A guide to buying a family car on a budget

The family car is much more than just a car. It is a way for you to get your family and often most of the things they own from A to B with as little fuss as possible. It might not be the type of car you once dreamed of owning, but if you have come to that point in your life where you need something that will accommodate your ever expanding brood of children, then the time has come to buy a family car.

What’s more that expanding brood is not cheap so the budget might be tight.

As part of our buying a car on a budget series here is a guide to buy a family car with limited funds.

The budget - $8,000 - $10,000

What to expect

With the exception of the SUV range, most examples below can be bought within the budget. They are likely to be between 8 to 12 years old and have between 70,000 and 130,000 ks on the clock.

The family car explained

First up what is a family car? Well any car can be a family car and it really depends on what your family needs.

A couple with a young child will have totally different needs to a family with three teenage kids. You might need a car just to haul the kids to school and back or the family car might be used to ferry children and sports gear to matches. Or once a year you might be loading the family, plus kayaks and bikes, hitching up the boat and heading off to the bach.

What you need from the car will vary from family to family and is a key part of the purchase decision.

Make sure it is fit for purpose

A key decision is to buy something that will do what you want. There is no point buying a VW Golf if you need to tow a boat and put a couple of kayaks on the roof.

Do some research and pick some makes and models that will suit what you want the car to do. This is very important when you are buying on a budget as certain models offer more choice.

Space and how much you need will be a factor as will comfort if you are going to be making long journeys. You will need to match what you need with what is available for your budget.

Safety first

Safety is always paramount when choosing a car, but never more so than when you will be ferrying the precious cargo that is your family around in. As a general rule you should buy the safest car you can afford.

An ANCAP five star rating is best but for an older car a four star rating will be fine. The Vehicle Safety Research Group’s used car safety ratings is also another rating system, although on recent models the sample size of used cars can be small. It is another indicator though to use to make a decision.

You can also get an AA pre-purchase vehicle inspection that will examine key aspects of the car such as the engine, brakes and wheels and alert you to any potential problems.


Types of family car

The Sports Utility Vehicle

The SUV as it is better known is by far the most popular family car on the road in New Zealand and accounts for one third of all new cars sold. They are less sports and more utility these days as their popularity as an urban vehicle grows. They are more likely to be seen outside the school gates than tearing up off road.

With most manufacturers having one in their armoury the good news is there is a wide choice. The bad news is not in our budget as they tend to hold their value well.

At $10,000 the choice is limited. You might find a Honda CRV, Toyota RAV 4  or Nissan Quashi with reasonable kilometres on the clock, but at that price they are likely to have 150,000 ks plus.

Our pick the beefed up 2006 Toyota RAV 4

The people mover

Much derided but very useful the people carrier is probably the true family car. They can accommodate a large family and still have room for plenty of luggage. In most models the rear seat can be folded away so you can bring every thing including the kitchen sink with you. Many models are slung a lot lower now so are really just like driving an extended car.

For $10,000 you should be able to get a Honda Odyssey or Citroen Picasso within the budget. The Toyota Previa is another popular model but they tend to hold their value better and at this budget the ks will be nearer the 200,000ks.

Our pick a 7 seat 2009 Honda Odyssey

The station wagon

The pre-cursor really to the people mover, the station wagon is really a large car with a hatchback boot. Their popularity has dwindled in recent years due in part to the rise of the SUV and the people mover, but also because they can be thirsty. This is good news though for the second-hand car buyer as there is a good range on the market – as long as fuel consumption isn’t a deciding factor for you.

Models such as the Toyota Corolla Fielder or Caldina, Mazda Atenza, and Saburu Legacy are all examples of models that can be found in the price range. The list though really is endless and there are a lot of different models for sale around budget without too many ks on the clock.

Our pick the reliable 2007 Toyota Corolla Fielder 

And the rest

Any car can be a family car and there are some perfectly good models that aren’t traditionally thought of in that mould. With larger cars the Honda Accord and Holden Commodore and, while available the Ford Focus, are examples of what can be bought within the budget.

With smaller models for the family starting out you can generally pick up a Holden Cruz, Ford Focus, VW Golf or, if you are lucky, a Mazda 3, although that might push you over budget.

Our pick grunty 2006 Holden Commodore 


There are a number of considerations to make when buying a family car, and these are even more important when sticking to a budget. But a bit of research and shopping around and you should be able to find just the wagon for your family and still not blow the budget.





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