Dear Car Talk:
My Italian water buffalos, African pygmy goats, rescue Thoroughbred ex-racehorses and Rhodesian Ridgeback dogs are requesting your masterful insight, please, for what might be the perfect car for their transportation needs. I have been pondering a replacement for my beloved 1998 Toyota RAV4 (206,000-plus miles) for several years now, but believe it or not, manufacturer brochures don't include animal-friendly ratings. My Toyota RAV4 runs wonderfully, with virtually no repairs needed during its 17-year tour of duty. The only problem is that my human friends refuse to ride with me anymore, given the fur and hay that are imbedded in every interior inch, the dog-claw scratches on windows, chewed seat belts and tiny goat poops tucked into can't-vacuum crevices. And I think I now get about 12 miles to the gallon, even when it's not loaded with goats. Naturally, I want to get a new RAV4 -- and I will keep my original RAV4 as a shuttle for the dogs when we go to the beach.
My dream is a hybrid for the best mileage, but lordy, it looks like those are $50,000-plus. I need to save my money for buffalo chow. Can you please offer your recommendation for the perfect vehicle? Something that fills my emotional bond with the RAV4, has its car-handling feel and is not a truck or big SUV, but can fit at least three bales of hay in the back area. Having towing power for a two-horse or one-water-buffalo trailer is a huge bonus (about 2,500 pounds). Thank you so much!
I have news for you, Carey: The reason your friends won't ride with you isn't the hay or the dog scratches -- it's the stench. Although I will admit that having to pick goat pellets out of your butt crack doesn't help.
So, one suggestion is to separate the people compartment from the animal compartment. There are two ways to do that. One is to buy yourself a car that's just for human transportation. Then you can get anything you want: You can get another RAV4; you can get a Toyota Prius C, which gets a combined 50 mpg, for about $25,000; or you can get a Honda Fit, which gets a combined 35 mpg or so, for about $20 grand. You could put a couple of dogs in any one of those for an outing to the beach. But you'd keep the old RAV4 to shuttle your livestock. Then at least you'd have a fighting chance to hold on to a few friends.
The other way to separate the four-leggeds from the two-leggeds is by getting a pickup truck with a cap on the back. Since you're partial to Toyotas, you could get the new 2016 Tacoma. You and your friends can ride up front (you can get one with four doors if you want), and Mutual of Omaha's Wild Kingdom could ride in the back, in a cargo compartment that can be hosed out. And I hate to be the one to break this to you, Carey, but you desperately need something that can be lathered up and hosed out.
Of course, you'll sacrifice mileage and the small-car feel of your RAV4 that way, but, as you've figured out from your search so far, you're going to have to compromise somewhere.
If you really can't stand the idea of having two vehicles, I'd say the one car that would most meet your needs (except for having humans tolerate riding with you) would be a used Honda Element. They stopped making it in 2011, apparently because the Italian water buffalo transportation market wasn't all it was cracked up to be. But the truth is, the Element's mileage isn't that much better than what you'd get in a new Toyota Tacoma. Most people get low- to mid-20s, overall, in their Elements.
Given the reality of your needs, Carey, I actually lean toward a pickup truck for you. The 2016 Tacoma, with a new engine and 6-speed automatic transmission, should get better mileage than the current one. It allows you to stay loyal to your Toyota roots, and, most importantly, it provides an impenetrable exterior wall between you and the goat droppings. In fact, be sure NOT to get the optional rear sliding window so you won't be tempted to ever open it.
You have to face the fact that you really are a rancher, Carey. A very weird rancher, yes. But I think you need a ranch vehicle, and that's pickup truck. Send a picture.