 and the car has about 120k miles on it. another thing, you can custom order it. we got the cheaper version with the not so nice fabic because we have 2 dogs, with air, a cd player(at the time only available in more expensive models) and cruise control. it's been a great car for us and i don't think they do the cult thing any more. that was a little creepy. oh and if we have had problems (loose wire), the service department has been so helpful. erin

Take a look at the Subaru Outback or Forester. It meets all your requirements listed. We have been so satisfied with our Outback that we purchased another Subaru this past summer. patricia

There are lots of great cars out there. My only advice on the mini-van/SUV thing is that if you think you will want to do alot of carpooling when your kids are older (and with 2 kids you probably will), then you need the bigger car. Given that children should not ride in the front seat of a car, you need to fit all kids in the back - thus the mini-van. I am restricted in carpooling with a Ford Explorer (with a passenger side air bag) because it has just 5 seats, and I have two kids. I am considering a larger car (maybe a station wagon, that's as far as I will go!). SherryH

How about another Honda Civic? The one you have sounds like it served you well, and for under $25,000 you can probably get an EX or LX, which would have the upgrades you desire. I have a 1997 Saturn, and I think it serves me well. I do home health visits in SF, so I city drive and stuff tons of stuff in it all the time. It is certainly not a fancy car, but very fuel efficient and economically priced. I haven't had any problems with it except for problems associated with beating the heck out of it by mostly hilly city driving and a stop and go commute... overall a decent car. Hope this helps. Lisa

The reason I got a minivan is that both my kids wanted to bring friends along on family outings, so we needed 6 seats. This situation may arise in your family too in a couple years and you probably won't want to buy another new car! anon

I too would like a hybrid car, but I was told that anything electric would be much too expensive for my budget. I don't know about side airbags. The newer cars probably have them. Everyone I talked to said get a Honda or Toyota for least maintenance. I prefer the Toyota Camry to the Honda Accord for seat comfort. I've been looking for something under $8,000, hence about 1995, (hence also, no side airbags). --Bob

We just bought a Toyota Prius, the hybrid which averaged 58.25 mpg our first trip! It is small but saves the earth, air and money. There were several previosly rented Prius available at Toyota Walnut Creek at around 17,500 which is almost three thousand less than anywhere else. You also get about $2000. deduction for your taxes from the feds.We also didn't want to spend a lotof money but in the long run, this will be a less expensive car any other compact. Call us at 848-2674 if you want more info. micky

Here's my take on fuel efficiency, hybrids and a small budget: Your car does 7500 miles of driving per year, 30 miles per gallon, and regular gas priced at $1.50 per gallon. That works out to $375 in gas per year. Hybrid cars price $4000 more than their equivalent gas cars (that's 10 years of gas for your current car), and consumes 50 miles per gallon, which works out to $225 in gas per year.

Forgive me if I'm wrong, but it seems you can expect to break even in about 26 years! Top that with higher maintenance for hybrids (i.e., replacing the batteries). Note: if your current car gets better than 30 mpg average, the breakeven will take even longer than 26 years, but if gas prices go up, the breakeven will be sooner. Here's the math: $375/year (gas) for 26 years = $9750 versus hybrid's $225/year (gas) for 26 years = $5850 and add to that the $4000 additional price tag for $9850.

If you have concerns about the environment, I respectfully suggest that all the raw materials and energy that go into a new car is more wasteful than ''reduce, REUSE, ...'' your old car. Keep in mind that your current Civic is already fuel efficient. Maybe that new transmission and timing belt isn't such a bad idea. Try Steve's Auto Care (Acura/Honda) at 1057 East Shore Hwy north of Gilman, in Albany. In general, if you want your Honda Civic to last more than 10 years, change your motor oil and filter (every 3,750 miles) religiously as well as regularly scheduled maintenance. They have high resale value because they are built to last. But you have to treat it well for all the hard work it's doing. A very good reason for a new car would be for safety's sake. Checkout the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety's ratings: http://www.highwaysafety.com/vehicle_ratings/ratings.htm or the gov't's own ratings: http://www.nhtsa.org/NCAP/Cars.cfm In short, you're looking at a Honda Civic, Volkswagen Jetta or Subaru Imprezza. 2003 models are due in November. So it's clearance time. kim