What Pet Owners Need to Look for When Buying a Car

Sami Haj-Assaad
by Sami Haj-Assaad

Cars are made for very different purposes: some are good for road trips, some are good for hard work, some are great for families and some are perfect for pets. It’s that last thing that’s kind of tough to pin point, but we unleashed our PetGuide.com editor Amy Tokic to fetch us the details about what pet owners need when buying a new car.

Where do you start when picking a new car that will accommodate your furry friend? The brand? What about the color?

“Colors aren’t as much as a concern to dogs as the make of the car,” jokes Tokic. “For example, dogs hate Cat-illacs, but love Doge. Experts aren’t sure why, but research is ongoing.”

But seriously, Tokic makes the same disclaimer about cars as we do: there isn’t a one-size fits all solution. “It really depends on the dog: what kind you have, how many you have, size, weight and age,” she said. “As your dog ages, you may find that your present vehicle doesn’t cater to his needs.”

That means as your dog ages and grows, your car may need to accommodate it. “He may need more room to lie down in the backseat or a ramp to get in and out of the car.”

And of course, puppy love knows no bounds, so the more dogs you have, the more room you’ll need.

There are other important things to consider when shopping for a new car with your dog in mind. If you’re a clean freak, or if you want to maximize your resale, this will all affect what kind of car you pick.

A Hatchback For your Hound

“You may not want your dogs sitting on the ‘human seats’ – this could be for hygienic/cleanliness, leasing/resale restrictions or a host of other reasons,” said Tokic.

As a result, the first kind of car Tokic recommends a buyer take a look at is a hatchback or wagon. “The back pops open and your dog hops in,” she says. The trunk is also often lined in plastic, making them easy to clean, and typically have a low-load floor, making them easy for a dog to hop in and out of. Tokic also points out that they keep driver distractions at bay because your dog is kept further away from you, but not too far. “Too much space by himself and being too far away from you can cause anxiety.”

Additionally, hatchbacks are perfect because they have a huge rear window for looking out of, which is safer than letting your canine crane its neck out of a passenger window.

In-Car Dog Safety

“Although your pooch may love to stick his head out the window (and it looks super funny), it’s a dangerous habit,” said Tokic. “Debris can fly up and hit your dog in the face or eyes, causing permanent damage.”

Tokic also provides some cringe-worthy scenarios about what can happen if you’re caught in an accident while your dog is poking its head out of the window. Don’t forget, dogs are curious and can jump out of a moving vehicle to chase something.

ALSO SEE: Top 10 Dog-Friendly Cars and Crossovers

“I’ve heard countless stories of dogs jumping out of vehicles, breaking a leg, running off, or being hit by a car,” said Tokic. “Keep the windows rolled up, or rolled down just enough for a taste of fresh air.”

Also, pay attention to where the window switches are: are they vertical on the door or on horizontal the arm rest? Dogs can accidentally step on switches on the armrest and open or close windows inadvertently. Window switches placed vertically on the door mitigates this risk, but child lock windows could also be used to make sure your dog doesn’t open the window without you knowing.

Indeed, letting your dog stick its head out of the window is an unsafe habit that you should look to curb. The same can be said about letting your dog sit on your lap while you’re driving.

“It’s tempting to let your dog sit on your lap, especially if he’s scared or if he wants to bark out your window at that suspicious looking mutt in the car next to you,” explains Tokic. “But if you stop suddenly or you’re involved in an accident, your dog becomes a projectile. With nothing to restrain him, he could serious injure another person in the car, or it could hurt or kill him.”

Getting them to Learn Stay (in the car)

“Keep your dog buckled up in the back seat. All you need is an attachment to hook onto your dog’s harness,” she says, mentioning accessories from petcare producer SleepyPod. This way, they don’t distract you while you’re driving.

“If he needs more room or doesn’t like to sit still, consider a barrier and zipliner,” she said. Many automakers offer barriers for their vehicles as official accessories, including VW and Volvo. “Removable or fold-down back seats are convenient for these types of safety devices.”


Dogs can get really dirty and they don’t care about the cleanup efforts involved after a day at the beach or in the mud. When looking for a new car, look for materials and surfaces that are easy to clean. Cloth fabrics are harder to clean and can start to smell if they get wet and stay damp. When buying a new car for your and your pooch, you should look for leather or faux-leather surfaces you can wipe down easily. It is also a good idea to get rubber mats to cover the carpeting on the floor, which many dealers will throw in for free. Some cars even have rugged plastic and rubberized interiors you can hose down.

When You Need to Play Fetch

Pets also come with a lot of stuff. Leashes, dishes, food, toys and baggies for their “business.” It’s easy to forget that whatever ride you’re looking at should have space for all that, without making your car look like a mess.

“You never know when you need a poop bag, a handful of treats or an extra leash,” warns Tokic. She mentions that some dog owners are a bit more outdoorsy and adventurous. “As well, you need a compartment big enough to store a dog first aid kit – necessary if you love to explore the great outdoors with your dog or take meandering road trips.”

Without a doubt, pets are a bit more fragile than humans. For example, if you’re off to the park or beach, you need to bring a blanket and shade so your puppy doesn’t get too hot, all of which takes space in your car. “Before settling on a car, bring along some of the equipment you use with your dog when you test drive it, and make sure that everything fits comfortably,” says Tokic.

It’s easy to see why some cars are great at what they do. Trucks are rugged and have space to haul big stuff, while vans are spacious and perfect for families. Choosing a car to accommodate your pet is much more difficult, but these tips from Amy Tokic at PetGuide.com should help you identify any potential deal breakers or winners when picking a new car.

Sami Haj-Assaad
Sami Haj-Assaad

Sami has an unquenchable thirst for car knowledge and has been at AutoGuide for the past six years. He has a degree in journalism and media studies from the University of Guelph-Humber in Toronto and has won multiple journalism awards from the Automotive Journalist Association of Canada. Sami is also on the jury for the World Car Awards.

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