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Buying A Practical Family Car

I've been putting this off for as long as possible, but I finally had to bite the bullet and buy a practical family car. We had even bought a baby car seat without owning a car to put it in. Here is our journey, along with some Website links I found useful.

picture of baby seat on car

I was quite happy with my Range Rover, and last Summer we drove through France and Spain in Clare's open top MX5. Even though it's really a girls car the MX5 was great fun in the Summer, and the Range Rover was great in the winter. Unfortunately neither were practical family cars, and at some point they both had to go.

The Range Rover was first to go, I was getting between 10 and 12 miles per gallon which is fine when you just use it to take the dogs out, or a quick trip to the DIY store. When you use it as your main car things can get very expensive, I could see the needle moving on the fuel gauge as I idled at traffic lights. On one long trip I considered sabotaging the engine and calling the AA to tow us home just to save on petrol.

We made do with the MX5 for a while and put off buying a family car until the baby was born. We didn't want to tempt fate and prepare for a baby we may never have. Legally you need a car seat to take the baby home from Hospital, when we went to buy one they asked us what kind of car we had. When we told them we didn't have a car, they looked at us like we were crazy.

Once Amélie was born we couldn't go and buy a car together because we had no way of getting the 3 of us around all the garages. We borrowed cars from friends, which was okay for a while but things were getting harder and harder. One cold morning we decided we just had to go and get a 'sensible car'. I worked on a shortlist and started looking on the Internet at drive tests while Clare asked a neighbor to look after Amélie. Within two hours we were out looking at cars.

Here are some Websites I found useful for road tests. Top gear and fifth gear I found the best, Honest John was good too but didn't have as good a range of road tests.

We decided to go for a family car that had room for a growing family and our 2 dogs. Economy, safety, practicality and reliability were the main prerequisites. First of all I suggested a MASH style JEEP Wrangler, still clinging onto the notion that I'd be able to get a car I actually liked. The styling is a classic, we would get to keep the rag top for fun Summer driving. Unfortunately the ride is poor, it's sluggish, no space for the dogs, economy isn't good, it basically failed on all the aspects we were looking for.

Next I thought, convertible Mini Cooper. Good build quality, excellent performance, classic styling, not bad fuel economy, and I'd be getting a car I'd find fun to drive. A convertible with 4 seats that would outperform the MX5. Unfortunately it wouldn't get our pram into it, never mind 2 big gun dogs.

Clare was gently helping me to come to terms with the fact that we would need a very sensible car, and the chances are that I wouldn't like it. As I came to terms with this we started looking at estates and people carriers/MPVs. Volvo was the first we considered because of the safety record, but we whittled down the list to the Citroen C4 Picasso, Citroen Xsara Picasso, Ford S-Max (European Car Of The Year 2007), Renault Scenic (European Car Of The Year 1997 ancient history I know but may be of slight interest), and the Renault Espace.

If we had been buying a brand new car I think we would have gone for the Ford S-Max or a new Renault Scenic. As this wasn't our dream car we were buying, and neither of us had any experience of sensible cars we decided to go for a used car. We thought anything newer than 5 years old, and something from a dealer where we would pay more, but have the service and support. Perhaps we would pick up an S-Max in a year or two.

The best fit from cars of that age was the Renault Scenic, when that first came out it beat all other cars of it's class and forced the other manufacturers to step up their game. The 2001 model had a 4 star Euro NCAP rating and the 2003 model had 5 stars. The Citroen Picasso had a similarly impressive safety pedigree, but we had looked at the Renault Scenic when Clare was pregnant, and a friend of mine had owned one for years and highly recommended it to me.

See for Euro NCAP information.

The first garage we went to, we were attacked by greasy salesmen in their suits and slicked back hair. We made a quick exit and tried another place, but the snakes came out from every direction again pressuring us. The third place we tried a young lad let us look for a while, then came over to talk to us, he wasn't too slick and seemed to be talking us out of buying a car rather than trying to sell one to us. This garage was an authorised Renault dealer and there were quite a lot of Scenics well within our price range. We liked the kid who was selling the cars so this looked like a winner.

I asked for stats for the top speed and 0-60mph, I was dismayed to hear the top speed was close to my average driving speed. It was clear my driving style would be changing. There were a lot of 1.4 models but only one 1.6 so that was the car we chose. Clare started negotiating hard and I felt really sorry for the lad, his face went bright red at times. Clare has a reputation as a killer negotiator, we never pay list price for anything. From our House, Car, TV, Clothes, you name it she always has to do some kind of deal. Even our dogs and cat she negotiated rock bottom price for!

We had got a free CD player thrown in, 3 years breakdown cover, a tank full of petrol, and 3 years parts and labour warranty worth £300. She had knocked the price of the car down and when the manager came over I was hoping the ground would open up and swallow me. We were now quibbling over £100, which was insignificant really. It was the straw that broke the camels back and they shook our hands and walked away, no deal.

They left us to think about things but there was no way Clare would lose a bartering session. The car would have to wait, but as we got up to leave the sales man held out an olive branch. He said we could do it for the price we wanted but no CD player, well we knew we could get a CD player for under £100 so we did the deal. We had bought a sensible family car. Well in our price range, and it ticks every box on our requirements list.

I'm not sure if it would be of interest to anyone, but I'll write an article in a few weeks on how things work out with the car. I can see performance could well be an issue. Also we would like to hear from anyone who has tips on buying a practical family car, or any warnings so we can post more information up on the topic.

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