Best of Deals Car Reviews Repair Shops Cars A-Z Radio Show

Recommendations for buying a used car to replace a Volvo wagon to transport large dogs

My wife currently drives a 1996 Volvo 850GLT wagon with 218K miles. She loves the car, but it is starting to show it’s age, and even minor repairs are very costly now. As car owners go, we tend to drive a car until it is ready to fall apart, or someone else collides with us, so we have to get a different vehicle. We need that a relatively large cargo area, because we transport greyhounds around for our rescue group. Sometimes we take our 2 grandkids also in the car, not at the same time that we take the furkids. We are starting our search now for a “new Used” vehicle to replace her beloved car. She has some requirements for a replacement: besides being able to do the hauling listed above, it should also be a safe vehicle, get decent gas mileage (20MPG city), above average reliability, lower maintenance costs, and above all NOT a minivan. Do you have any suggestions as to what might be a good choice for her to consider? Or is this even possible? Thanks for any input in this matter.

You might want to consider a Honda Element.

Car Of Personal Liking + Trailer Hitch + Light Weight Dog Trailer.

This way the dogs won’t stink up your car and drool all over it and you’ll have something nice to haul the grandchildren in, too.


I’d second the Element. It’s very popular as the cargo area is covered in vinyl and has a very low floor for easy loading. You might also take a look at the Toyota Matrix and its near twin, the Pontiac Vibe. They are essentially Corolla wagons and very well made. The Vibe is often cheaper because it was sold by Pontiac, but it differs from the Matrix only in appearance, and hardly at that. It is all Toyota except the badge.

Another car built by Toyota that might do is the 2008-current Scion xB. It has surprisingly large rear seat and cargo space in a simple, boxy wrapper. The earlier xB was a much different car, and not what you are looking for.

Of course there are plenty of small SUVs that would also do, and most are perfectly good. Wagons are rarer. The Chevy HHR is not too bad if you like the retro looks, and it is likely to be cheap as they weren’t popular. Many ended up in rental fleets.

SUVs are the new station wagons. Look at any small SUV to meet the mileage requirement.

The best city mileage will be with a hybrid SUV. 2WD Ford Escape/Mazda Tribute/Mercury Mariner are all the same base truck and 34 MPG in the city; 31 MPG on the highway. A 2010 should be attractively priced. If you don’t want a hybrid, the 2010 (or later) Chevy Equinox with 2WD gets 22 MPG in the city. Check here for gas mileage estimates:

I’d go with a Honda CRV over an Element, 4 doors are preferable to me.

I like the Element, plus you can hose it out, should one of the dogs make a mess.

No, you SHOULD NOT hose out an Element, even though it may have rubber floor mats. There are electronics beneath the floor that would be ruined if you do that.

Thanks for the responses so far. The Matrix/Vibe, ScionB, & HHR are just too small in back for 3-80 lb. 4-ft. long dogs that lay down when they travel. We looked at it before we bought my Subaru Outback as a back-up to my wife’s Volvo. A separate dog trailer in AZ is out of the question, as it gets to 115 in the summertime, so would have to be airconditioned, and pre-cooled before we took the dogs anywhere. We have not ruled out the Equinox, Escape/Tribute, and now have added the Element to the mix.

If length is what you need, the Element will probably not help you much. It is tall and boxy, but kind of stubby. I’ve seen large dogs in them, but probably not three at once. It does have the advantage of a flat floor. Many SUV seats don’t fold as flat as your Volvo wagon does. Don’t know if that matters or not. If not, you have an abundance of possibilities. The small SUV market is very competitive.

Why the minivan racism? It sounds perfect for what you need.

Toyota Venza
Mazda 5

I agree with the question about not wanting a mini-van. We often get people on here who clearly need a mini-van for their purposes, but insist that a mini-van is not a choice. The mini-van was invented for a specific purpose; to move a lot of stuff and still get good mileage while being relatively safe.

Life is filled with decisions. Those decisions almost always involve priorities and compromises.

For example, I worked with a man for some years who told his in-house clients there were three parameters for his work. 1. They can have it cheap. 2. They can have it fast. 3. They can have high quality work.

He tells them they can have any two of those three things, but not all three. For example, they can have it cheap and high quality work, but it is going to take a long time to get it done.

People who categorically reject mini-vans, which usually seems to involve some sort of self-image issue, are often rejecting the optimal choice. To each his own.

how about a station wagon say a VW Passet or the Jetta ?

Why put the Dogs in the back, when they should be in front?