Top lessons learnt from my junior car reviewers

by Petrol Mum
Ferrari GTC4 Lusso car seat

Reviewing cars from a woman’s perspective is what I do, but as I am ‘Petrol Mum’ that means if a car has more than two seats, behind me are my son and daughter who also freely share their opinions on the cars that I drive.

Now that my children have a few years’ experience under their belt and are getting a bit older they are very quick to judge a car and generally they get it right. Therefore, if a car manufacturer is developing a car and the brief includes children using the rear seats most of the time, I have some top tips for designers from the lessons I have learnt from my children.

Rear air vents

The first thing my children will point out to me in a car is if there are any rear central air vents. No air vents means the car has already failed in their eyes. So as a bare minimum, a car that will most likely carry rear seat passengers, needs to have two central rear air vents that can be individually positioned and closed off.

Things can be further improved from there of course, with basic temperature control in the back that can be adjusted by rear seat passengers. But as the technology steps up to digital climate controls these need to be controlled from the front climate controls as well as the rear. Because if you have very young children who can not control the air temperature for themselves then you will want to be able to do this yourself as you are driving.

Car companies really need to think about these digital rear temperature controls as well. Where are they located? What do they control? Does the rear climate control system actually work properly?

Of course, if the car has three rows of seats, then rear ventilation is even more important as these passengers do not have access to a window if they feel like they need air circulation. Car designers need to really think about the location of vents and ideally the third row climate should have separate controls from the second row. Believe me from personal experience, whichever child is in the second row will deliberately annoy the one in the third row by either making it too hot or too cold!

Location of rear tether points

This one is more for parents, but impacts greatly on your children if the car seat is not fitted correctly. The rear tether points should be easy to access, which sounds like a no brainer, but is definitely not always the case.

In our Mercedes-AMG it was always a pain to unclip the rear tethers, which are designed to be difficult to unclip in the first place. But if you add in a headrest that doesn’t go high enough or a space too tight to get your hand in there to release the clip, then you will find yourself swearing a lot.

The rear tether points should always be clearly labelled as well because I have been confused sometimes when there are points behind a seat to clip the rear tether, but they are not always labeled, so I find myself wondering if they are actually mounting points?

This is most evident in dual-cab utes where generally there is only one centrally located rear tether point and the two outer fastening loops that are only used to pass the rear tether through.

Cup holders and drink bottle storage

There is nothing worse than a sticky drink being spilled in your car, so how these are stowed is extra important when little hands are involved. If there is a central seat with cup holders in it thought needs to be given to the design of these. The cup holders should have some sort of flex in them from a rubber type lining as this will stabilise a cup/drink bottle better than a rigid cup holder. Also, the depth of the cup holder is important, if it is too shallow the cup/drink bottle will easily fall over if bumped.

Drink bottle storage in the rear door cubby is more important for older children as young children won’t be able to reach down to them. This cubby should be large enough for 600ml sized drink bottle as a minimum and you should be able to easily lift the bottle in and out.

Height of the rear window

As my children get older this is becoming less of an issue, but even now my youngest who is nine can still get into a car and tell me that she can’t see out of the window, because the seat is either too low or too reclined.

This is somewhat of a balancing act because of course if a child is in a car seat or booster seat, they then may be too high, but it certainly is should be looked at.

Blind on the rear windows

Having a blind on the rear windows is not a deal breaker, but it is handy to have if you have very small children. It means you don’t have to use those blinds that stick onto the window, and usually just fall off, or prevent you from opening the window.

Rear seat headrests

Now my son is getting taller he frequently comments on how hard the headrests are. Most of the time they are too hard and one of the reasons he gave the Kia Stinger GT his car of the year was because he said the headrests were like those in the Rolls-Royce. This also applies to the whole seat as well and rear seats should be as comfortable to sit in as the front seats.

Rear charging points

My children do not use devices in the car, but as many children do, they will need to have a charging port for them. Most companies place the charging points at the rear of the centre console between the two front seats. I can see this would create a tripping hazard and it’s generally untidy. The solution to this problem has already been implemented by Mazda in some of their vehicles. Mazda have the USB ports being located in the arm rest that folds down in the central seat.

Transmission tunnel design

The carpet across the transmission tunnel between the two rear seats will become worn over time from children climbing over it on a daily basis, so some thought should be giving to its design. The tunnel should be as low as possible to start with, not be too wide and unobstructed from the back of the main centre console.

I have seen some cars with a mat that goes over the transmission tunnel, which I think is a great design feature. Even better is if the mat goes across the entire rear footwell, making it easier to clean as crumbs and dirt are less likely to get onto the floor carpet.  

Rather than car designers simply using a 90th percentile child when developing a new car, I recommend that they get families with children to come in and test the prototypes out for them. I bet the children or parents will pick up at least one issue that the designer has not even considered.

Why is it so important to ensure children like a car? Well to start with it will make the parent’s life a whole lot easier if they don’t have to listen to a child complaining they are too hot in the back seats because there is no fresh air blowing on them. But it’s bigger than that if you ask me.

If a child has good memories about their family car growing up then maybe they will be more inclined to stay with the same car brand when they get older and buy their own car? Brand loyalty is so important these days, because modern cars are all generally good, so there needs to be an extra reason why a person chooses one car brand over another.

Check out my car reviews for more insights into the particular car model you are interested in. Not there? Then get in contact and I will do my best to review it for you.

Photographs by Driven Women Magazine.

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