In this post we will describe what you need to consider when finding the best car (or vehicle) for you and your dog. As you know from our other posts, we drive our pooch a lot around England, Wales and Scotland, our dog’s safety and comfort is always a concern. You will find lots of posts on the internet listing specific makes and models as the ‘best cars for dogs’, but these will be soon outdated. This post aims to help you by highlighting the myriad of things that you need consider when shopping for dog-friendly cars. We will cover the legal, insurance, pet comfort and family situation considerations.
This post was inspired by a recommendation from The Country Executive. Let us know what you want further information about using the comments section below or on our Facebook page.
I am British and based in the UK and so will cover UK legislation. However, it is likely that the intention of the UK legislation also applies in other jurisdictions – make sure that you know the requirements that apply to you!
Please note that this is information taken from various sources (see links at the bottom of the post) and is not legal advice. This information was accurate at the time of writing (March 2021), but things often change and so it’s important that you check the local government guidelines relevant to your travel.
In the UK you could fall foul of the law if you are:
- Driving without due care and attention, such as if a pet were distracting you due to your own negligence
- Your pet isn’t fit to travel (e.g. ill, is pregnant, new born) according to Defra and the UK Animal Welfare Act
- Driving without valid insurance, which can be invalidated by different things including not following the highway code that states pets properly restrained in vehicles (see the Insurance section below for more information)
Read your car and pet insurance policies. You may invalidate your insurance if you:
- Break the Highway Code and don’t appropriately restrain your pet
- Are driving ‘dangerously’ or have an accident because you were distracted by your pet
- Don’t follow government guidelines (such as the UK Animal Welfare Act and Defra guidance)
Safety and comfort of your pet
The safety of you and your pet
Keeping pets restrained can save their lives and yours. Direct Line report that 22% of the vets they spoke to stated that travelling without “proper restraint was the main cause of injury or death to dogs inside cars involved in a crash” (DirectLine). “A 32kg dog, such as a Labrador, will be thrown forward in a 30mph crash with such sheer force that it would weigh the equivalent of 100kg – a phenomenon safety experts call ‘canine cannonball’ (DirectLine).
Vets recommend that pet owners follow the Highway Code and use a pet seat belt harness, pet carrier, dog cage or dog guard to restrain dogs when driving. Vets4Pets state that dogs must NEVER be restrained by the collar in a car.
Which should you choose? Speak with your vet and/or pet store for guidance to specific to your dog. Here are some generic guidelines provided by vets:
- Dog guards between seats and boot: protect the car and passengers, not the dog. Maybe best choice for larger dogs who need space.
- Seat belt harness: fix your dog to a seat similar to the seat belt for humans. Small dogs may need extra provisions (e.g. booster seats).
- Crates: need to ensure that you have enough space for your dog in the crate and for your crate in the car. May be best choice for smaller animals.
Make sure that any product you select has been crash tested.
Finally, do not let your dog travel with their head out of the window as obstructions on the road can cause significant damage.
It is generally recommended to take regular trips, be responsible with when you feed your dog (e.g. not right before a trip) and keep your dog hydrated. However, there are also some practical recommendations that should be considered, for example:
- Good suspension to reduce travel sickness
- Enough height to accommodate your dog jumping in and out
- Tinted windows to reduce the heat in the car
- Leather seats that are easy to clean muddy wet paw prints off (although also easy to scratch!)
- The weather in your country (it rains A LOT in the UK and so the back of a pick-up truck probably isn’t ideal)
Your family set up
The best car for you and your dog also needs to meet your family needs. For example, how many seats do you need for your family and, if applicable, dog? Do you intend on travelling far/often and so need an economic car? What trips do you intend on doing? Will it be all road driving or do you want a car that you can drive off-road?
To summarise, you need to find a car that will:
- allow you to utilise the recommended restraints for your dog;
- have enough space to meet the needs of you, your dog and your family; and
- be able to handle the trips that you want to make.
If you google ‘best cars for dogs’ now you will get lots of posts recommending specific brands and models – for example ‘whatcar‘ and ‘outdoordogworld‘. But what if these models are no longer around? What if you want to join the electric car revolution? The best way that we can help you is to talk car types, not specific brands or models.
- Hatchback – can use dog seat belts, couldn’t’ fit a crate or dog in the boot
- Saloon – can use dog seat belts, couldn’t’ fit a crate or dog in the boot
- Estate – big enough to use dog seat belts, some crates and a boot guard if preferred
- MPV – can use dog seat belts, couldn’t’ fit a crate or dog in the boot unless you put the seats down
- SUV – big enough to use dog seat belts, some crates and a boot guard if preferred (‘great for large dogs’)
- Coupe – can use dog seat belts, couldn’t’ fit a crate or dog in the boot, and the common two-door models not practical for dogs
- Sports car – can use dog seat belts, couldn’t’ fit a crate or dog in the boot, and the common two-door models not practical for dogs
- Convertible – can use dog seat belts, couldn’t’ fit a crate or dog in the boot as this is usually taken up with the folded/retracted car roof
Rules of thumb:
- SUVs or estates for medium to large dogs and crates
- Hatchback or saloons for small to medium dogs wearing dog seat belts
Pulling it together
- How are you going to secure your dog in your vehicle?
- How big does your vehicle need to be? (e.g. seats, height for dog to jump in and out, boot space)
- Which car type best meets your needs?
- What other aspects of the vehicle specification are important? (e.g. seat cover type, tinted windows, suspension)
- Can you fit any wanted accessories? (e.g. seat covers, sports equipment fixings)
- Its Now Against The Law To Travel With An Unrestrained Pet In Your Vehicle | Birchwood Group
- Driving with pets | What is the law on dogs in cars? | GoCompare
- 20 UK driving laws you (probably) didn’t know existed | What Car?
- Car insurance UK: Drivers can invalidate their policy by not restraining pets | Express.co.uk
- Safety and comfort of your pet