Ask an expert


I am starting to think about trading in my car. I have a baby on the way, so I'm going to need something a bit bigger than my trusty little hatchback to be able to comfortably transport a buggy, a dog and a brand new person.

What is the best option for a bigger car?

Do you automatically need to upgrade to an SUV when you have a child?
Should I be looking for an automatic rather than a manual transmission?
Which car has the most luggage space?

Any advice appreciated


From the "Ask Jack" archive - 21 September 2009


The first thought that comes to mind is occupant safety especially with the potential for unsecure objects such as prams and animals to be thrown around the interior in the event of a sudden stop or accident of some kind.

Depending on the size of the dog for example, you may need to think about a rear barrier of some sort to clearly separate the luggage compartment from the baby who will need to be placed in the rear when travelling.

You then need to focus on vehicles with the best safety features that fit within your budget. As a minimum requirement I suggest you look for driver and passenger air bags, anti locking brakes and 3-point lap and diagonal seat belts in the rear. There are still some late model vehicles which only have a lap belt in the centre rear seating position which is not considered safe especially for young children. This may become a concern if one of the lap and diagonal seating positions was taken up with the baby seat and you have to carry older children or adults.

The ultimate is a vehicle with multiple airbags and electronic stability control but this may be out of your reach financially.

The SUV type vehicles have become very popular for families for several reasons. First up is the high driving position which can be considered safe as the driver and passenger get a good view of what's going on around them. In general they also have more useable luggage space particularly in floor to roof line height and they can be easier to load and unload because of their better ground height in comparison to a station wagon. A station wagon can have a longer luggage compartment however which may have its benefits for someone in your position.

If they appeal, I would tend to avoid the bigger SUV's as they can be difficult to park and are often built for robust conditions that most people never experience. Many of the smaller SUV's are based on conventional car platforms and are therefore easy to drive and park. That decision may depend on the size of the dog and the amount of gear you load when travelling with the 'whole family'.

People movers have also become very popular with the Honda Odyssey and later versions of the Toyota Previa the best sellers over a long period. They are very practical and relatively easy and cheap to maintain.

Another option could be a twin cab utility such as a Toyota Hi Lux or Nissan Navara where the dog and pushchair are easily accommodated but these vehicles can be a little less comfortable to travel in on long journeys. Rear passenger space can also be compromised.

The Japanese brands overall certainly have the better reputation for overall reliability and low maintenance costs whatever you choose.

Manual or automatic is your call and what you are most comfortable with. Automatics are certainly the transmissions of choice with the motoring public in NZ.

It really is a matter of walking the used car yards to narrow the field. Come up with a short list of what you like and come back to me before you commit to purchase.