Originally published on Autos.ca on May 12, 2014 (Consumer Advice: Cars and Accessories for Pets)
Article by Mark Atkinson. Photos courtesy of manufacturers and by autoTRADER.ca staff.
With the summer travel season rapidly approaching, plenty of people will be planning some serious road trips. For some families, the four-legged members will be coming along as well, adding an extra layer of complexity and more preparation.
We’ve got some tips and advice on how to make at least part of that journey safer and less stressful. Information on harnesses, barriers, crates, feeding and if you’re feeling adventurous, six pet-friendly rides.
Although some treat their pets like their children, unfortunately the laws in most provinces don’t consider them the same. So pet restraints aren’t given the same level of testing and scrutiny as even the least-expensive child car seat. The Center for Pet Safety actually tested a number of different restraints using rigorous US DOT’s Federal Motor Vehicle Safety Standards.
The evaluation was done on a dozen various styles of harness that claimed some kind of crash-worthiness, and only about half made it through a serious static load test. Of the rest, the team used three sized crash-dummy dogs of appropriate weight, and went to town. Some failed spectacularly, a couple provided adequate strength but didn’t keep the dummies from coming off the car seat. Only the Sleepypod Clickit Utility was considered a top performer and worthy of recommendation.
Luckily the Clickit is on sale in Canada priced between $100 and $130, depending on the size. However, because of the harness’s popularity, there could be wait-lists for delays before your order arrives.
Since most pickups and SUVs are quite high off the ground, getting larger pets in and out comfortably and without throwing out your back is a challenge. There are several options out there, but the Pet Gear line of foldable ramps are light, easy to set up, have built-in handles and slip-resistant covers. Obviously, things like size and complexity means the prices vary, but figure about $150 on average.
When our old dog needed serious surgery on his knees, the worst part was keeping him calm while trying to get him up and down stairs, or into our car for follow-up vet visits while things were healing. The vet techs suggested using a towel as a sling to help keep his rear-end supported, which worked but was hard to handle and grip. This Up and Out lift harness from Kyjen would have been perfect for us, especially if his limping had become permanent. Would be ideal for older dogs who have trouble jumping up high. About $25 from several sources.
Perhaps the easiest way to keep pets separated from anyone else are barriers between the cargo area and rear seats. Made of metal bars or grates, there are a couple ways they could be installed. Some are stronger and more involved than others. If your vehicle is relatively new, chances are the vehicle manufacturer will have one made especially for your model, and will be available to order through the service or parts department.
Other companies, like UK-based TravAll, offer custom-designed barriers that specifically fit your make and model, using the hard points and tie-downs found in the cargo area already. As a bonus, most can be used with the cargo cover in place as well, meaning no need to pull it in and out if your pets aren’t along for the ride. Prices around $160-$200.
Spill-resistant feeding dishes will help reduce the amount of cleaning you’ll be doing once you reach your destination, and Kyjen has a soft-walled collapsible combo that keeps food and water in separate zipped compartments. Guardian Gear has a neat water bottle drink system that’s ultra-portable, but more likely used during quick pit stops along the way.
Getting dog hair out of back seats or carpets is the most frustrating thing ever, so finding some way to minimize the vacuuming is high in my book. Guardian Gear also has a wide range of seat and cargo-area covers, in various colours, sizes and materials. Sure, an old sheet might work, but won’t have straps, or be much protection for – ahem – accidents. Pricing ranges from $35 to $90 and they are available at major retailers.
Beds and travel crates are pretty personal, and chances are you’ll have at least one that can be used for a road trip. If you’re in need of a hard-sided travel-friendly carrier, consider a collapsible one from IRIS, which can be had in small or medium sizes and can be used on airplanes too. Easily folds flat when not in use. Prices start around $80.
Vehicles to consider
Volkswagen Golf Sportwagon
Amazing to consider that the compact wagon segment once had dozens of true competitors. Currently, the Volkswagen Golf Wagon is the only one left standing. Current version has been essentially unchanged for seven years, but probably won’t be replaced for at least a couple more. In other words, the buts should be worked out by now, and the excellent and frugal TDI option means resale value is really good. Has over 900 L of hauling space, although its roof isn’t as high as some of the other options, so better for smaller dogs/crates.
When Honda still made the Element, pet owners flocked to its upright shape. The easily configurable cargo area and smartly organized interior used to be king. The CR-V is the only one left for now, but has similar benefits as before. Although not immediately apparent, it has one of the lowest load floors around, which helps provide around 1,050 L of usable cargo space behind the rear seats. Decent seating, too, with simple one-touch fold-flat seats, although not nearly as brilliantly engineered as the Fit. One of the real no-brainers around for general ability and reliability with four-cylinder auto-only powertrain.
Even though the Forester no longer belongs to the ‘looks like the box it was delivered in’ club doesn’t mean it can’t handle big boxes inside. With the rear seat folded, the 2,115 L cargo area is brilliantly engineered to haul big XL pet crates in this compact package. Other benefits like wide-opening rear doors, lots of big storage cubbies, and some pretty – ahem – durable plastics and other materials. Standard AWD is not the penalty for fuel consumption it used to be thanks to the CVT in most models.
Ford Transit Connect Wagon
Sure, you might get comments about being a taxi driver or Canada Post employee, but Ford’s Transit Connect is pretty much the ultimate pet hauler. Technically a cargo van, there’s an option to make the wee thing into a passenger-hauling wagon, with rear seats and dual sliding rear doors. And the high roof means you can probably stand up comfortably inside with almost 3,700 L of cargo room. The leftover first-gens are basically an old Focus underneath, meaning four-cylinder engine, four-speed automatic transmission and front-wheel drive. New one coming this fall.
Although the Mazda5 has sliding side doors, the Rondo is probably a better option for pet owners. The more traditional two-row layout (in lower trims) means being able to put big pets in the way back without impeding passenger room. Clever touches and hidden cubbies give lots of ‘extra’ storage space that’s out of sight. The Kia’s back seats are more adult-friendly too, and on higher trims, can even be heated. Best of the mini-minivans to look at, inside and out.
Although itching for a replacement, the Dodge Journey has three things going for it: it’s dirt cheap, has cleverfeatures like under-seat and under-floor storage, and can be had with a third row of seats. Certainly not the biggest, but try to at least stretch for the V6 as the base four-cylinder is seriously overworked.