Once I decided that Milo and I would be taking a travel trailer on this trip, it was clear that we needed to go car shopping. My 2006 Honda Civic served me well for 11 years, but it was getting old and tired, and even in its heyday would not have been up to pulling a trailer. Not to mention the fact that it was neither big nor safe enough for Milo, and its years of being a dogmobile left it smelling really bad.
I read reviews, blog posts, and articles in Car and Driver about the best vehicles for dogs and their people. All that research didn’t help as much as I had hoped. But, it did make me realize that I needed a clear idea of what would make a good vehicle for Milo and me.
I wanted to be on the road with Milo in a vehicle with:
- A tow package –no surprise here, it needs to tow the trailer that would be our home for the next few months.
- Room for a really big dog crate. Milo needs to be safe and comfortable.
- Excellent climate control. Milo is not the only one who needs to be safe and comfortable.
- Leather seats. Not because they are fancy, but because I know first hand the impossibility of picking dog hair out of upholstery.
Also, it had to be:
- Not a minivan.
- Quiet and comfortable to drive.
- Reasonably priced and fuel-efficient.
With this figured out, I was off test driving small and medium sized SUVs. Once I actually drove a few vehicles, I learned a few more things:
- First, “fold-flat rear seats” often do not fold flat. “Flat” can mean angled, slanted, or having a ridge across the storage compartment. Also, while “fold-flat” in a base model of a vehicle can mean “fold-with-a-ridge,” it might actually mean flat in a higher trim model. You need to see that it is actually flat with your own eyes, because a dog crate on an angle or wobbling over a ridge is not OK. Of course you can prop the crate up, or add shims, or do something fancy with duct tape. But it seems wrong to spend a huge amount of money on a vehicle that you must immediately jerry-rig to get it to do what you bought it for in the first place.
- Second, storage compartment dimensions can be deceiving. Slanted roofs, oddly-shaped doors, and wheel wells might change how big a thing (for example, a dog crate) it can conveniently hold. I ended up bringing my crate to the dealership and setting it up in the vehicle to make sure that it fit the way I wanted it to. The sales person was not thrilled about this test, but I asked politely and was careful not to scratch the paint.
- Finally, while most vehicle sales people are efficient, polite and helpful, others are down right rude. When I asked about monthly payments at one place the salesperson actually said, “It isn’t worth my while to figure that out unless you are interested in buying.” That’s right, he wouldn’t even tell me the price. Needless to say I moved on and bought a vehicle from an efficient, polite and helpful salesperson. The good ones are out there and are worth searching for.
At the end of the day (actually week) I drove home a Ford Escape. I love it. Milo and I have been happily motoring around in it for a few months. The new car smell is slowing being replaced by big dog smell. That, sadly, seems inevitable.
I was surprised to find vehicle shopping fun. It helped to be clear about what I wanted and what I needed, and to keep in mind that this was getting me one step closer to being on the road with Milo.