Dear Car Talk: My Italian water buffaloes, African pygmy goats, rescue thoroughbred ex-racehorses and Rhodesian ridgeback dogs are requesting your insight, please, for what might be the perfect vehicle for their transportation needs, since I am thinking about replacing my beloved 1998 Toyota RAV4 (206,000-plus miles) for several years now. It runs wonderfully, with virtually no repairs needed during its 17 years, but the 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 droppings tucked into can’t-vacuum crevices. And I think that I now get about 12 mpg at best. 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. Can you offer a recommendation 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? Having towing power for a two-horse or one-water-buffalo trailer (about 2,500 pounds) would be a huge bonus. Thank you so much! – Carey
A: The reason your friends won’t ride with you is the stench. Although I will admit that having to pick goat pellets out of their clothing doesn’t help.
One suggestion is to separate the compartment for the people from the one for the animals. One way 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 $20,000. You could put a couple of dogs in any one of those for an outing but keep the old RAV4 to shuttle your livestock.
The other way is to get a pickup truck with a cap on the back. You and your friends can ride in the front (you can get one with four doors if you want), and your “wild kingdom” in the back – in a cargo compartment that can be hosed out. Of course, you would sacrifice mileage and the small-car feel of your RAV4, but, as you’ve figured out so far, you’re going to have to compromise somewhere.
If you really can’t stand the idea of having two vehicles, the one car that would most meet your needs (except for having humans tolerate riding with you) would be a used Honda Element. The mileage of the Element, which they stopped making in 2011, isn’t that much better than what you would get in a new Toyota Tacoma. Most people get low- to mid-20s, overall, in their Elements.
Given the reality of your needs, I lean toward a pickup for you – a 2016 Tacoma, with a new engine and six-speed automatic transmission that should give you mileage than your current one. It allows you to stay loyal to your Toyota roots, and 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. A weird rancher, yes, but you still need a ranch vehicle – and that’s a pickup truck.