Best Dog Crate for Car Travel (2017): Reviews & Buyer’s Guide

Avoid your dog causing a distraction with these secure crates

Most crates are frighteningly weak in a collision - with many offering no protection for your pet. In this article, we've reviewed three of the best dog crates for car travel to help keep your pup safe.

Our guide to the best crates for car travel

The Bottom Line...

Sleepypod Mobile Pet Carrier

For dogs up to 15lbs, my top pick for a dog crate for car travel is the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed. It's a stylish option with a circular design, mesh dome and carry handle. Most importantly, it received 5-stars from the CPS for its crash-test performance - mainly due to its tough nylon construction. For larger dogs, the best option is the Gunner Kennel G1 Intermediate.

Safety is paramount if you want your dog to travel in the car. Whether you're just driving to the local park, or want to take your dog on vacation, your dog must be secure and safe.

Unfortunately, many dogs are allowed to be loose when driving. This doesn't just mean they could cause a dangerous distraction. It also means they have no protection in a collision - and could even become a deadly projectile.

For these reasons, a dog must be secured in a car at all times. But what's the safest way to do so?

A crate is the obvious solution. Crates prevent a dog from causing a distraction and seem to provide more protection. The bad news is that most crates are almost useless in the event of an accident. They won't protect your pet - and may even fail completely, causing your dog to be thrown through the car.

This is true even for some crates that are marketed as being designed for cars! (Shocking, isn't it?)

That's why I've put together a list of the best dog crates for car travel. I've only included crates that have been crash-tested and proven safe for dogs - so your pet has a much better chance of avoiding injury in an accident. Before we get to the recommendations though, what makes a great car crate?

How to Choose a Car Crate

With normal crates, your dog's comfort is the primary concern (along with being escape-proof). While you want your canine friend to be comfortable in the car, safety comes first. Here's what to look for:

  • Material. Avoid wire crates. While wire is great for a home environment, as it provides plenty of ventilation, it isn't strong enough to withstand a collision. Soft-sided dog crates should usually be avoided for the same reason - although there are a couple of exceptions for small breeds. 
  • Size. Unlike a regular dog crate, being too big can be dangerous for an in-car crate. The more space there is around your dog, the further he can be thrown if there is an accident. Look for a crate that allows your dog to lay down without being too spacious.
  • Secure Strapping. It doesn't matter how strong a crate is if it's not securely strapped. For this reason, the crate should have highly durable and strong straps. Smaller crates can often be attached to seat belts, while larger options may need to be strapped to tie downs.
  • Heavy Duty. It goes without saying that a car crate needs to be made from incredibly strong materials. This usually means a mixture of metal and heavy-duty plastic. The strongest soft-sided crates are often made from luggage-grade nylon.
  • Crash-Tested. There is almost no regulation of the pet safety market, so you can't always trust manufacturer's claims. That's why I recommend looking for crates that have been crash-tested - and preferably the results are publicly available. Remember to check the weight used for crash-testing, as it may only be tested for small dogs.
  • Weight Range. Each dog travel crate is made for pets up to a certain weight. If your dog weighs more, the crate may not provide the same level of safety. Make sure you know the weight of your dog and the maximum allowance of a car crate before you buy.

As you can probably imagine, the vast majority of crates don't come close to matching these requirements. Fortunately, there are several brands that take in-car safety as seriously as dog owners do.

On a personal note, I admit that I used to overlook the importance of car safety. I didn't ignore it intentionally, but I assumed most crates would be safe (I'm embarrassed to admit). I knew my dogs shouldn't be loose in the car, so I kept them in a wire crate in the trunk, but I didn't even consider getting a crash-tested product.

Then on a morning commute I was rear-ended by a van. I wasn't badly injured, but I suffered some whiplash and the car was nearly a write-off. Thank the stars my dog wasn't in the car - but I was shocked to see the wire crate had completely disintegrated. If my dog had been with me, he wouldn't have stood a chance. Since then, I never travel with a dog without a properly crash-tested harness or crate.

CPS Certification - Why It's Important

If you can't always trust manufacturer's claims, who can you trust?

The Center for Pet Safety (CPS) is a non-profit organization. Their goal is to provide independent safety testing of pet products, including harnesses and crates.

This is especially important with the lack of safety standards in the pet world. As the CPS points out:​

"​In the US there are no performance standards or test protocols for many classes of pet product. Manufacturers are not required to test products before going to market for most classes of pet product."

As a loving dog owner who cares about my pet's health and safety, this shocking! Especially as humans in a car are also at risk if a dog isn't properly secured.

What's even worse is the CPS has found the majority of dog crates completely fail to protect a dog in a collision.​ In fact, at the time of writing, there are only four travel crates and carriers that have been crash-test certified by the organisation.

If you want to see some of the horrifying results, check out the CPS's 2015 crate study test. Even many crates marketed as crash-tested had doors that flew off, straps that instantly snapped and cages that greatly deformed on impact.

The good news is that some crates did pass the tests. These crates provide real protection to your pet and human passengers in the event of an accident. 

Harness Vs. Crate - Which is Best?

There are two common options for in-car safety - harnesses and crates. Both have their advantages, although harnesses tend to be better for smaller dogs. For more information, take a look at our car harness page.

The SleepyPod is a great in-car harness
  • Smaller and easier to move
  • Some can double as a walking harness
  • Dog isn't thrown against the wall of the crate in an accident
The AspenPet is a durable crate (although it's not a good example of a car-safe crate)
  • The best dog crates for cars are very strong
  • The dog has more freedom to move position
  • Can be used for large dogs (harnesses are often too restrictive)

3 of the Best Travel Dog Crates for Car Journeys

Listed below are four of the best dog crates for cars. I've included both traditional crates and products that are often referred to as carriers, as they both serve a similar purpose. You'll also notice that there are only two different brands (Sleepypod and Gunner) - the rest simply aren't up to the task!

Note: A travel dog crate is not the same as a dog car seat. The latter is primarily designed to give your dog a more comfortable ride - but you usually need an additional harness. A car-safe dog crate provides protection for your dog without a harness.

The SleepyPod Atom is great for small breeds

1. Sleepypod Atom (Up to 8lbs)

For small breeds, such as Chihuahuas or Bichon Frise, the Sleepypod Air is one of the best car dog crates (although it's technically a carrier). It's only rated for dogs up to 8lbs, but it passed the CPS crash test with flying colors. The Atom is also airline approved and is available in a range of colors - so for travelling with a small dog it's the one to get.

Sleepypod describes the Atom as a modern carrier - and I think that's an accurate description due to its advanced safety features. It's basically a scaled down version of the Sleepypod Air (see below), so it's safe for use in cars, trains, planes and buses. Like all Sleepypod products, the Atom has been crash tested to ensure it'll protect your pet.

What makes it such a safe carrier though? Firstly, it has two straps for seat belts on either side. This means it can be properly secured using the belts as anchors. There's also an internal safety tether, so your dog can't escape when you open the carrier, and ventilation on three sides for greater airflow. I also like how the Atom keeps it shape - it won't collapse like many other carriers.

​One thing to note about the Atom is that it's suitable for pets of up to 12lbs, but for dogs this is reduced to 8lbs. Don't be confused by the weight ratings on shopping sites - this carrier should only be used for dogs up to 8lbs.

There are a few other drawbacks to the Atom, but they are concerning extra features rather than its core purpose - which is to keep your dog safe. I would have preferred zipper pockets, as the small Velcro panel could allow objects to fall out. A domed top would also have provided extra space.

On the plus side, the Atom has a unisex appearance so everyone will feel comfortable carrying it. It's also discreet and lightweight - most people won't realise there's a dog inside unless they look closely.

Quick Summary: The Sleepypod Atom is an excellent dog carrier for cars - at least for small breeds or a puppy. It's strong, crash-tested and provides plenty of ventilation. The discreet design also makes it great for air travel.

  • ​CPS Certified: Yes
  • Type: Soft-Sided
  • Dog Weight Range: Up to 8lbs
  • Price Range: $$$$
  • Crash-tested and CPS certified
  • Internal tether and ventilation on three sides
  • Discreet and unisex design
  • Velcro pockets rather than zippers
The Sleepypod Mobile Pet bed is suitable for larger breeds than the atom

2. Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed (Up to 15lbs)

If your dog is bigger than 8lbs but lighter than 15lbs, the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed is probably the best option for car travel. Like the Atom, it's a car-tested model with CPS certification - so it provides excellent protection in a collision. The domed design also provides more space for your pup.

One of the reasons the Mobile Pet Bed performed so well in CPS tests is that it's made with luggage-grade nylon. This can withstand much higher forces than cheaper alternatives. The top handle also doubles as a durable seat belt attachment.

It's not just designed for safety though - this is a plush carrier that most dogs will enjoy sleeping in. The inside is covered with softer polyester, so it's more comfortable for your dog. When you're not travelling, the dome can also be opened using the zipper.

Ventilation is essential for a car crate, which is why most of the dome is made with mesh. As the "Bed" in the name suggests, it also comes with internal bedding and a water-resistant foam liner. The bedding is washable, which is important if your dog has an accident or just gets muddy on a walk.

Something to note about the Mobile Pet Bed is that it's not certified for air travel. It'll easily fit under an airplane seat, but you'll need to check with your airline to see whether it's allowed.

​The round shape can also make it a bit more difficult to carry than rectangular products. This isn't a major issue, but if you're going to be carrying your dog for extended periods it might not be the right choice. 

Quick Summary: The Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed is an outstanding soft crate for car travel. It's a stylish product that's made from highly durable nylon, polyester and heavy-duty zippers. There's also soft bedding and a mesh dome for extra comfort. It's not suitable for airline travel - but for cars it's a great choice.

  • ​CPS Certified: Yes
  • Type: Soft-Sided
  • Dog Weight Range: Up to 15lbs
  • Price Range: $$$$
  • Highly durable and crash-tested
  • Comfortable for your dog
  • Washable bedding
  • Round shape can be awkward to carry
The SleepyPod AIr is designed for air travel

3. Sleepypod Air (Up to 17.5lbs)

The Sleepypod Air is an in-cabin pet carrier that's also crash-tested and CPS approved. It's not as highly rated by the CPS as the other Sleepypod crates on this list - it received four stars instead of five - but still passed the testing process for dogs weighing up to 18lbs.

As you can tell from the image, the Sleepypod Air is very similar in design to the Atom. It's bigger though, so it can accommodate larger dogs.

The Air is made from luggage-grade nylon, which is the main reason it passed the CPS testing process. The interior is lined with soft polyester for extra comfort, and there's also machine-washable bedding so your pet doesn't feel uncomfortable on long journeys.

One advantage the Air has over the Atom, aside from the larger size, is that the side pockets are zippers rather than Velcro. This makes it more secure when travelling. There's also a padded shoulder strap, which is useful when carrying your dog for extended periods.

As you would expect from a Sleepypod carrier, the manufacturer has put a lot of thought into car safety. There are seat-belt straps on both sides of the crate, so you can secure it in almost any car. The interior also has a safety tether.

It's also designed for air travel. The Air has a unique folding system so it can fit under a seat. This allows you to provide extra space for your pet outside of the plane, but stow him safely during landing and take-off. You can even expand the crate after take-off on most planes.

It's not perfect though - so it's important to be aware of the drawbacks before you buy. A minor issue is the folding ends can be stiff when you first buy the crate, so make sure you practice several times before you fly. The dark exterior is useful for making your pet discreet when travelling, but can make it difficult to see if your dog is OK. As you would expect from a highly durable and innovative travel crate, it's also not cheap!

So, with three excellent Sleepypod car crates available, how do you know which to buy?

There are three reasons for choosing the Air over the Mobile Pet Bed. The first is if you're planning to take your dog on a plane, as the shape and compressible design makes it easier to fit under the seat. The second is if your dog weighs between 15lbs-17.5lbs, as the Air has a slightly higher maximum weight rating. Finally, the rectangular shape makes it less awkward to carry and more discreet (much like the smaller Atom).

The biggest difference between the Atom and Air is the size. For car safety, it's important to have a relatively snug fit - as long as your dog can comfortably lay down. So for dogs under 8lbs, the Atom is probably the best choice, while larger dogs should get the Air.

Quick Summary: The Sleepypod Air is one of the best crates for airline travel. With its folding design, durable nylon exterior and plush interior, it's a fantastic crate that your dog will love.

  • ​CPS Certified: Yes
  • Type: Soft-Sided
  • Dog Weight Range: Up to 17.5lbs
  • Price Range: $$$$
  • Folding ends to fit under airplane seats
  • Durable and crash-tested design
  • Comfortable interior
  • Ends can be stiff to fold when you first buy it
The Gunner G1 Intermediate is better for larger dogs

4. Gunner Kennel G1 Intermediate (Up to 75lbs)

The three Sleepypod carriers are excellent for car travel - but they are only suitable for smaller breeds. For dogs over 17.5lbs, you need something bigger. That's where the Gunner G1 Kennel comes in.

Unlike the Sleepypod carriers, the Gunner is a heavy-duty crate made with solid double-walled plastic, a wide base and stainless steel tie downs. As you can probably tell from the picture, it's designed to be strong and able to withstand a collision during transportation.

Just how strong is it though?​ Pretty strong - to say the least! Gunner claims the rotomolded plastic stopped a 12-gauge shotgun from 7 paces and survived a 200 foot drop from a cliff. It's also been tested with forces up to 4000lbs without cracking. Most importantly for car travel, it received a 5-star rating from the CPS for its crash test performance.

The G1 has been designed for one purpose - travel safety - so it doesn't have many extra features. It has an easy-to-clean interior, however, along with a drainage hole which is useful if your dog has an accident.​ The windows are designed to provide ventilation without allowing too much rain to enter (which is important if the crate is going to be strapped to a truck), and the crate has elevated feet to help maintain a consistent temperature and improve stability.

If your dog is an escape artist, you'll be pleased to know the ​door is designed to be escape-proof. It's made from welded, reinforced aluminium and a key-locked paddle latch. The design of the door also stops your dog putting his paw outside the crate, which could cause injury.

The Intermediate G1 is suitable for dogs up to 75lbs. There's also a smaller option which has been CPS certified. The G1 Large, however, has not been certified as crash-tested by the CPS - although it could be your only option if your dog is larger than 75lbs.

There are a few drawbacks to the G1 - but the biggest is the price. This is an expensive crate, although the heavy-duty design and extra protection for your dog mean it's worth the money (in my opinion). The spacing of the windows also makes them more "chewable" than they should be. Gunner sells a chew-proof kit if this becomes a problem though.

Note: The CPS tested the G1 Intermediate with Gunner's 8' tie-down straps. These add to the cost of the crate, but have a 2500 pound load buckle and 4250 pound strength nylon webbing.

Quick Summary: There's no doubt the Gunner G1 is one of the best travel kennels for dogs. It's incredibly strong, pretty much escape-proof and suitable for much larger dogs (such as medium-size Labradors and Golden Retrievers) than soft-sided carriers. It's not cheap though!

  • ​CPS Certified: Yes
  • Type: Heavy-Duty Plastic
  • Dog Weight Range: Up to 75lbs
  • Price Range: $$$$$
  • Highly durable double-walled plastic
  • Chew-proof door
  • Excellent safety in cars or trucks
  • Very expensive!
  • Window spacing may encourage chewing

Summary

Making sure your dog is safe on car journeys is essential to avoid tragedy in a collision. You never know if you're going to be involved in an accident, so your dog should always travel in either a crash-tested harness or crate.

Which is the best dog crate for car travel though?

My favorite is the Sleepypod Mobile Pet Bed - as long as your dog weighs under 15lbs. It's a durable soft-sided crate that received 5-stars in CPS's crash tests. The interior is also plush and comfortable for your dog.

If you have a dog that's too big for the Sleepypod carriers, the Gunner G1 is really your only choice - at least if you want a crash-tested crate. It's incredibly tough, but comes with a high price tag to match.​

Do you have any questions about choosing the best car dog crate for your pet? Or do you have questions about the CPS, crash-testing or car safety? Let me know in the comments!