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Tom and Ray go car shopping with Anne, in search of car that's right for rural land appraising. And her dogs. Oh, and the clients, too.

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Dear Tom and Ray:



I'm a rural land appraiser in Colorado. I often bring my dogs along when inspecting land. I need a vehicle that will accommodate the dogs and take me off-road; however, I'd like to be able to hose out the dog area occasionally. Also, I need four doors, because I sometimes take clients. I thought I was stuck with a four-door pickup with a topper (this is great because the dogs can stick their heads out the back and enjoy the scenery when I am going slow enough). But I will pedal a bike before I drive anything that gets fewer than 20 miles per gallon. I have a Subaru Outback now, but I'd like to find something more accommodating, i.e. easier to clean. What's a girl to do? -- Anne

P.S.: The Honda Element ain't gonna happen!

TOM: Well, a pickup is the only thing you're going to be able to hose out, Anne. Even the Honda Element -- which I see you've made a pre-emptive strike against -- can't actually be hosed out. It can be damp-mopped, but running water can damage the car's electronics under the rear floor.

RAY: But the gas mileage of even the smaller four-door pickup trucks is not that great. Assuming you need four-wheel drive for off-road driving and a crew cab for its four doors, I think the best mileage of the bunch comes from the Nissan Frontier Crew Cab with a V-6, which gets 17 city, 21 highway. Barely enough to hug even a sapling.

TOM: You can get four-cylinder small pickups that get better mileage, but not with four doors, and sometimes not with four-wheel drive.

RAY: So you're going to have to decide what's most important to you, Anne. I think four-wheel drive and four doors for your clients are both musts, because you can't do your job without those. But then you have to decide what's the next most important thing to you. If it's a completely walled off compartment for the dogs that you can hose out, go for the Frontier. If it's mileage, then you want something like another four-cylinder Outback (23/28 mpg), a Toyota RAV4 (24/30) or a Ford Escape Hybrid (36/31).

TOM: But those are all "wagon" style vehicles, where the cargo compartment is inside the car, and the dogs will be free to drool and rain dog hair on potential clients. Of course, anyone considering the purchase of rural land probably won't let a little dog drool get in the way of owning his 40 acres and a mule. But it's up to you, Anne. Good luck.
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