Minivans might not be the coolest ride you can buy, but they are fantastic vehicles for growing families. They offer plenty of seating for kids and their friends and the flexibility to reconfigure for hauling cargo.
They also come with an increasingly large number of bells and whistles that can make your life easier. There’s a lot to consider, and it can be overwhelming. Here’s a guide to the key features in a modern minivan and what you need to know when your family is ready for a new set of wheels.
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Play with the Seats
Minivans come with seating for seven to eight passengers. There’s a lot more to it than simply the number of people those seats will hold.
Each automaker has its own systems for how those seats reconfigure so that you can carry cargo. Sometimes the seats need to be removed, which is no good if you realize you need the cargo space after you’ve already left home.
Others have systems that allow the seats to fold down, even tucking into the floor to create a nice, flat load surface. The key here is to try actually moving the seats yourself before you buy.
What looks easy might not turn out to be so easy. Latches that are difficult to flip or hard to reach are not worth the frustration. You’ll need to move seats around to access that third row so make sure it’s something you and anyone who will be regularly driving your car can easily manage.
Also, keep in mind who will be riding in that third row. If you’re planning on putting only kids back there, then make sure their car seats will easily fit. If it’s going to be used for adults, then make sure they don’t have to be contortionists to make their way into the third row in the first place.
How easy it is to move that seating around should be at the top of your list when checking out a minivan. Make sure you are comfortable with reconfiguring the seats in any vehicle you consider and save yourself frustration once it’s parked in your driveway.
There’s probably no time in your life when you will be as focused on the safety of your new car. We all want our kids to be safe, which is why we put them in car seats, but that’s only the start.
Check the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety crash test ratings on any vehicle you’re considering for purchase. You’ll see information about not just crash tests, but autonomous safety features, and the ease of using the LATCH system.
LATCH stands for Lower Anchors and Tethers for Children. It’s a system found in the rear seats of all new cars, and it’s designed to make installing car seats quick and easy.
Unfortunately, LATCH anchors are not easy to use in every car.
Sometimes, the access points can be stuck so far down into the seat cushions that they’re difficult to reach. This isn’t a big deal if you never move the seats, but if you’ll be switching out car seats between vehicles or adding car seats when friends come along for the ride, then it’s a problem.
If possible, show up at the dealership with you current car seats and try to secure them in the new vehicle you’re about to buy. You should be comfortable with the process and not find it difficult.
Depending on the minivan, you’ll also have optional advanced safety features like forward collision warning, automatic emergency braking, lane keep assist, and rear cross traffic alert. If it’s in your budget, take a look at what’s available and then opt for those features give you added peace of mind.
You Can Never Have Too Much Storage
Hauling your family around town also means hauling all their stuff. It’s amazing how much such little people accumulate.
Make sure there is enough room for your brood and all their cargo. This means checking that strollers can easily be loaded in the back, even with a full load of passengers.
Look for additional storage cubbies in the doors and in the center consoles. These are great places to hold the little necessities and whatever random toys your kids need to have in the car on any given day.
Do not underestimate the importance of cupholders. You’ll need more of them than you think, and they also do double-duty for holding little things that would otherwise be lost in larger cubbies.
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Check Those Sliding Doors
The easy access provided by sliding doors is a huge part of what makes minivans so appealing. There are different ways of opening and closing them, and you should make sure that it’s easy for you on the minivan you buy.
Options include doors that can be opened with a key fob and some that even slide over when you place your foot beneath the door. Check that they close just as easily. Some minivans have buttons just inside the door frame, which makes the process even easier. If you choose not to go with power sliding doors, making sure they’re easy to open and close is even more important.
You might be opening and closing the doors when the kids are little, but they’ll soon be hoping into the car themselves one day. If your kids are old enough, here’s a good reason to bring them down to the showroom. Let them give it a go and make sure you won’t have to be helping them out when they could be doing the job on their own.
This is almost always an optional feature or only found on higher trim levels, but it is one that is worth the investment. Even short trips can seem endless when the kids are bored, so keeping them entertained is a priority.
Look for systems that have two screens so each child has control of their own little world. Headphones are also a plus, so the kids can watch and listen to their favorite movie for the millionth time and you don’t lose your sanity. A remote control is also good for older kids who can handle things on their own.
Wi-Fi connectivity is now increasingly common in today’s cars, although there is a monthly fee you’ll have to pay for access. Kids can choose to use the built-in entertainment system or simply connect their own devices and stay entertained. Make sure there are also USB ports for front and rear passengers so those devices stay charged.
Tri-Zone Climate Control
A minivan is a big space, which means the folks up front might need more or less air than whoever is sitting in the back. Climate control that allows for separate settings for front and rear passengers is ideal.
Some systems come with buttons only up front where adults have all the control, while others do have controls that rear passengers can operate themselves.
This sounds like a great idea until the kids start playing with them, so make sure you can lock out those controls from up front when you have younger kids.
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