Buying a dog-friendly car

Shopping for a new car? Don’t forget to factor in your best friend’s safety and comfort.

I’m going to go look at new cars. Want to help me pick one out?” While some shoppers might ask that question of a spouse, parent or friend, dog lovers cut to the chase and ask the pooch. After all, who is going to be riding in your new car with you most often?

Top 11 dog-friendly features

1. Easy to clean

Dogs love to go to the park, swim, hike or take part in other activities that can result in muddy feet and hair. Other dogs, meanwhile, may get motion sick. “Stain resistant or leather seats in dark colors, easy to clean flooring and leather floor mats are the first things I look for,” says Rachel Phelps, a Westie rescuer in western Kentucky. “Ideally, I’m transporting a dog or two but when I’m part of a puppy mill rescue, it can be six or eight at a time. There will always be one who gets carsick!”

2. Tinted windows

It’s not just about looking cool, it’s about staying cool. A car can be 60% cooler with tinted windows. They also protect the driver and passengers from glare and 99% of harmful UV rays. Just as important, tinted windows help keep shattered glass together in case of an accident. Laws on tinting your own windows vary from state to state so it’s best to check before starting a DIY job. In Arizona, for example, the windshield and front seat windows must allow more than 35% of the light into the car. Rear seat windows and the rear windshield can be as dark as the owner wants. In California, the front windows must let in at least 70% of the light. There may also be restrictions on the color of the tinting.

3. Remote start

This allows you to start the car while you’re still in the house, leashing your dog.

4. Power lift gate

“A power lift gate can be opened as you walk to the car,” says Hugh Milne, Marketing Manager for General Motors’ Acadia and Terrain models. “There’s no juggling leashes, keys and more while getting the door open and the dogs in. It’s a big benefit with my two black Labradors, who are always eager for a ride.”

5. Fold-down seats

These are a boon for loading dog crates. “When I’m driving Preston and Elvis, my own dogs, they’re seat-belted because they’re used to the car,” says Rachel. “But puppy mill rescues get crated so they don’t panic and hurt themselves. Mill dogs are used to being alone in a cage so I use a number of crates – no doubling up. The extra space comes in handy for water, treats, blankets and towels for cleanups.”

6. Ceiling vents in the rear of the car

These make it easy for the driver to stay cool in the summer, but make sure air circulates to the rear of the vehicle to keep your dog cool as well.

7. Childproofed window switches

Excited dogs can accidentally step on window switches and open them by mistake. Childproofed switches eliminate the risk of your dog jumping or falling out an open window.

8. OnStar remote start or unlock (on GM vehicles) 

If the car computer doesn’t detect the key, it won’t lock the door. If the keys are left in the car and the dog locks you out, OnStar can remotely come to the rescue.

9. Vehicle height

While SUVs may be roomy for dogs, jumping in and out can be hard on their knees unless you use a ramp or steps.

10. Airbags

The passenger front seat in GM vehicles has a weight detector so small dogs can ride shotgun without the danger of being hit by the airbag in case of an accident. Located above the door, rail airbags help protect rear passengers from flying glass.

11. D rings in the floor

These make it easy to attach bungee cords to hold crates and supplies in place, or to anchor a harness. “D rings keep a dog from jumping out before you’re ready,” says Hugh. “It’s especially handy when there’s more than one dog trying to be first out of the car.”

Whether you are choosing a new or previously-owned car, keep in mind safety features for all the passengers – everybody loves to go for a ride!


Sandra Murphy lives in St Louis, Missouri. When she's not writing, she works as a pet sitter.