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Dog is my co-pilot: 10 pet-friendly cars

Jeep Liberty offers specialized pet travel gear, such as crates, carriers and a ramp.
Jeep Liberty offers specialized pet travel gear, such as crates, carriers and a ramp.

You wouldn’t think of letting your kids ride in the car without wearing their seatbelts. So why is the family pet allowed to be an unsecured passenger?

“It’s distracting to the driver and dangerous to the pet who can become a flying object or be ejected from the vehicle in an accident,” said Dr. Marty Becker, who writes for the website Vetstreet.com. “They either need to be in a carrier that’s secured or some kind of harness that’s secured. That’s to protect them and you.”

Your dog or cat belongs in the back seat. It’s the same reason young children in safety seats are supposed to ride there. It keeps them away from the front airbags that could seriously hurt or kill them if they go off.

Edmunds.com recently announced its Top 10 Pet-Safe Vehicles. These new SUVs, minivans, hatchbacks and wagons are designed in a way that makes it easier for you to transport your pet in safety. They also have comfort features that make Fido’s ride more enjoyable. And they all start at under $35,000.

“Most of these vehicles let you have a pet, even a pretty large one, in a crate,” said Edmunds.com features editor Carroll Lachnit. “That’s why there are a lot of bigger vehicles on the list. They can have fold-flat areas where you can install and secure a crate.”

Other vehicles on the list have the option of securing the dog in a harness to the same latch and lower anchors that you would use to secure a child car seat.

Some of the winners have climate zones that let you keep your pet comfortable even though they’re riding in a crate in the back. (Of course, an animal should never be left in a parked car when it’s hot outside.)

Here’s a sampling of the Top 10:

The Volvo XC70 gets high marks for its customized pet barrier.

“Most pet barriers won’t stay in place in a crash,” Lachnit said. “This one is the real deal, crash-tested by Volvo. It’s bolted into the vehicle to remain intact in a collision.” The XC70 has a blind spot warning system that can help the driver when there’s a pet in the back that reduces visibility.

The Jeep Liberty makes the list because it offers specialized pet travel gear, such as crates and carriers. There’s even a ramp for dogs that have a harder time getting into the vehicle because they’re large, old or have arthritis.

Side curtain airbags help protect both human and four-legged passengers in a collision.
Side curtain airbags help protect both human and four-legged passengers in a collision.

Side curtain airbags come standard on the sporty Kia Soul. This important safety feature helps protect both human and four-legged passengers in a collision. You can get rear privacy glass that helps keep the back of the car cooler.

The Mazda 5 minivan gets points for its dual sliding rear doors that make access to the back a snap. The low cargo floor also helps get a pet onboard.

“Tethers and anchors in both the second and third rows are helpful if you’re securing pets with a harness. They click in the same way that a child safety seat would,” Lachnit noted.

The Mazda 5 also has side curtain in all three rows.

Of course, you can make any car a pet-safe vehicle. Just don’t let your pet roam freely in the car and don’t let your pooch hang its head out the window. Dogs love it, but it’s not safe.

"Anything that's in the air – it doesn't have to be a rock, it can be a bug – when it hits their eyes at 60 miles per hour – it causes serious eye damage,” Dr. Becker explained. “So they can't have their heads sticking out the window."