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Shopping for vans that can double as campers

Dear Tom and Ray: Our 1993 Eurovan is slowly expiring at about 215,000 miles. One of the main reasons we got it was because the rear seat folded out to a bed that two people who weren't munchkins could sleep in. This has been a great feature for road trips and for the occasional times I really screw up domestic relations. Are there any vehicles (either new or recent used) besides the Eurovan where seats fold down and/or stow away quickly to create a sleeping space? Our other important criteria are reliability (which rules out another Eurovan), decent fuel economy (minivan or station wagon as opposed to a semi), and something that we won't have to trade in our children to afford. The closest I've come is the new Chrysler Town and Country -- but that is a little pricey. Are there other options out there? -- Vince

Ray: Well, one option is to behave yourself, Vince, so you don't NEED to sleep in the garage. But if that's not a likely option, then I think you're headed in the right direction by looking at the Chrysler minivans.

Tom: Right. And if you find the Chrysler Town and Country too expensive, take a look at the Dodge Grand Caravan. It's essentially the same vehicle, with a lower sticker price and fewer luxury add-ons. You can get it with a 180-horsepower, six-cylinder engine that gets mileage in the low 20s. That's good enough so you won't actually feel your wallet getting sucked out of your back pocket as you drive around.

Ray: More importantly, you can get it with Stow 'n' Go seating. That means the second and third rows of seats tumble and fold flat into the floor of the minivan, leaving a big, flat space in the back where two adults can sleep.

Tom: Now, I know what you're thinking: Sleep on the floor? Well, there's no company we know of that makes a minivan with an actual bed in the back anymore. You could have one custom-made, but that runs into serious money. So here's what I'd suggest: Buy a couple of those air mattresses and a 12-volt, DC-powered air pump, and stash them in the car.

Ray: That way, it's a regular minivan most of the time, but when you want to use it as a camper, you fold the seats into the floor, plug your air pump into the cigarette lighter, and voila! By the next morning, those air mattresses will be fully inflated and ready to sleep on!

***

There are plenty of distractions on the road. And, you can almost always get away with not giving the road your undivided attention. What worries us, however, is that one time in 10 years, when a tenth of a second will save you from plowing into the back of a tanker filled with spent plutonium fuel rods -- or worse, a minivan full of kids, possibly your kids. Don't try to do several things at once. You're driving now. Other people's lives depend on it.

What's the hurry? Slow down. What's the worst that could possibly happen? You're late. Big deal. What's the worst that can happen if you drive too quickly? You never get there at all. We rest our case.

Got a question about cars? Write to Click and Clack in care of The Buffalo News, or e-mail them by visiting the Car Talk Web site at www.cartalk.com.

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