Dogs and cats had me at “woof” and “meow” a long time ago — and will have me wrapped around their paws until I draw my last breath (and since I’m aiming for 100 years, I have several decades ahead of me). So, it was no surprise to my husband that we brought along our dog crates and ramp during our car-shopping journey earlier this year. Accommodating our pet gear is a requirement for any vehicle of ours.
I’m happy to report I am not alone in my pet-centricity: Roughly 68 percent of U.S. households own a pet, according to a recent survey from the American Pet Products Association. In 1994, Americans spent $17 billion on their pets; that number quadrupled to $69.5 billion in 2017 with an estimate of $72 billion for 2018, according to the association. And folks who compete with their dogs in canine sports or regularly take classes with their dogs spend even more than the average pet-owning household — with some of that money ending up in car-dealer coffers. (Ask me how I know.)
I honed the list of pet-friendly automotive attributes below by scrutinizing the vehicles of other crazy dog people during canine classes and competitive events. It’s hard to find them all in one vehicle, so look for a car, SUV or truck that offers those best suited to your needs.
1. Boxy Is Best
When it comes to using dog crates in a vehicle, shape matters and boxy works best — especially if your pal is on the large side. With automakers emphasizing aerodynamics for improved fuel economy, boxy is harder to come by these days, but some examples come to mind: the Kia Soul and Ford Flex along with European-style vans like the Ford Transit Connect or Ram ProMaster City.
2. Got Multiples? Go Big
Among our four dogs is one who does the canine equivalent of human kids’ “Mom, he’s touching me.” So, we find big is better for traveling, whether we’re using safety harnesses or crates. If harnesses are your preference, look at three-row and full-size SUVs in which you can spread the dogs out. These haulers also provide the cargo space necessary if using crates is your preference. Hulks to consider: the Chevrolet Suburban or Tahoe, Ford Expedition, Honda Pilot, Toyota Highlander or Volkswagen Atlas.
3. Tough Tie-Downs
Speaking of crates, if you use them, it’s best to have a vehicle equipped with strength-rated cargo tie-downs — and to use strength-rated tie-down straps. In a crash, these two pieces of equipment will keep the crate from becoming a dangerous projectile. When car shopping, look for tie-downs in the cargo area; if they’re absent, find out if they can be added.
4. Flat Floors
Another crate-related consideration is whether a vehicle’s foldable seats create a floor flat enough for dog comfort. Would you want to lie in a crate that was tilted for hours? Probably not. Vehicles with fold-flat floors include the Dodge Journey, GMC Terrain, Jeep Compass and most full-size SUVs.
Dog car seats and safety harnesses are designed to be used with a vehicle’s child-safety seat Latch system. Not all Latch systems are created equal, however. Lucky for you, Cars.com’s certified car-seat technicians test the vehicles we get at our Chicago headquarters for ease of use with car seats. If the system works well for child-safety seats, it should work well for pet-safety equipment — so see if the vehicle you’re considering has been put through a Car Seat Check and how it fared.
6. Opens Wide
The wider a vehicle’s doors open, the easier it will be for your dog to jump in or to anchor ramps or steps. So, look for doors that open 180 degrees or those that slide open. Minivans like the Chrysler Pacifica, Dodge Grand Caravan, Honda Odyssey and Toyota Sienna make traveling with pets easy.
7. Easy Up-and-Down
That spry young pup at your side will become less mobile as he ages, just like us, so consider the step-in, step-out — make that jump-in, jump-out – height of doors and rear openings. Ramps and steps can help, but with ramps, you need to consider angle of incline — a steep angle can cause an elderly dog to injure its legs. Vehicles with lower side and rear entries include the Kia Sorento, Mazda CX-9, Subaru Outback and minivans. Or consider one with air suspension, like the Land Rover Discovery or Volvo XC90, that you can lower for your pooch.
8. Multizone Climate Controls/Vents
I rue the day I let my husband purchase our 2004 GMC Safari — definitely a pet-friendly vehicle — on his own, because I forgot to tell him that rear climate controls would be nice to have. We endured 14 summers without it, relying on fans to keep wayback passengers — two- and four-legged alike — comfortable. An optional feature back then, more vehicles today are offering standard multizone climate controls and vents. Don’t leave the dealer without them.
9. Backseat Accommodations
If your small dog or cat travels in a pet carrier, then a car with generous backseat legroom is a must. Why? If the carrier is not designed to be used with seat belts — like these from Sleepypod, for example — then the safest place in the vehicle is on the floor between the first and second row. Or, if you’re harnessing a dog to the backseat, room to maneuver without becoming a human pretzel will make it easier on you. The Honda CR-V, Hyundai Sonata, Kia Sportage, Toyota Corolla and Volvo S60 are among vehicles with generous second-row legroom.
10. Easy Cleanup
Pets are messy. So, easily cleanable upholstery and cargo areas are important considerations if you don’t want to use removable coverings. Look for vinyl or leather seats and rubber floor liners in the cargo area. Several brands design vehicles and accessories with pets in mind, including Jeep, Land Rover, Subaru and Volvo.
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