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These Car Features Could Make Life Easier for Dog Owners

Friends on a road trip with their dog
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I bought my 2016 Subaru Outback brand new a couple of years ago, but it took me months of researching and dilly-dallying to decide which make and model to go with. One of the main concerns I had was to make sure it would suit my family — both our two- and four-legged members.

At the time, I had two dogs — a rescue mutt named Dougal and an elderly basset hound named Stumpy. As I searched for the perfect car, I realized that their needs mattered just as much as mine, my husband’s and our daughter’s.

I’m certainly not alone in my pet-minded approach to researching a new vehicle. I reached out to some friends on Facebook and found that they had similar concerns.

What Dog Owners Want in Their Cars

Dog wearing shades
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Jennifer Hess, fellow wife, mother and runner living in Dayton, Ohio, shared her car-buying experiences with me.

“We purchased a Ford Escape a number of years ago so that we would have room for two dogs, two kids and [me and my husband] to travel,” she said. “We wanted enough room in the back so that we could safely transport everyone.

“It was important that the dogs had some space, and that we could safely put up a gate between the back area with the dogs and the backseat.”

And she found her dogs’ needs changed with time. “As our dogs got older, they had trouble getting into the Escape, so we looked into a minivan,” Hess told me.

They ended up choosing a 2012 Kia Sedona. “It gave them more room, allowed us to have the gate up for safety, and when the dogs were younger we were even able to have a crate completely put together for the dogs to travel in. It was also lower so they could get in easier. Or, if we had to help them in, it wasn't nearly as high.”

Minivans are good family cars, and that’s true for furry family members as much as it is for humans. “With the minivan, it also gave us the option of putting seatbelts on the dogs and having them in a seat,” explained Hess.

Overall, what Hess and I were both looking for was spaciousness, a rear liftgate and some way to contain our dogs on the road — either with a gate or a safety harness of some kind.

While you can buy these items from many parts and accessories stores, the car itself is something you can’t change once you’ve purchased. It’s important to start with a vehicle big and versatile enough to fit your four-legged friends.

Best Cars for Dog Owners

Golden retriever looking out window
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Whether you’re in the market for a new or used car, you’ll find plenty of dog-friendly options in a variety of sizes that meet an array of budgets. The prices listed below refer to new vehicles, but in most cases you can pay less for used versions that still offer the same dog-friendly features.

Hatchbacks

For the single dog owner or family on a budget, a hatchback provides plenty of space for all members of the family.

The 2018 Honda Fit (MSRP $16,190) might look small on the outside, but thanks to a versatile seating arrangement, it’s perfectly sized for small to medium dogs. Honda uses what it calls a “Magic Seat” in the second row. This 60/40 split seat offers four modes: “long,” “tall,” “utility” and “refresh.” These fancy terms essentially mean you can fit your dog, groceries and IKEA flat-pack box in the car all at once.

For a slightly larger hatchback, consider the 2018 Kia Forte5 (MSRP $18,300). The Forte5 offers 23.2 cubic feet of cargo space, which can accommodate one or two small or medium dogs. You can also accessorize with all-weather floor mats, which make cleaning the dog hair from your car that much easier (no vacuum cleaner required).

Crossovers

Crossovers combine the spaciousness of SUVs with the fuel economy of midsize cars. They’re also ideal for small families with a couple of dogs, or single drivers with larger dogs.

Subaru markets itself as dog-friendly, so it’s no surprise the 2018 Subaru Crosstrek (MSRP $21,795) offers plenty of room for your four-legged friends — up to 55.3 cubic feet with the rear seats folded, to be precise. My good friend Tim owns a Crosstrek that, with the seats folded, perfectly fits his greyhound-weimaraner mix and great Dane.

Subaru sells such dog accessories as leashes and collars, so your canine companion can show his love of your Subie as well.

Another good crossover option for dogs is the 2018 Toyota RAV4 (MSRP $24,510). You can opt for an all-weather liner package, which includes rubber floor mats and a rubber cargo cover to help protect the crossover from dog hair (and drool).

SUVs

SUVs are often thought of as gas-guzzling behemoths, but they’re more fuel-efficient than they used to be. Plus, they provide plenty of interior space for you, your family and your dogs.

The 2018 Ford Flex (MSRP $30,285) looks a little boxy but provides ample space for pretty much any occasion. It can seat up to seven, making the Flex ideal for medium-sized families with a dog or two. When the second- and third-row seats are folded flat, the vehicle offers 83.2 cubic feet of cargo space. Plus, its unique style will help you stand out on the road, if that’s your thing.

One of the most recognizable SUVs on the road is the 2018 Jeep Wrangler. The two-door model (MSRP $27,495) is the most affordable version, but the four-door model (MSRP $30,995) provides easier access to the rear seats for both people and pooches.

Since the Wrangler has been around for so long, you’re likely to find a used model for a more affordable price that provides canine-friendly amenities.

Minivans

Minivans are the ultimate vehicles for dog-loving families, as Hess found when she was car shopping. They’re large and low, making it easier for older or less athletic dogs to climb in.

The 2019 Honda Odyssey (MSRP $30,090) includes automatic climate control to keep your dogs warm or cool on the road. The van also features “Magic Slide” second-row seats, which make it easier to put your dogs in the third row. .

If you splurge on the Touring model (MSRP $44,660), you’ll also get a built-in vacuum cleaner ideal for keeping the interior clean from dog hair and mud. Honda added this feature to the Odyssey in 2014, so look for a used model to save money, while keeping the same perks.

The 2018 Chrysler Pacifica (MSRP $26,995) was introduced in 2017 to replace the outgoing Town & Country model. It offers up to 243 seating configurations, allowing you to experiment with what meets your needs. The third-row seats fold into the floor, so you can make a flat lounge area for your furry friends.

Like the Honda Odyssey, the Chrysler also has an optional vacuum cleaner in the Pacifica Limited (MSRP $43,795). However, since the Pacifica is a new model, you’re unlikely to find a used one with a vacuum.

So dog owners — before buying your next car, make a list of features you need, then research options within your budget. Whether you buy new or used, you’ll find plenty of choices that cater to your two- and four-legged family.

Catherine Hiles is a car owner, parent and pet guardian who appreciates her Subaru’s all-weather mats when it comes to dog hair. She lives in Dayton, Ohio.

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