Plus helpful dealer options
If you're buying a car, you can make your life a lot easier by choosing one that works well for you and your pet.
A hatchback or small wagon, for example, is good for smaller pets. The cargo area provides room for a carrier or extra gear and allows your pet to stand up and stretch its legs. Some good choices are the Volkswagen Golf, Hyundai Elantra Touring, and Mazda3, which comes in a hatchback model.
Larger wagons, SUVs, and minivans will probably work better for larger dogs, especially if you have a family to haul around, too. Minivans provide the most room, and they're lower to the ground than many SUVs, which makes it easier for the pets to get in and out.
Wagons that our auto testers recommend include the Mazda5, Volkswagen Jetta, and Subaru Outback. Good SUV picks range from the smaller Subaru Forester and Honda CR-V to the larger Chevrolet Traverse and Ford Flex. Our top minivan choice is the Honda Odyssey.
Whatever you choose, look for tie-downs in the cargo area, which make it easy to safely secure a crate or anchor a restraint. And if your pet will be lounging on the seats, try to avoid cloth upholstery.
Some automakers cater to animal lovers with special options. They include accessories, such as those shown below, and Honda's extensive Dog Friendly package ($995) offered for the Element SUV. The package includes a soft-sided kennel and cushioned pet bed for the cargo area, a 12-volt DC fan to help clear odors, all-season rubber floor mats, a spill-resistant water bowl, and an extendable ramp that stores beneath the bed. But we don't recommend the Element because it didn't score well enough in our tests.
Dealer accessories may be pricier than ones you'd buy yourself, but they can be included in your financing and are covered by the factory warranty.
Subaru dog guard/compartment separator
What it's good for This divider ($250 to $335) keeps a dog safely contained in the cargo area. The metal frame bolts to the car for a secure fit. It includes an opening to accommodate the center shoulder belt and is designed not to interfere with the side curtain air bags. It's available for the Forester, Outback, and Tribeca.
Volvo cargo mat/pet guard
What it's good for Volvo's vinyl cargo mat ($95) helps keep the rear cargo area clean and dry. Spills are contained by a lip along the edge. The steel cargo barrier ($325) attaches to the built-in fixtures in the vehicle's interior to keep a pet secure in the rear. Volvo says it's rated to withstand a 5,000-pound load. It's available for the XC60, XC70, and XC90.