Ah, parenthood.  The smiling faces, the infectious laughter, the endless affection, having kids can be one of the greatest joys in life.  Then there are the temper tantrums, the dirty diapers and the sleepless nights.  As any mom or dad will tell you, parenthood is not for the faint of heart.

Nowhere is this more evident than in the family car.  Between sticky fingers, epic meltdowns and playlist protests, sometimes kids & cars just don’t mix.  Here are some pointers to ensure that your next ride is completely, utterly, kid-compatible:

The first step in ensuring that your new car, truck or suv is right for you as a parent is to make sure it is right for you as a person.  Driving with your kids won’t always be fun, so it will help if you can simply be happy behind the wheel.  Because if everything is ok from the driver’s seat, you may even forget that Little Bobby has just dumped an entire bag of Goldfish on to the back seat and is now proceeding to grind them into the upholstery.

Next, check out the parental controls. Most cars include door lock, power window and even volume controls that the parents can dole out as necessary– giving kids access only if you deem them worthy.  See if those controls are easy for you to lock and unlock, because if not, you might find yourself on the wrong side of a “Mom, I think I’m gonna throw up” conversation.

After that, get in the back seat. Review the good—plenty of cup holders, a bit of storage and maybe some USB ports are great features. But be sure to a close inventory of the bad. For example. not enough cup holders can lead to cup holder wars and too much storage can result in vintage snack discoveries, neither of which you want. And then there are the deal breakers: things that can cut off fingers (armrests are common culprits), things they’ll fight over (USB port rage is real) and things that will ruin your life (back seat radio controls).

Once you’ve established that the back seat is acceptable, check out the trunk.  No, not for storing the kids themselves, but their stuff.  You need to assess whether your kids’ accessories are going to be able to come along for the ride.  Remember kids often come with more than a sippy cup and a filthy stuffed animal. When they’re little, you’ll need their stroller, diaper bag and likely a back up diaper bag. When they’re older, you’ll need room for hockey gear, ballet costumes, football equipment and while still needing space for groceries.  This is also a good time to check for fun stuff like the power lift gate button or even a lift gate that is hands free!

Next, you’ll need to review the safety of the vehicle. Airbags are everything.  But making sure you have the right type of airbags is important too. Side impact should be the main area of concern with kids in the back seat. And if the vehicle has a third row, make sure that the airbags (usually curtain) reach all the way back there.  You may want to use your smartphone to take photos of the airbag indicators and look them up online when you get home.  And if your kids are still in car seats, look for the back seat anchors and make sure you can use them!

Lastly, you’ll want to check out the car with the kids inside before you buy.  But wait until the second visit, you’ll need to have your wits about you for the first review. Finally, before you commit you’ll want to take it for a spin with the entire family.  Because if there is a dangerous element, like a hidden button or a secret escape hatch, you know they’ll find it before you do.  If it all checks out, make sure you drive home alone — you’ll need that time to say goodbye to that great, fresh new car smell.

Pocket

Free Vin Lookup

Vin Lookup

The Vehicle Identification Number is located in many different places on a car. It is very common to appear on the dashboard and/or in the drivers side door sticker. You can do a free VIN look up to check vehicle problems on the button above.