How to ensure your car is a safe (and insured) space for your new baby

Parenting is nothing if not humbling. One of the first things new parents learn is that a tiny human can easily bring full-grown adults to their knees. But, as the scouts say, “be prepared” – as prepared as you can anyway. While expecting the expectant to fully prepare for a new baby is a lot like expecting people to plan for what it might be like to live without gravity, there are still many steps you can take to ease the transition into parenthood. We’d like to help with one we know about: Cars, and everything related. Let’s get you ready to bring baby on board.

We explored safety precautions expecting mothers can take while driving, and now we’d like to help soon-to-be-parents prepare their cars with three straightforward steps, all of which can be accomplished before your child’s arrival. Whether anticipating a birth, an adoption, or welcoming a child from foster care child into your family, soon-to-be-parents will want to first plan what car will be right for their family. Second, whether you buy a new car or keep your current one, you’ll want to update your auto insurance policy to ensure everything is covered, and that you’re getting the best rate. Third, families can outfit their cars for safety before their newest addition even arrives – a simple way to lessen the impending madness. Speaking of which, we share ways to quell some of the madness, at least while you’re all in the car.

parents getting ready for baby on board

1: Find the Best Car for Your Family

If your family will need to drive and your current vehicle either can’t accommodate a child (looking at you, two-seater sports cars) or you decide you need something safer and more reliable, you’ll want to begin shopping as soon as possible. Our 21-step guide to buying a car can organize your thoughts and help you reach your new-car goals on time.  

When a child is on the way – and sometimes, after they’ve arrived – parents often find themselves considering things they never thought they would, like a minivan. But don’t worry, you won’t have to be a stranger in a strange land: our guide to the best minivans can aid your decision. We’ve also reviewed great non-minivan family cars. Families in the market for a new vehicle would also do well to look at our list of this year’s least safe cars.

If you do buy a new car while expecting, you’ll want an idea of what your insurance rate will be. Here’s the good news: driving minivans and family cars often means great insurance rates (for the average driver): in The Zebra’s State of Auto Insurance Report, we found that minivan drivers consistently paid less than drivers of any other vehicle (including light trucks, sedans, hybrids, luxury cars, and SUVs), all else being equal. The average yearly insurance premium in 2016, nationwide, for minivan drivers is $1,295, while the average yearly 2016 price for drivers of sedans is $1,438 ($143 more).

Our favorite family cars:

  • Honda Odyssey: This minivan, loved by parents, is also a top safety pick. It has best-in-class fuel economy and it seats up to eight, including up to five car seats or booster seats.
  • Toyota Sienna: This stylish minivan is also a top safety pick, it was awarded Most Dependable Minivan by J.D. Power for four straight years, and it has flexible seating options.
  • Ford Flex: It’s not a minivan, but it seats seven and has excellent safety ratings with great active safety features, making it great for families.

Important vehicle safety features for families:

  • Lane-departure warning and lane-keeping assist
  • Blind spot warning
  • Adaptive headlights
  • Collision warning system
  • Electronic stability control

Though these and other safety features will certainly keep your family safer, unfortunately they won’t lower your insurance rate: our latest research found that despite proven safety benefits, new technology saves drivers less than 1% a year on their car insurance premiums.

Nice-to-have amenities:

  • In-cab vacuum cleaner (we know parents who’ve bought cars based on the presence of a vacuum cleaner alone – try as you might, you’ll never quell the crumbs)
  • Sliding doors (a fantastic minivan perk)
  • Ample trunk or hatchback storage space (you’ll tote way more stuff than you could have imagined)

2: Revisit Your Auto Insurance Coverage

Expecting a child is a good time to check in with your auto insurance company about coverage options.

We asked The Zebra’s own licensed insurance agent and advisor Neil Richardson what additional coverage soon-to-be-parents might want to consider adding to their auto insurance policies. “Parents should consider adding medical coverage or Personal Injury Protection (PIP) coverage to their auto insurance policy. Most health insurance policies have a fairly high deductible, but adding medical coverage to your auto policy will help you avoid having to pay out of pocket if you or your child are injured while in the car.”

And if you aren’t already carrying comprehensive and collision coverage (often called “full coverage”), you might consider it for your parental lives as unexpected expenses (like unforeseen vehicle repairs) can be particularly stressful for new parents who are often already stretched thin financially. Comprehensive and collision coverage usually extends to car seats, so if yours is damaged in a crash you won’t have to pay for a new seat.

You might also consider extra coverage for uninsured drivers to protect your family and rental car reimbursement coverage so you won’t be without a vehicle if yours needs repairs.

Adding all this extra coverage comes with a price, so it’s a good idea to shop around with as many companies as possible every six months to find the best rate on the coverage that meets your needs. We can help.

kids in car

3: Learn How to Install Your Car Seat (Correctly!)

Though it might make you feel a little overzealous, installing your car seat and having it checked by an expert before you take your little one home is very important. Fire stations often have certified technicians available to make sure you’ve installed the seat correctly and show you how to use it – all free of charge. NHTSA’s SaferCar.gov has a national list of certified stations.

Research and buy your seat as soon as time and budget allow, but definitely before baby arrives. (In fact, most hospitals won’t let you leave without a car seat). Always either buy your seat new or borrow one from someone you trust to be honest about its history. Infant seats that have been involved in crashes, even minor ones, are compromised and might not work properly.

Infant and Child Car Seat Guidelines by Age and Weight:

  • Infant rear-facing-only car seat: Birth to 12 months
    • In the first year, safety experts advise parents to keep their children in seats facing the back of the vehicle. Rear-facing-only seats are appropriate for children up to 22 to 45 pounds says the American Association for Pediatrics (AAP), depending on the model, so be sure to check your manual.
  • Convertible car seats and 3-in-one car seats used rear-facing: Ages 1 to 3
    • Experts advise that children travel rear-facing until they reach the upper rear-facing limits of height or weight for their seat, which is usually between 40 and 50 pounds. Once your child reaches the upper height or weight limit for rear-facing, turn the seat forward-facing and use the tether. The AAP offers more installation and use details.
  • Forward-facing car seats: Ages 4 to 7
    • Children should ride in their car seats until they reach the forward-facing upper limit of height or weight, which is usually between 40 and 90 pounds, depending on the model.
  • Booster seat: Ages 4-7
    • Once your child outgrows his or her harness car seat, switch to a booster seat until he or she outgrows the height or weight limits, which is usually between 80 and 120 pounds and 57 inches, depending on the model.

An important rule for all ages: never strap infants or children into their seats while they’re wearing big coats. (And, in fact, don’t strap yourself in while wearing a puffy coat either.) The straps won’t be tight enough in the event of a crash. The American Association of Pediatrics has useful details about how to keep infants and children both warm and safe while traveling: dress infants and children in thin layers and use coats of blankets over the straps or car seat covers without layers under the child.

Bonus: Making the Ride Easier with Baby on Board

Once your little one becomes part of your family, there are steps you can take to make car rides easier for the whole family. Our advice for taking little ones on a road trip can also be applied to your everyday travels:

  • Single-serving snacks and music are great ways to distract cranky little ones and help them get through the ride easier.
  • Talk about the trip in concrete steps, rather than minutes, since children under age 5 don’t have a real sense of time: “First we’ll listen to some music, then we’ll get to the big hill (or other landmark), and then we’ll be there.”
  • Try a game like I-Spy, guessing games, or peek-a-boo (the latter one if you’re not the driver, of course).

Expecting parents often feel as though they don’t know what they’re in for which can create stress. But tackling practical, solvable tasks while you wait for your child can ease the anxiety and help smooth the transition into parenthood. Best of luck!

About The Author

Julia is a writer living in New York City. She's written hundreds of articles about the auto industry, from demystifying car insurance to exploring the latest vehicle technologies."