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The RideLust Guide to Dog-Proofing Your Car

Posted in Car Care, General, Guide, How To, Tips by Leigh | January 31st, 2011 | Leave a Reply |

My dog possesses a remarkable talent – the ability to projectile vomit. I’d put him up against any grade schooler or member of GWAR in terms of quantity, color and surprise factor. My dog will do it at any time most inconvenient for me – while I’m eating dinner, when I’m walking him past a school bus full of kids stopped at a red light, on my pillow at 3 a.m. – you name it. I’m a conscientious dog owner and had the vet check him out numerous times, and there’s never anything wrong with him. Normal dogs vomit every now and then – he just does so like the Bellagio fountains.

As car rides are one of my dog’s hallowed activities, I was rather concerned that the back of my WRX would wind up looking like a frat house bathroom. My car has cloth seats and although my dog will happily “clean up” after himself, his vomit leaves stains and odors that linger. Additionally, as those of us with cloth seats know, dog hair sticks to cloth like Velcro, which is particularly annoying for me as my dog is white and the interior of my car is black. Suffice it to say, after my dog enjoyed a few trips in the WRX, I did some research on preventative measures, which I detail below.  Please note that these are my own recommendations and I did not receive any compensation from the manufacturers listed.

To protect your car’s fabrics from vomit, slobber and any other fluids, my first suggestion is to spray down the interior fabrics with a water-repellent solution. I personally use 303 High-Tech Fabric Guard, which was recommended on a number of detailing forums for potential high mess situations.  Often used for waterproofing and protecting convertible tops, this spray adds a coat to fabrics that causes liquids to bead on impact – making it easy to wipe up a mess. Pick a nice, sunny day to do this and leave your windows open to facilitate the drying process. Make sure your car is immaculate before you spray, and test the solution first on a small area for color fastness before applying it to your entire car. The spray should be reapplied every few months for maximum protection.

I picked up a set of floor liners from Weathertech that were specially fitted to my car. I wanted the floor of my car to be as protected as possible from not only dog vomit, but road salt, mud, sand, and spilled coffee. The floor liners completely cover the floor of the car, preventing all of the above from making any contact. I also noticed that the stock fabric mats collected vast amounts of dog hair, requiring almost daily vacuuming to avoid eyesore status. The floor liners resulted in a definite improvement in dog hair accumulation. All-weather/rubber mats should also do the trick. Just make sure to empty out your mats regularly to keep the car spotless.

Another suggestion is a decent car seat cover. A good, waterproof, seat cover will keep your seats dry, and mostly dirt and hair-free. In my opinion, the best kind looks like a hammock as it stretches from the back of the front seats to the back of the rear seats.

I’ve used the versions that only cover the back seat, from the headrest to the bottom of the seat, and I don’t recommend them as they don’t protect the floor area. The usual places where I check for dog accessories were charging up to $100 for hammock covers, but I found this $14 cover on Amazon which I’ve been using for almost 2 years. It’s waterproof and extremely durable. My dog is about 35 lbs, but if you have a heavier dog, or multiple dogs, the straps holding it in place may need to be replaced with something sturdier – an easy task for anyone with a basic knowledge of sewing.  But if you own a Clifford-sized dog, you may want to check out a site like Orvis, which sells premium, but very sturdy canine travel accessories.  The cover I have has saved the WRX many times and without a doubt is the best $14 I’ve ever spent.

When he’s good, I let him drive home.

My suggestions will get your car much cleaner, but mess is inevitable. Nothing will completely dog-proof your car, save leaving your best friend at home, and you don’t want to do that.  To keep your car consistently clean, you will have to do some regular maintenance. Keep a bottle of upholstery cleaner (I like the 303 Cleaner and Spot Remover for upholstery), glass cleaner and some paper towels in the trunk. I bought a pack of lint rollers from a warehouse club and keep one in the trunk and one in the glove compartment (note – 3M sells a “Fur Fighter” product which I’ve tried, but it’s not as effective as a lint roller nor is it particularly cheap). I also store a few bottles of water in the trunk for emergencies, which have also come in handy for cleaning muddy paws and unexpected interior disasters.

If your car gets stinky, a little Febreze spray will get the smell out, but you shouldn’t have that problem as long as you shake out the seat cover once a week, hose it off when necessary, and do a little preventative vacuuming of hair and dander. As long as hair isn’t deeply embedded in the fabric, a standard car vacuum/dustbuster will be sufficient to remove it. If hair does get trapped in the fabric, I find that this static hair remover from Meguiars works wonders at dislodging hair. But if your car looks like a hair tornado just whipped through it, and you don’t have an outlet in your garage for a hose-equipped home vacuum, your best bet is to use a gas station vacuum. With a few bucks in quarters, you will get everything out.

Luckily, I have never experienced anything worse than dog hair and puke in my car (which, thankfully, did not make seat contact thanks to my hammock cover).  But for those who have seen the abyss, wet/dry vacuum cleaners may be a good investment.  At my old apartment, I had white, wall-to-wall carpeting, and one terrible evening, I got home from work to a canine diarrhea disaster.  I drove to a home goods store in a panic and picked up a Bissell SpotBot, which got all of the of the stains and smells out.  That device is a godsend.  If your car has a cloth interior and you seriously think that you will be encountering especially vile liquid messes, look into a deep cleaning, wet/dry vacuum cleaner. There are such vacuums sold specifically for cars, but I think even a regular one would be extremely helpful if you have access to an outlet.  If all else fails, of course, call a detailer.

I hope you find these tips useful. At the very least, a seat cover, fabric guard spray, and regular vacuuming will further harmonious dog and human coexistence.  Feel free to make any suggestions of your own – as every day brings a new mess, I know that your fellow dog-owners will appreciate them.

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