When you become a parent, there are a number of sacrifices you have to make. These sacrifices include having to childproof everything you own, from your house to your car. This can be a great source of headache, especially if you just got a brand new SUV. You're torn between wanting to share it with the family you love and wanting to keep it to yourself so nobody else can ruin it. Thankfully, there are ways to prevent your children from ruining your new car. Taking these steps will help you find the right balance and extend the life of your new family vehicle.
Keep them distracted by providing activities.
There are two main ways to prevent your children from ruining your new car: either you take measures to protect the car from damage or keep the kids occupied so they aren't causing damage in the first place. There are a number of ways to approach the latter technique, but I find the easiest thing to do is set up an "activity station" using one of the best car organizers or a remote control caddy. Something like an over-the-door shoe rack hanging behind the front seats is a great way to store toys and games to keep kids occupied. The pockets also serve as a receptacle for any additional items your kids inevitably bring into the car, helping to reduce clutter around the rest of the back seat.
Use seat covers to protect your interior.
One of the most common ways kids can damage a car is by kicking or resting their feet on the seat in front of them. Dirt and mud from their shoes can stain the seat, and the shoes themselves might do more permanent damage to the seat's material over time. Preventing this particular scenario is an important step. Luckily, many manufacturers offer some of the best car seat covers that nip this problem in the bud. You can find covers that surround and protect the entire seat, but some companies also produce "kick mats" which protect the back of the front seats from the muddy shoes of children.
Use plastic mats to protect your carpeting.
The simple step of adding plastic mats is one of the easiest ways to prevent your children from ruining your new car. Most cars come with carpeted mats, which also serve to protect the base layer of carpeting. When it comes to cleaning up after children, however, plastic mats function far more efficiently. You may choose to replace your existing mats or cover them directly with plastic for extra protection. If you're worried about the aesthetic of a clear plastic mat, many companies offer tonal plastic and rubber mats to match the interior of your car. Of course, you should also keep in mind that the lasting damage kids can inflict on your car is probably less aesthetically pleasing than a simple plastic mat.
Keep track of items with a designated bin or bag.
Whether it's a five minute jaunt to the market or an extended road trip, kids love to bring their favorite toys and trinkets on car rides. This becomes a problem, however, when children have a tendency to forget and leave their toys strewn about your back seat. One of the easiest ways to prevent clutter is to keep a designated receptacle for their items. Keep a plastic bin or reusable shopping bag in the back seat and train your kids to deposit their toys and games into the bag any time they leave the car. Not only will this help keep the rest of the back seat free from clutter, it'll also make your children less likely to lose their favorite toys.
Limit their food options in the car.
One of your first ideas may be the classic "no food in the car" rule. Banning your kids (and anyone else) from eating in your car is a great idea... in theory. In practice, it's rarely sustainable. Just wait until your next nine-hour road trip and see if you can still manage upholding that rule.
A much more reasonable compromise is to ban certain types of food in your vehicle. Sauces or sodas can get all over the car, leaving near-permanent stains and sticky residue all over. Avoid these in your vehicle, and you'll be safe from the worst of it. Other snacks like crackers may leave crumbs, but at least those are easily vacuum-able, especially if you have plastic mats to protect your carpet. Almonds, carrots, and other nuts and vegetables are not only the healthiest options for your child, they're also the least likely to lead to big messes in your car.
Keep a tub for dirty sports equipment in the trunk.
As your kids get a little older, there's a good chance they'll end up participating in some sort of athletic activity. Whether it's soccer, cheerleading, or marching band, most sports tend to lead to muddy shoes and all manner of dirty equipment at the end of practice. If you just upgraded your vehicle and your kids play sports, you're probably even more desperate for new ways to stop your children from ruining your car. If you can afford the space, a large tub or plastic bag in your trunk can serve as a receptacle for all the muddy cleats and soccer balls and whatever else, keeping the rest of your vehicle safe.
Choose the right vehicle for the job.
Whether you want to admit it or not, one of the best ways to prevent your children from ruining your new car is to specifically purchase a family-friendly car or, better yet, a larger vehicle like a crossover or SUV. Unlike many cars, which pretty much disregard whoever's in the back seat, family-friendly vehicles like reliable SUVs typically feature adjustable air vents, cupholders, USB ports, and other thoughtful additions in their second and third rows. When you're hauling your children around, these extra features make your children more comfortable and less likely to fidget, complain, and make messes.
Provide spill-proof snacking containers.
I've already mentioned that being smart with your kids' snack options is important. An extra helpful measure on top of this is to seek out spill-proof containers specially designed to reduce the mess a toddler makes when they snack. These containers work by staying sealed until your child reaches in for a pretzel or a piece of cereal, automatically sealing again after the snack is obtained. If you don't want to purchase these specialized containers, you can also improvise with sealable baggies or Tupperware to reduce spillage.
Manage their artistic means.
One of the most wholesome and effective activities for children on or off the road is to draw or color. Markers are a no-no because there is simply way too much potential for your children to take "artistic license" with their coloring surface. Even if it's accidental, it's just takes one slip for your kid to mark all over your interior.
Your next thought might be "no problem, I'll just get them some crayons," which is at least a step in the right direction. Crayons, however, have one mortal enemy: the sun. If the car is sitting out on a particularly hot day, it doesn't take long for a rogue crayon under the seat to melt into your carpet, causing potentially irreversible damage. I find the best all-around piece of coloring equipment is the humble colored pencil, which doesn't have any of the disadvantages of crayons or markers. If you keep nothing else in your car but a coloring book and a box of freshly sharpened colored pencils, you're already in great shape to protect your vehicle from your kids.
Don't leave them alone in the car (seriously).
Kids are infinitely more difficult to manage when they are unsupervised, so of course not leaving them alone is one of the best ways to prevent your children from ruining your new car. But also, you shouldn't be leaving your kid alone in the car anyway! There are far too many true horror stories out there, so just keep your children with you when you're running errands and don't leave them in the vehicle. It'll be safer for your car since your child won't be in there to mess around, but more importantly, it'll be much safer for your kid!