Buying a Family Car

Are you ready to buy your first car in Canada? It’s one of your most exciting endeavours as a newcomer.

If you’re planning on a new car rather than a used one, financing or leasing are your choices. Unless you’re a business owner and willing to track your trips in a log-book, a three- or five-year financing plan is probably the way to go.

The next step is to determine what size and type of vehicle is best for you. Since this is a parenting column, we’re going to disregard sports cars, pick-up trucks and vehicles you wouldn’t want to see a single cookie crumb in – no matter how much you secretly dream about owning one of those. If you have up to five people in your family, your choices range from sedans and SUVs, to minivans which carry six or more people.

You can get great deals on financing with many car dealers, but the price of the car isn’t the only cost to consider. In Canada, cars must be insured. Rates vary, depending on your driving record, how long you’ve held a driver’s license recognized in Canada, and the size and popularity of your car. Check with an insurance professional about the rate for each vehicle you think of buying. Generally, bigger vehicles are considered safer, and cost less to insure than smaller, sportier models.

Fuel efficiency is also important, especially if you’re on a budget but you want to explore the country you’ve just moved to. Most car brands make fuel consumption a huge selling point. When it comes to gas, bigger means more, and SUVs and mini-vans are the most expensive vehicles to feed. Environmental friendliness is another factor, and you might consider buying a hybrid vehicle (both fuel- and electricity-powered). These cost more, and are best for driving within your city or town, rather than long distances. Your province will grant you a cash rebate between 5000 and 8000 dollars for buying a full-electric car.

You’ll find many auto brands in Canada to be familiar from back home. American cars like Chevy, Ford and Chrysler are popular family vehicles, as well as Asian makes like Mazda, Nissan, Honda and Hyundai. Higher up the price scale are European manufacturers like Volkswagen, Mercedes Benz and BMW – but regardless of my German bias, those may not be best for cruising Canada with your family. An exception to this would be a diesel model like VW offers, as the engine can save you fuel costs.

So which vehicle would be best for your family? In the end, you must carefully assess all these factors depending on your budget and personal situation, and then take some test-drives. But here are some suggestions, based on space, price, family friendliness and green factor:

The greenest, but not the cheapest: Chevrolet Volt 2012 - Electric vehicle, 4 passengers, starting at $39,995

Enough space for bigger families without looking bulky: Honda Odyssey 2012, minivan, starting at $29,999

Spacious SUV with great fuel efficiency: Ford Explorer with EcoBoost, seats 7 passengers and a 4-cylinder-engine for improved gas consumption, starting at $29,990

5-passenger SUV: The Mazda CX-5 with SkyActiv Technology offers the best standard fuel efficiency in its class, with room for a family of five. Starting at $22,995

Most affordable car for small families: Hyundai Elantra, awarded Canadian and North American Car of the Year Awards, roominess and great fuel efficiency for a compact car, starting at $18,199