Shopping for a Dog-Friendly Car

Paris Permenter & John Bigley

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OK, let’s get one thing out before we begin this discussion: my interest in cars is pretty much limited to (1) I want the car the start when I turn the key and (2) I want everyone in the car to be comfortable and safe as we travel.

Perhaps partially because of that fact, we held on to my previous car, a Jeep Cherokee, for 16 years. It was comfortable for the dogs and for us, it got us where it was going–and it was long since paid for–so we saw no need to trade it in on a newer car. That is, until the electrical system caught fire and suddenly we found ourselves shopping for a replacement.

We had some specific needs that weren’t tied to the dogs:

  • We needed a car with high ground clearance so that it could make our creek crossing safely.
  • We needed a used car within our budget, aiming for under $20,000.
  • We needed a car that wasn’t too tall so that it would fit into our carport.

Of course, we love to travel with our dogs so we also had some criteria for the new car very specific to their needs:

  • We needed a car whose rear seat would fold completely flat with no voids.
  • We needed a car that was easy for the dogs to jump into, no more than three inches higher than our previous car.
  • We preferred to buy from a dealership that would let us take the car home, test the creek crossing, and give the car a test drive with the dogs.

It all sounded so simple…

Before we headed off car hunting, we measured the height of the back of our Jeep. Armed with the measurements, we headed off to start looking at used cars that might meet our needs. Our first stop was CarMax where we checked out cars ranging from Honda Pilots to different Jeep models to FJ Cruisers. The first step with each was a look at the back to see how well the seat would fold down.

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Some were much better than others:carmax

Unfortunately the CarMax test drive is limited to the blocks around the dealership. We test drove several cars then headed back home for some more searching online.

Next up…we tried the Ford Flex at a different dealership that let us bring it home and test drive with the dogs. We loved the interior…but a drive across the creek showed us that this car was way too low for our needs:

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The search continued. For days, we measured and drove…and drove. The dogs never knew what car we might be driving up in for a test run. While Irie didn’t care much for the test drives, Tiki thought it was great fun!

Our search continued. For days we measured…

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Finally, though, we found a car that fit all our needs: a 2012 Ford Explorer. While the newer models had changed up the way the seats folded and diminished the cargo area, the 2012 model was just what we needed. The back folded perfectly, the jump up into the car was just right for the girls, the price was right, and the ground clearance was perfect.

We’ve already taken the car on dog trips to Dallas, San Antonio, the Highland Lakes, Enchanted Rock, and Port Aransas. We’re so happy that we took the time to shop around and find a car that fit ALL of our needs!

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