How to Keep Your Pets Safe in a Car

Jon Linkov

Consumer Reports has no financial relationship with advertisers on this site.

Restraining your pets is as much about your safety as theirs. If a vehicle brakes abruptly or is involved in a crash, an unrestrained pet of any size can hurtle through the cabin, becoming a dangerous projectile that can cause injuries. According to the pet advocacy group BarkBuckleUp, a 60-pound dog in a car traveling 35 mph can turn into a 2,700-pound projectile in an accident.

It’s important to keep your dog secured just like the rest of your passengers, according to the nonprofit Center for Pet Safety. Jennifer Stockburger, Consumer Reports’ child-safety expert, says “it’s as much about your safety as hers.” Loose pets can also be a driver distraction.

Many products are available to help restrain our furry friends, but unlike restraints for humans, there are no standards or industry tests for them. Even those labeled “crash-tested” are usually based only on the manufacturer’s claims and don't mean that they meet a standard.

The nonprofit group Center for Pet Safety, with support from Subaru, conducted independent tests of dog crates, harnesses, and carriers. The harness systems were tested using specially designed crash test dummy dogs in three sizes: a 25-pound terrier mix, a 45-pound border collie, and a 75-pound golden retriever. They based the test on the FMVSS 213 standard, which is the procedure currently used to certify child safety seats. 

Lindsey Wolko, founder of the Center for Pet Safety, told us that data collected from its studies in 2013 and 2015 allowed the group to develop the safety standards and ratings guidelines it uses to evaluate pet travel products. 

In the end, only a handful of products earned the center’s crash test certification. The top-performing models from its past tests include:

Carriers
• Sleepypod Air, $179
• Sleepypod Atom, $119
• Sleepypod Mini With PPRS Handilock, $179
• Sleepypod Pet Bed with PPRS Handilock, $199

Crates
• Gunner Kennels G1, $399 to $599; with 8-inch tie-down straps, $75 additional
• Lucky Duck Lucky Kennel Intermediate, $499; with 8-inch ratchet tie-down straps, $80 additional

Harnesses
• Sleepypod Clickit Sport, $75
• Sleepypod Clickit Terrain, $95
• ZuGoPet The Rocketeer Pack $105 to $175

Pet products are an unregulated $60 billion industry. Some companies label their products as “tested” or “crash-tested,” but there are no government or industry standards, Wolko says. So the group did its own tests of crates, harnesses, and pet carriers. (They were funded by Subaru to cover the costs of the crash tests.)

Tips to Make Traveling Easier

Cargo-Area Mat or Liner
Mats and liners help protect carpets and make cleanup easier. Look for one with a 2- to 3-inch lip around the edge to keep spills contained.

Mat/Travel Bed
If you have a pet bed at home, take it along to help keep your pet comfortable and make him feel more secure. Or get one just for your car. Beds for the cargo area are an option, as are hammocks that fit over the rear-seat area.

Loading Ramp
These ramps make it easier for dogs to get in and out of vehicles. Telescoping or foldable ramps provide extra length without being too long to fit in your car.

"Pet Friendly" Guidebook
These include tips on lodging, emergency services, and pet-friendly parks along the way. Also check out websites like petswelcome and petfriendlytravel.com.

Collar ID Tag
Get one with your pet's name, your name, and your telephone number. A cell-phone number is best for the road, or you can tape a local number to the collar. Bring along your vet's number, too.

Prepacked Food
Familiar food is good on the road and can save money over buying as you go. Pack each meal in a resealable plastic bag.

Biscuits, Treats, and Toys
A new or favorite toy or two can relieve stress.

Water Bowl
Any plastic bowl will do, but a number of sources offer specialty travel bowls that are collapsible, spillproof, and/or resealable. Some models even fit into a cup holder. And don't forget a container for carrying water.

Dog Towels
They're handy for swims or an unexpected mud bath.

Leash
It should be obvious, but don't forget the leash.

Medical Records
Should your pet become ill, they can save valuable time and expense.

Medications
Don't forget pills, ointments, or anything else you give your pet at home.

Pet Photo
Bring a print or take one with your cell phone. If your pet gets lost, a picture can be worth far more than a thousand words.

Litter and Box
Your cat will need litter and a box for trips longer than 6 hours. In a pinch, you can make a litter box from a cake pan or box.

Plastic bags and cleaning supplies
They're especially handy if someone has an upset stomach or "accident."

Prevent Fast Getaways
Always put your pet on a leash before opening the door or tailgate to let him out.

Take Regular Breaks
Stop every couple of hours to let your pet drink some water and get a little exercise.

Don't Leave Your Pet in a Car
Never leave a pet in the car on a hot day. CR testing showed that even when it was 61° F outside, the temperature inside a closed car reached more than 105° F in just 1 hour, an extremely dangerous and potentially fatal level.

Avoid Wind in the Face
Letting your pet ride with its head out the window looks like fun, but eye, ear, and head injuries could result.

Plan Your Stops
If you're staying in hotels, make sure they're pet-friendly before you book. And keep in mind that some hotels and motels that say they allow animals might have weight limits or charge you an extra fee.



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