Car Choice: Dog, owner and the open air

Safety must come first when you're on a quest to find an open-top car for a girl and her dog, says James Ruppert
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Indy Lifestyle Online

Tori Appleton currently drives a Toyota RAV4. She likes the idea of an open-topped car, but she also needs room for her dog, Monty. Tori is debating whether to buy a Renault Mégane, a VW Eos or a Freelander. She has about £15,000 to spend.

I don't own a dog myself, but I know plenty of people who do and indeed have sold many cars to dog owners. Usually dogs are banished to the back seat - or ideally to the boot area where they can be safely boxed in with a dog guard.

What never gets boxed in, though, is the smell. Personally, I can't cope with that - which explains why I don't have a dog. Pet lovers may have all sorts of solutions for that one, of course.

What worries me more in this case is the combination of a dog and an open-top car. Indeed, the presence of any dog that may be lose inside a car raises all sorts of safety implications. Pets that are not strapped down will fly forward in an accident, causing injury or death to passengers.

If Tori doesn't already have a safety belt for Monty, she should certainly get one. There are plenty available. Prices start at about £12, which will buy a Softex Car Safety Harness for the smallest of pooches, to £18 for the bigger mutt. There are cheaper dog seat-belts that simply clip into the existing belt, for £6.95.

Now that this important safety issue has been dealt with, we can get on with the business of finding an open-top car for a girl and her dog.

A CAR FOR THE HEAD

A new Freelander is about to arrive in the showrooms, but the old one was available as a so-called softback, which opened to the elements. New, the cheapest costs £18,800, but a year-old example should be comfortably within budget.

The real question is: does Tori really need the off-road abilities of a 4x4? She can't do if she is also seriously considering a Renault Mégane or a Volkswagen Eos. That budget, though, rules out brand-new examples of these - and, significantly, the Mégane isn't all that big in the back.

What Tori really needs, I reckon, is a proper four-seat convertible, so that Monty will be comfortable. I would point her in the direction of the Vauxhall Astra, which has decent rear-seat accommodation.

The latest TwinTop model has a metal folding roof like the Mégane's, but that robs the car of proper rear-seat space. Better to go for the previous model with its folding fabric roof, which is often quicker to put up and down than the metal roofs. It's less problematic, too.

If she wants to spend in the region of £10,000, Tori will be able to buy a 2004 1.8-litre Astra with a modest 15,000 miles on the clock and important accessories like air conditioning. One could be sourced from a Vauxhall dealer and covered by their excellent Network Q package for complete peace of mind.

A CAR FOR THE HEART

Just in case the Vauxhall Astra is considered a tad too ordinary for a girl and dog about town such as Tori and Monty doubtless are, style is also available, and well within their budget.

Although I really should be recommending a Saab 9-3 convertible at this point, I have always found myself strangely drawn to the reassuringly capacious and capable Volvo C70.

This car looks the part, with a very clean design on both the outside and the inside. Equipment levels were always very good and included climate control and sexy alloy wheels - plus, of course, it is incredibly safe, being a Volvo. Even brand new, the C70 was a good-value buy; as a second-hand car it has to be one of the best convertibles around.

Ideally, Tori should go for the 2.4-litre engine, which has a good deal of urgency, but if she and Monty are not too bothered about performance, the 2.0 might do.

For between £10,000 and £11,000, Tori can get a 2.4 from 2001 with 50,000 miles on the clock. Raising the budget to £15,000 gives Tori the pick of models from accredited Volvo dealers, and they will be 2003 examples with 30,000 miles and proper warranties. Tori and Monty should test one - and it's easier to get dog hair off leather seats, of course.

CAR CHOICE

Please write to Car Choice, Features, Independent House, 191 Marsh Wall, London E14 9RS, or e-mail James Ruppert at carchoice@independent.co.uk, giving your age, address and contact telephone number, as well as details of the type of vehicle in which you are interested as well as your budget.

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