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Car Shopping with Kids in Tow: Tips to Make It Easier

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Car shopping is stressful. Car shopping with kids in tow can make it even worse. But there’s something to be said about bringing the kids so they can help you test out the new car, simulating what it’d be like to get them in and out. But you’ll still have a task ahead of you.

We recently traded in our Chevy Captiva for a bigger vehicle that would accommodate our growing family, the Nissan Quest. On our way to the dealership, my husband and I were talking about how we “weren’t going to buy a new car today—we are just looking!” And then we walked out of there having signed the paperwork for our new van. This wasn’t exactly planned and we had brought our two kids, ages 3 and 1, with us. It was crazy trying to make such a big decision while also entertaining two very grumpy kids during the total 6 hours it took for us to find the right van and get the paperwork done. Obviously, getting a babysitter for this type of thing is ideal, but sometimes bringing the kids is unavoidable or necessary.

So here’s what I learned from the experience and a few tips I’d suggest you consider the next time you are car shopping with your kids in tow:

Come prepared—have an idea of what car you want to look at and what your exact budget will be. We didn’t. We wandered around the car lot looking at multiple, totally different types of cars before finally finding a van that had everything we needed. It wasted a lot of time and a lot of my kids’ patience.

If the dealership has a kid play area waiting room and your kids are old enough to be there without your constant supervision, take advantage of it!

Pack a goodie bag. I’d suggest including items your kids hasn’t seen before/in a long time so they are more interested in what’s in there. Snacks, books, toys, disposable cameras, etc. My favorite coloring books are THESE because they use the special markers that won’t draw anywhere but the page.

To save time, shop on a weekday, if possible. Getting through all the loan approvals and paperwork is faster on a slow weekday than on the weekend when many places are closing early. The less time you’re there, the less ornery your bored kids will get.

Use your kids as a great excuse to walk away from a bad deal. Your kid’s fussing and whining will be a great excuse to say, “Sorry, this deal isn’t working for us and we should probably take our kids home now.” The salesman will want to keep you there so he can make the sale so chances are good that he will try to counter with a better offer. This happened with us about three times during the one visit, even though we were being genuine about needing to leave and the proposed monthly payments still being too high. It’s amazing how fast the “final offer” will get replaced with a better one when he thinks you’ll leave. But if the deal really is a bad one and you don’t know how to get a pushy salesman off your back, definitely prioritize the kids over the bad deal and just leave.

For older kids, make it a research project! Never pass up an opportunity to teach your kids and this is a great one for them to learn the process of negotiating and selecting a new vehicle.

If all else fails, pull out the iPad or cell phone for a show to keep them entertained. Don’t forget the headphones!

For anyone who has gone car shopping with kids in tow, what other tips would you add to this list? What helped you survive?

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