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5 common mistakes to avoid when shopping for a family car

Shopping for a new family car? Here are five common mistakes to avoid.


Young Parents Team

magyoungparents@sph.com.sg

Shopping for a new family car? Here are five common mistakes to avoid.

Overlooking safety measures
Make sure your car has active and passive safety features, says an expert from Volkswagen Group Singapore. Active safety features prevent you from getting into an accident. They include good acceleration, stable handling and an electronic stabilisation programme – an advanced system which detects when the car is about to skid, and automatically regulates the engine power and brakes.

If an accident does occur, how well protected you’ll be depends on the passive safety features. Having two airbags – for the driver and front passenger – is the bare minimum, though it’s of course better to have side and curtain airbags, too. “The car should also offer the option to turn the front passenger airbag off if you want to put a rear-facing child seat in front,” he adds.

Loh Shurn Lin, manager for marketing for Citroen & Aftersales Operations, who has a seven-year-old son, reminds parents that young kids are most vulnerable to head injuries and whiplash during accidents. So, check that there are at least two “International Standards Organisation FIX” – or Isofix points – to secure compatible infant carriers, child seats and booster seats.

“Also look for crash standards like the Euro NCAP safety ratings. A five-star rating is the highest,” says Philip Lu, general manager of Sales & Marketing at Mazda.

Other useful features include Hill-start Assist, which ensures that your vehicle does not roll backwards on steep slopes such as at multi-storey carparks, and fixed centred steering to ensure easy and safe access to the controls on the steering wheel without you having to take your eyes off the road. “It also allows optimal deployment of the driver’s airbag in case of an accident,” adds Shurn Lin.

Skipping essential checks for a second-hand car
If you’re considering a pre-owned one, make sure you request for an STA evaluation, says Ivan Koh, sales director of Vincar, an established dealer for new and used cars. This consists of a 120-point check on various components that also reveals if the car is accident-free. Eddie Chua, sales executive of Vincar, points out some hot spots: the rubber seals on the bonnet, the boot and doors to see if they have been replaced, rust on major joint areas, and uneven gaps on the doors, bonnet and boot. Check the oil level; it should be sufficient and not thickened, which shows that the vehicle has been properly maintained. Observe if there are leaks (look for telltale water marks) and the condition of the timing belt (if you hear a sharp, shrill sound – that means it is due for a change).

Look out for white smoke from the exhaust pipe, as well as unusual clanking or knocking sounds. This indicates that the engine has a problem. If there are any red warning lights on the instrument cluster, these malfunctions must be attended to immediately.
During the test drive, besides assessing the engine performance, look out for smooth transmission, effectiveness of the brakes and how firm or soft the suspension is. Ensure that the engine, gearbox, seat belts, power windows, headlights, signal lights, central locking and other features are in good condition. The interior shouldn’t be too shoddy and the air-con should work well.

Also, ask about the number of previous owners. Most importantly, look beyond just the lower prices; the depreciation rate of the used car should be lower than that of a new one.

Neglecting your future needs
On average, most car owners in Singapore keep their cars for three to five years, notes Anthony Goh, sales consultant from Vincar. If you’re planning to have three children within a short space of time, a larger car may be more practical.

A flexible seating layout is also important. “At the very least, the rear seats should fold down to accommodate bulky loads, whether it’s big prams or diapers bought in bulk,” the Volkswagon expert says. Multi-purpose vehicles (MPVs), sports utility vehicles (SUVs) and hatchbacks typically have very versatile seating layouts that can be configured in different ways to fit various combinations of people and luggage.

He bought a stylish and powerful hatchback before his three-year-old daughter came along. “It didn’t have much interior and boot space, and I had to compromise on my preferred stroller and child seat,” he shares.

Lynn Tan, columnist for Torque magazine, who has a daughter, says she is now more conscious of child-friendly features in cars: “I still place design, performance, drive, handling and equipment at the forefront. But if I were to ferry Eryn in a test-drive car, I’d also evaluate how spacious the rear passenger area is, how easy it is to install the child seat’s Isofix base, and whether the boot can accommodate her Quinny stroller, portable feeding chair and diaper bag.”

Splurging on frills
If you’re on a budget, save on sporty add-ons like larger wheels, sports kit and a sunroof, suggests Philip. Big alloy wheels may look good but they make the ride less comfortable and increase fuel consumption.

Volkswagon's expert also thinks too many parents splurge on in-car DVD players. “When not fitted at the factory, these can interfere with a car’s electronic systems and pose risks if they’re not tightly secured to the seats or roof.”

Swapping leather for fabric may not be worth the savings. “Fabric collects dust, which may not be suitable for children, especially those who suffer from allergies,” says Ivan. Leather seats are also resistant to staining and easier to clean.

Leaving the family behind on test drives
“Weight is an important factor in driving feel. Bring the whole family along, so you can assess the real-life driving conditions,” advises Philip. Make sure everyone has enough space and, where possible, simulate the daily activities of loading up the kids, groceries bags and strollers. Also bring along your baby’s car seat. It gives you an idea of how much space and legroom you will have after installing it. And you can check if it fits with the car’s mounting points, says Philip.

Do note that your car seat must come with an Isofix base to work with the car’s Isofix points. Although it is not yet mandatory for all cars to be equipped with such points, he thinks it is a crucial feature to look out for.

Above all, don’t stint on such safety and child-friendly features, says the Volkswagon expert. “You can’t add them in later even if you wanted to pay for them.” 

(Photo: tomwang / www.123RF.com)

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