•Q. I have a dilemma. My retirement dream has always been to purchase some type of vehicle to travel in and live out of for extended periods of time. I always thought I would get a small RV or camper. But now, because of the cost of gas, I am not sure what to do. I enjoy tent camping but would like the option of sleeping in my vehicle due to weather. I have looked online at a Subaru Forester and a Jeep Patriot. Would you recommend something like that? Or something else?•
RAY: I know exactly what you need: a house!
TOM: Actually, what we’d recommend for you depends on your size. If you’re 6 feet 4 inches, I’d say neither one of the vehicles you looked at will make a comfortable bedroom. But if you’re 5 feet 1 inch, a small crossover like the Forester might be fine.
RAY: But, like when you buy a pair of pants or a mattress, you really should try these things on for size before making a decision.
TOM: Sure, the dealer will think you’re a couple of gallons short of a full tank when you walk into the showroom in your pajamas and ask him to heat some milk for you, fold down the seats and come wake you up in an hour. But if that’s how you’re going to use the car, that’s how you should “test drive” it.
RAY: You want to see what it’s like with the car closed up. Are you really comfortable? Does the cargo floor actually fold completely flat, or does it have a bump or a hinge in the middle? Do you have enough room to straighten out? Turn over?
TOM: I think you’ll find that sleeping in the back of most passenger cars is not terribly comfortable. So, for that reason, I’m going to recommend a minivan.
RAY: You can look at any of them, but the Dodge Caravan, for instance, has a “Stow ’n Go” feature where the second AND third rows of seats fold into the floor and create a large, flat cargo area. Maybe even enough room to fit — luxury of luxuries — a small mattress!
TOM: You also can get an inexpensive minivan tent, like the DAC Explorer 2. It attaches to the open rear liftgate of your minivan to give you a little more breathing room, and allows you to have some screened air flow while you sleep.
RAY: The other advantages of minivans is that they drive very much like cars. That means they’re relatively comfortable, safe, easy to handle and easy to park compared with campers and RVs. And the mileage — while not great — isn’t bad, either. You can expect mid-20s on the highway from most of them.
TOM: I think that’s probably the best compromise vehicle for you. It’ll fit you, your belongings and your bedding on a long-distance ramble, while also serving as a car that you can use every day.
RAY: You can do better on mileage by going with something smaller, but if you do that, you should practice sleeping in the fetal position first. Happy travels.
•Q. I’m turning 16, and I’m looking at buying a 1998 Jeep Wrangler Sport. Do you think this is a good car for me? A safe car? I know it’s in good shape. It has only 20,000 miles on it, and it has a brand-new transmission. It has a soft top and a hard top. I’ll base my decision on what you guys say, so your opinion would really help me.•
RAY: The answers to your questions are “no,” and “no.”
TOM: It’s not a good car for you BECAUSE, in our opinion, it’s not a particularly safe car.
RAY: It’s got a short wheelbase, so it bounces all over the road. It’s got an ancient type of suspension system, so it’s like driving a basketball. It’s top-heavy, has flimsy doors, has no stability control and has an old-style four-wheel-drive system that can contribute to a rollover if used incorrectly.
TOM: This car — in our opinion — basically gives a 16-year-old male driver every tool he needs to flip over on a highway, roll down a ravine and end up operating his motorized wheelchair with his lips for the rest of his life. But other than that, it’s a great idea.
RAY: I’m sure we’re disappointing you terribly, because we do understand the appeal of the Jeep Wrangler. It screams “adventure.”
TOM: Which is appropriate, because driving this thing IS an adventure!
RAY: Well, we do understand why that appeals to you. The primary concern of every 16-year-old boy is getting dates, so you’re obviously convinced that this adventurous enhancement to your image will help you in that arena.
TOM: But don’t be so sure. My brother always had cool cars, and he never got any dates. The girls just asked to borrow his car every Friday and Saturday night.
RAY: So if you were my son, I’d much rather see you in something more boring and safer: a sedan with a normal center of gravity, stability control and side and curtain air bags, if possible.
TOM: Not to mention something that didn’t need a new transmission at 20,000 miles!
RAY: I know it’s hard for you to believe, but girls don’t care nearly as much about cars as guys do. You’d be much better off with a clean, modest car, and a warm, friendly smile.
TOM: A Fender Stratocaster that you could play like Jimi Hendrix wouldn’t hurt either. Good luck.
Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of this newspaper, or email them by visiting the Car Talk website at www.cartalk.com.
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