Dear Tom and Ray:
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? — Randy
Ray: I know exactly what you need, Randy: 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, Randy. 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.
(Car Talk is a nationally syndicated column by automotive experts (and brothers) Tom and Ray Magliozzi. Write to them at the Car Talk website.)