A new baby means a new look at your car - here's a handy checklist for first-time parents

<b>SAFETY FIRST:</b> Make sure your car seat is secure and that your child is firmly strapped-in. <i>Image: Janine Van der Post</i>
<b>SAFETY FIRST:</b> Make sure your car seat is secure and that your child is firmly strapped-in. <i>Image: Janine Van der Post</i>
Janine Van der Post

Pretty much everything in life changes when you have your first child, and what you need from your car is no exception.

Ideally, every new parent would have enough money to invest in an upgraded vehicle to accommodate the extra space that’s now required along with the focus on safety that automatically comes with a first born.

However, in the real world, that luxury isn’t possible for most, especially with all the other immediate expenses, investments to be made for future education costs, and a possible drop in income. 

Gumtree Auto’s Jeff Osborne advises new parents that if they aren’t buying a new car they should at least look at their existing one in a new way: "View your vehicle with fresh eyes and think carefully about all the new dynamics that are now in play."

Wheels's Janine Van der Post says: "Before I was married and became a mother, fast cars were my thing. The moment I realised I was carrying a little life, those days were over. When my sprog was born, my perspective really changed. Both my husband's and my own car did not have Isofix fittings for our baby's car seat, and although the boot space of my Toyota Corolla and his Nissan Sentra were adequate for a pram, I became obsessed with larger SUV models and people movers. 

"I wanted Isofix fittings, safety-features galore, a massive boot and, sliding side doors were a bonus. Even now, four years  later, the amount of boot space one needs for your child's things are never enough - even a simple trip to the shop could include throwing a bike in the back. Or, during a day to the rugby field, she could decide to pack half the toys in her room to keep herself busy. Thank goodness my recent test car, the Volvo XC90, has such a voluminous boot it can double-up as a makeshift kitchen."

Van der Post said: "There are also quite a few vehicles with sliding passenger doors that just make getting kids in and out of a vehicle so much easier, like the current Volkswagen Caravelle 2.0-litre BiTDi I am currently driving. Although it makes for a perfect camper or holiday getaway car, it's fantastic as a daily drive too. 

"It delivers 132kW and healthy 400Nm, mated to a seven-speed DSG, so you never have to worry about chugging along in traffic. But more importantly, it has siding rear doors on either side of the vehicle which can be operated via the buttons on the key fob, or via the front of the vehicle on the fascia. You don't have to worry about doors being nicked when they're eager to open it themselves, and it provides even better access when you're strapping them up in their seats.

"It's probably not the best option for first-time parents, but definitely one to consider perhaps at a later stage when you've added more family members. It's not the cheapest of vehicles either, but it makes a great long-term investment."

"Hatchbacks or smaller family cars are fine too, just as long as you have enough boot space, and make sure there's an isofix fitting or two."

vw caravelle

Selene Brophy, Traveller24 Editor – Mother of two boys aged 10 and 8 

"My life has changed dramatically. When I turned 30 I bought myself an almost-new, royal blue A180 Mercedes as a birthday present. Oh the mis-direction in hindsight. I paid it off in two years. I then fell pregnant and we began wondering how on earth we would fit the pram, as well as all the goodies required to keep a new baby happy, into that tiny, hatch boot. 

"Turns out -fate decided for me. I was six-months pregnant when I got into a sandwich fender bender – my car (Mercedes are expensive to fix apparently) was written off by the insurance who opted to pay me out. I then opted for a 7-seater, Peugeot 307 SW – a real mother ship of car.

"Space is super important as a parent - now that my boys are hitting their tweens it takes precedence - to lug all the extras around, and their friends too. Currently driving a Honda CRV 2004 – solid car even though it’s an oldie.  At this age creature comforts are a non-negotiable too as we do more road trips, so similarly fuel efficiency - which is the only issue with having an old car.

"While I might be in the market for a new car in the future – and the Mercedes GLA sure is lovely – slamming my bond is my main goal at this point, so the idea of a car payment freaks me out a little." 

Mercedes CLA

Here's a helpful car checklist for first-time parents:

1. Can your baby seat be anchored properly according to the manufacturer’s instructions? Make sure the seat belts can do the restraining job well. Replace them if they come up short in any way. Do not be tempted to maak ‘n plan with your own way of anchoring the seat. 

2. Be thorough about basic vehicle safety measures – tyres, brakes, lights, windscreen wipers and demisters are the key components here. Also make sure you have a good spare tyre and that all the required tools to replace a flat are in place and easily accessible.  

3. If you only have front passenger seats, like single cab bakkies, then make sure the passenger side airbag is turned off - the vehicle’s manual should tell you how to do this - to prevent the bag activating dangerously around the baby seat. If you have a second row of seats then the baby should always travel in the back. 

4. Check that the child-locking systems and automatic window controls are all working. 

5. Make sure you can always keep sun off the baby. The middle back seat is the best place for them but you might want to invest in a visor or a sun shield of some kind.

6. Do not have any loose objects inside the vehicle – in the event of an accident they can become dangerous missiles for a small child. 

7. Organise the storage space in the vehicle so that everything you need to find quickly for the baby can be found easily.  Consider purchasing some kind of top-opening box for storage which can be held in place by a seat belt and put next to the baby seat for easy access. 

8. One interesting tip from pampers is to put a small picture of your child somewhere prominent (maybe on your key ring) just to jog your memory that you have a baby in the back. Believe it or not, many parents, especially when driving on their own, forget about their babies if they’re quietly sleeping when they park and leave them behind in the vehicle. 

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