The 2022 Family Car Buying Guide

In 2022's high-priced car market, buying a family car may feel impossible—but it's not. Follow these expert-recommended steps to make the process easier, and even cheaper.

Young happy family talking to car salesperson in a showroom.
Photo: Getty Images

You've made it through another difficult year with a raging pandemic, supply chain problems, and working or schooling from home. If buying a car was on your radar this year, you would have quickly discovered that 2021 was also a year of upheaval in the automotive industry, with shortages and delays tipping the purchasing power precariously towards car sellers.

Car prices skyrocketed, and family cars, such as the popular three-row Kia Telluride, began selling for $10,000 or more above manufacturers' suggested retail price (MSRP) in some areas. Additionally, as the market shift towards bigger vehicles, choosing a family car gets a little more complicated with the sheer number of models that are perfect for growing families.

As we look forward to 2022, buying a family car may feel impossible—and don't get us wrong, it's hard—but there are steps you can take to make the process feel a little smoother, especially once you understand how purchasing a vehicle has changed over the past few years.

Steps to Choosing a Family Car

Consider your budget.

"A family should set a budget with an understanding of how much they want to spend on a vehicle, keeping in mind things like insurance and maintenance," says Jessica Caldwell, executive director of insights at Edmunds.

You'll have an insurance payment, repairs and maintenance, fuel, and other costs to consider. There are many online resources to help you with figuring out these costs, including RepairPal's tool to determine average repair and maintenance cost. Consumer Reports can tell you the average annual cost for fuel, and Edmunds offers a Car Affordability Calculator.

Make a list of your needs and wants from a car.

Car shopping can feel overwhelming. With so many options, brands, models, and safety features available, it can be hard to make heads or tails on where to start. Sit down and, rather than deciding which specific vehicle you want, consider what you need out of your next car.

Determine how many seats you need, what safety features are important to you, which comfort add-ons would make your life easier, how much space you need, and more. You can rank your needs and wants, creating a prioritized list that will help you narrow down the models that actually meet your needs.

Do your research.

Once you've settled on what you need, and what your budget is, "start researching the vehicles that match your family's needs," says Caldwell. Look into safety ratings on sites like the National Highway Traffic Safety Association and the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety. Educate yourself on future fuel and repair costs for the vehicles you're considering. Compare trim levels, prices, and more. When you walk into a dealership, you shouldn't need the salesperson to answer anything for you. Your research should have already independently answered your questions.

The perfect family car today might not be perfect in five years.

How long you intend to keep your car is important to keep in mind. "Kids grow up fast, and their needs change rapidly," says Caldwell. "If you're a family vehicle shopper that wants to buy and hold a vehicle for its lifespan, you'll need to think more seriously about future family plans."

For example, not all third-row seating is spacious, and some third rows are too cramped for adults and growing teens. Storage space is another consideration; if you have an infant or toddler, you may need less trunk space than you'd need as they grow and play sports.

Consider if you need an extended warranty.

Extended warranties aren't something that everyone needs, but if you're thinking about it, it's best to do your research and make a decision before you head to the dealership. Read more about extended warranty scams, and how to find one that works for you.

Test drive with your kids.

While a car might look perfect on paper and check all the boxes during your research, there is no way to know for sure without getting into it, fastening your kids' car seats, and taking a spin. Your test drive should be at least 15 to 20 minutes and include driving on streets and highways.

If buying used, get the car inspected.

When purchasing a used car, taking it to a mechanic prior to purchase is a critical part of the car buying process. This allows you to ensure that the car is in a condition that's acceptable to you, allows you to budget for repairs the car needs, and of course, gives you leverage when negotiating.

How has car buying changed for 2022?

Limited inventory with higher prices.

"Those looking to purchase a family vehicle will have a tougher time in 2022 due to lower inventory, particularly in the first half of the year," says Caldwell. Lower inventory is driving much higher prices, with cars often being sold for above MSRP.

On the flip side, if you have a car that you want to sell or trade in before buying your next one, it will be worth a lot more money, helping to offset some of the additional cost of a new vehicle.

Certain options might not be available.

Due to the lack of inventory and supply chain problems, certain trim levels and specific options might not be readily available, or available at all. You'll have to decide if you can wait for the options you want, choose another vehicle, or live without them until you buy another car in the future.

Many more electric vehicle options to consider.

As more manufacturers ramp up electric vehicle production, the number and variety of electric cars increase every year. 2022 is no different, with at least 122 electric vehicle models available. Before jumping into the electric car market, make sure to do your research.

"They aren't always family-friendly, broadly speaking," says Caldwell. There are models that work for families, but a comprehensive test drive is necessary—with special consideration to how much you drive, ability to charge the vehicle, and access to a secondary vehicle for longer trips.

Will the shortage ever end?

"There isn't a defined end to this inventory shortage, but it looks like inventory is stabilizing rather than worsening, so that is good news for anyone looking to buy a car in 2022," says Caldwell. Many people simply can't wait to buy a car, but if you can wait you're more likely to have better options and with that, better prices.

"Assuming no further significant disruptions to production, inventory should slowly improve over the course of 2022," says Caldwell. "That said, it will likely be a slow recovery."

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