Archive for February, 2013

2011 Toyota RAV4

Posted: February 21, 2013 in Vehicle Reviews
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When my Impreza was totaled this past summer, it moved my vehicle buying plans up about 6 months. I had been leaning toward the Kia Sorento, but didn’t want to assume that it was the best fit without test driving a few other vehicles. I hadn’t looked at Toyotas in person for several years, so I made the trip to the local dealership to put my hands on a few models, primarily with the idea of “ruling out” the RAV4 – I was sure it would be too small. Well, my visit ended up ruling it IN instead, and after lots of research, I ended up purchasing a 2011 RAV4 as my next vehicle!


The RAV4 is one of the most versatile smaller SUVs I’ve run into, and one of the VERY few small and midsize SUVs I’ve looked at that have enough space to fit two 36″ SUV crates side by side in the back while still allowing a second row seat to be left in place. It’s a Toyota, so reliability should be good, and while I have the base model, there are still lots of nice features included. Let’s look a bit more deeply, though:

Width between wheel wells (narrowest part of the vehicle): 43″

Width at folded second row (widest part of the vehicle): 49″

Cargo depth with both rows up: 43″ on the floor, 36″ deep at the narrowest point (seat back/hatch 26″ above floor level) both with second row moved forward but still functional.

Cargo depth with the second row down: 71″

Interior Height: 38.5″ at second row (max) to 35″ at the seatbelt “bump” in the cargo area (min)

Hatch dimensions: 35-38″ tall, 41-44.5″ wide.



MPG city: 21 mpg (4WD model, 4 cyl engine)

MPG highway: 27 mpg (4WD model, 4 cyl engine)

Note: With mixed driving, I’m averaging 25-26 mpg on a daily basis.

In addition to the nice dimensions and decent gas mileage for a 4WD vehicle, the RAV4 also boasts two *very* nice features:

  • Newer models are designed to accommodate an optional 3rd row of seating, which means the crumple zone in the rear of the vehicle is designed to protect potential passengers in the “cargo” area behind the second row. Great news for those of us who must crate our dogs in the back!
  • The second row actually slides forward about 5″ and the recline of the rear seats is adjustable! These extra inches of “wiggle room” are what allows us to fit two 36″ SUV crates side by side in the back without folding seats down. When moved fully forward and adjusted almost straight, the rear seat isn’t the most comfortable ride for adult humans, but it *is* useable for short trips and the rear seat will act as a barrier to stop crates from sliding in a sudden stop situation.

    With a custom crate or Variocage that has a slanted back, you can move the seats back to a more comfortable position and yet still retain enough floor space for even large crates.

The two features above are what really started to sway me toward this vehicle over the Sorento, but the 4 tie down points, an extra power outlet in the back, remote lowering rear seats, an easily accessible spare (mounted on the rear hatch), and lighting in the hatch itself, are additional icing on the RAV4 cake.

The RAV4 is not without its faults however: Unlike several SUVs in the same size range, the RAV4 does *not* have an independently opening rear hatch window and the rear hatch opens to the side instead of overhead. The rear glass isn’t a huge issue to me, but the rear hatch opening did give me pause.

In practice, the side opening hatch doesn’t seem to cause many issues, but you do lose the overhead protection from rain/sun that regular hatches provide and you have to be more careful about leaving your hatch open while parked at a trial – I pull forward a bit more to allow the hatch to remain open without jutting into the lane of travel. On a slope, the hatch does need to be firmly pushed open, but the mechanism that holds it open generally keeps it where I want it once it’s in place.

Overall, the RAV4 stands out among other small to mid-size SUVs on almost all counts, especially interior dimensions and fuel efficiency. It’s a great vehicle for people with multiple medium-sized dogs and can accommodate larger crates than one might expect, all while providing some unique and much appreciated features.


A while back, one of my online dog friends mentioned that she had stumbled upon a great way to keep her van cleaner and looking nicer longer on the cheap: indoor/outdoor carpet cut to fit!

With a new Variocage set up on the way for my RAV, I decided to give it a try. I bought a 6×8′ indoor/outdoor carpet roll at Costco – charcoal grey to match my interior – and set about measuring the RAV to determine the basic dimensions I would need. For the RAV, this meant I cut a section 71″x50″. Box cutters seem perfect for the job, though I recommend cutting on the non-fuzzy side of the carpet as it is easier to get a straight, clean cut that way.

Once the initial cuts had been made, I folded all the rear seats down, laid the carpeting in the back of the vehicle and set about scoring and cutting around the wheel wells, hatch opening, and other miscellaneous nooks and crannies in my vehicle. I very quickly had a great looking cargo liner that is removable for cleaning:

RAV liner 1

As you might have noticed, I did end up having it shifted a bit to the left, but that was an easy fix: just slice off an inch on that side and all is balanced again!

In general, I will only be using the cargo space behind the second row seats, but I cut the carpet long enough to cover the back seats folded down for those trips where I’m taking all four dogs to trials. When the rear seats are up, the carpeting folds easily so it isn’t noticeable.

All total, I think I spent about $20 on the carpeting and maybe 30 minutes cutting it to fit!

RAV liner 2

New Category: Helpful Hints!

Posted: February 20, 2013 in Uncategorized

After some great suggestions by friends and fellow competitors online, at events, and during classes, I’ve decided to add a new category to the blog: Helpful Hints!

This will be a category devoted to those little tips and tricks that dog people come up with to make traveling with their animals easier. I don’t anticipate that it’ll be a huge part of Four Paw Drive, but perhaps it will be useful nonetheless.

Stay tuned for the first post on DIY cargo liners!

This is the third in a series of stories shared by those who have been in accidents while traveling with their dogs. The goal of this series is to share anecdotes that may help others determine the safest travel options for animals in vehicles.

Have a story yourself? Four Paw Drive wants them all, regardless of the accident’s severity!  Send them to our email address:

Stories 7&8 from Ashlee

I drove an older (’97) boxy body style Jeep Cherokee. I was hit by a teen driver running a red light at approx. 45 mph. I had a second to try to avoid being hit and turned away from the oncoming car as far as I could, so he hit the driver’s side front corner of my jeep – and basically sheared off the front of the jeep from the wheel’s forward. That night I placed my 8yo 45lbs mix breed in the front seat like I always did with him, as I backed out of the driveway I had a weird feeling and stopped and put him in the back in my larger breed dog’s crate. I am so thankful that I did. The crate he was in was too big for him, by quite a bit. He was thrown into the side of the crate in the crash. His injuries consisted of basically severe whiplash with extreme neck and back pain, he didn’t sleep for 2 days, he couldn’t get comfortable in any position. Finally, a combo of pain meds, muscle relaxers and steroids started to make progress. He made a full recovery, but it took several weeks.

My second accident was also in an older boxy body style Jeep Cherokee (’00). I was rear-ended by a mini-van accelerating to get through a yellow light that I stopped for. My dogs were not in this accident. The back hatch door was caved in and unable to be opened. My crates were set up in the back of the jeep with the doors opening out to the hatch door. The crates are strapped in and set back from the hatch door by about 8 inches. The crates were undisturbed. In anticipation of an event like this I keep a set of bolt cutters that are big enough to cut open my crates tucked in between the bucket seats in the front seat, so that either the driver or passenger can access the cutters easily. I have since upgraded the wire crates to the ones that have doors on both ends, but I still keep the cutters in the car.

Story 9from Erin, Four Paw Drive’s blogger

In August, I was returning home from a vet visit with my foster dog, Laurel, in her wire crate in the second row of my Impreza. I stopped at a light and as the light turned green I was rear ended by an SUV who didn’t even hit the brakes. The SUV ended up deciding to make the accident a hit and run unfortunately, so I don’t have any info on how fast they were going, but it was hard enough to fling all the stuff on the front seat onto the floorboard and my foster dog into the side of her crate.

The SUV’s bumper over-rode the Impreza’s, so there was nothing between the SUV and my rear crate but the hatch. The rear crate suffered a small dent in the corner, but no other damage.  Laurel and I both were fine, just slight soreness the next day, but the impact jammed my rear hatch shut and totaled my car. We were only 4 miles from home!