Articles Index/Travel
Posted 02/01/09


Long before the horrendous gas prices of this past Summer, I'd begun to think about making my `next car' something other than a van so I started looking at the cars being driven by my dog-loving friends. Whether it was the economy ... or the age of my friends ... or just a desire for change, I began noticing more and more smaller vehicles at shows and trials. Although there were the big rigs driven by the campers among us, and passenger vans continued to outnumber all other types of transportation, I began to see more small SUVs and a sprinkling of other cars. Then, when my trusty Windstar decided that it wasn't going to make it to 200,000 miles after all (something I'd been counting on), I suddenly found myself in the market for new dog-friendly transportation.

Thanks to Heidi Evans for checking out my new car at ANTA's Fall Festival ... and for suggesting the idea for this article. I asked a couple of other ANTA members for feedback about the cars they are driving ... and here is our collective input.

Sassie Joiris (Norfolks, Whippet and two young adult children who are seldom crated) wrote: My car is a Toyota Yaris liftback. I LOVE this car, absolutely LOVE it. I looked at a lot of other cars before deciding on this one, and have never regretted the decision. Great gas mileage (around 40 mpg highway), the front seats are very comfortable, it's a lot bigger inside that it looks, there's the same amount of leg and head room as in the Toyota RAV4. The dashboard is really well designed. I thought it would take a while to get used to the instrument panel being in the center, but it actually didn't, and I love the extra `glove compartments' including one above the steering wheel where the instrument panel is in most cars.

The interior space is great for going to shows. We easily fit three dogs, grooming table, tent, chairs and all the other stuff needed for a weekend at a show or agility trial into the car with the back seat down. The seat does not fold 100% flat, there's a difference of less than ½ an inch between the height of the far back and the back seat folded down, but we've solved that by using that space to store our tent's ground cloth which then brings the entire back to the same height.

What I don't like about the car I would have liked to get a split back seat for when both kids travel with me, but it was not available on the liftback when we got ours. I think it might be available this year. The quality of the paint job is not quite as good as with higher priced Toyotas.

I've only had this car for 50,000 miles so far, so I might change my opinion when I've owned it longer ... but so far I really think it's a hard car to fault.

Mary Fine's (Norfolks, Pembroke Welsh Corgi) comments about her Honda Element: The biggest advantage of the Element is the versatility of the back seats. They can be folded back, folded against the sides of the car, folded across to make a shelf or easily removed altogether. My car's back seats have resided in my basement since I brought the car home.

Another plus is that the floor of the Element is washable and theoretically could even be hosed out. The one drawback to the car is that it does not get good gas mileage -- no more than about 25 mpg. This is partly due to the 4-wheel drive. However I researched small wagons extensively and looking at the other models that got the highest reliability ratings -- Toyotas, Subarus -- the mileage was all in the same ball park. The cars with better mileage would not hold the number and sizes of crates that I needed to fit in the car.

Sheila Foran (Norfolks) says: My car is a 2009 Nissan Versa four door hatchback and I love it! I had been looking at the RAV4, CRV and Santa Fe, but once I set eyes on the smaller Versa I was sold.

It is ergonomically pleasing and I sit up quite high when driving ... something a short person values. The split back seats fold down, either singly or as a pair, and although the salesman offered to remove them for me I find them quit handy "as is." I can get a pair of crates (each big enough to hold two Norfolks) in side by side, and the ample cargo area allows room for two small or another `medium' size crate. Normally, I'm not carrying more than 2 or 3 dogs at a time, but at ANTA's Fall Festival I had five with me and there were no complaints from any of the passengers.

As a matter of fact it is the cargo size that really impresses me, as I thought my Saturday `dump runs' might be a thing of the past. On the contrary ... I can carry plenty of trash to the local land fill, and then come home and pack for shows and trials. Another thing that impressed me was the estimated gas mileage and I have been getting 34 mpg on a consistent basis.

So far, there's no down side to this economically priced car although it has yet to be introduced to that New England winter staple ... snow and ice. My commute takes me over hill and dale and I'm hoping we're up to the challenge. I'll bet we are.


 How Do You Tell You've Got a Good Car Salesman?

I drove a small car with no room for crates to a local dealership since my van wasn't really reliable transportation. I had measured for crate space and had my tape measure with me as I began to inspect a used Santa Fe that I'd seen advertised. When the salesman heard my story, and we started looking at the Versa, he asked me where I lived ... and then suggested we drive a Versa to my house so I could load crates of various sizes into the car. We did that, and I managed not to scrape the paint or ding the body of the brand new test car as I slung crates and ex-pens into the cargo area. To his credit, the salesman never blinked although he might have turned a shade pale as I toted more and more equipment into the driveway "just to see" if it would fit.

I never did look at the engine of the car I eventually purchased (I just assumed it had one) but I KNEW to the quarter inch how much dog paraphernalia it would hold!


Sheila Foran
December, 2008

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