Dear Tom and Ray:
I am a Buddhist nun with a problem and thought you might have some advice that might help to resolve the problem. I am writing to ask about a vehicle that I might use for two purposes: (1) retreat and (2) living place. As you might or might not be aware, Buddhist nuns in the United States have very little support. I have reached a point in my training where I need to find a way to have a three-year retreat. I had the idea that perhaps some sort of car or van might serve as a basis for this. A place to sleep, prepare food and such, but mostly to just have a roof over my head. When the retreat ends, of course, I will need a place to live, and the retreat vehicle might serve this purpose as well. My financial resources are very limited. I would appreciate any advice you might have to offer. Blessings -- Sister Jian
TOM: Well, Sister, I used to live in my car. So I can tell you that you definitely do NOT want a Triumph TR4A. That's a little, two-seat sports car. In the summer, I could always open the top and sleep under the stars, which was nice. But I always woke up with the stick shift in my kidney, or up my ...
RAY: Uh! Uh! Uh! What you need, Sister Jian, is a traditional camper van. These were particularly popular in the '70s, but companies continue to make them to this day. They take a basic van from Dodge, Ford or Chevy, and modify the inside to include a bed, sometimes a basic cooking setup and oftentimes a raised roof, so you can stand up. It's not luxurious, but it's not bad.
TOM: If you find that older camper vans are too expensive, you can always get a plain old Dodge, Ford or Chevy cargo van and put your own mattress and provisions in the back.
RAY: The advantages of a full-size American van are that they've been making these things for decades, so you should be able to find one old enough to suit your price range. And since they're based on basic, American-car technology, almost any mechanic, anywhere, is going to be able to fix it for you.
TOM: You'll have to look around if you want to find a camper van. Try checking the classifieds section of your local paper, under "conversion vans" or "specialty vehicles." Or try our Web site, www.cartalk.com, where there's a "Used Car Search" feature on the home page, and you can search for listings by proximity to your ZIP code.
RAY: I think you'll be able to find something that suits your purposes, Sister Jian. But just one piece of advice: Make sure you scrape off any bumper stickers that start with "If this van's a-rockin' ..." before you leave.