QDear 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. My financial resources are very limited. I would appreciate any advice you might have to offer. Blessings -- Sister Jian

ATOM: 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.

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.

Dear Tom and Ray:

A friend of mine took her Saturn to a mechanic, as the car was running a bit rough and the road noise was loud. He examined the car and told her that the dealership had improperly installed directional tires on her car. Is there such a thing as directional tires, or is this a con? I mean, all tires are round, right? My friend and I have placed a high-stakes wager. Who is correct, me or my directionally challenged tire friend? -- Joe

TOM: Well, I hope the stakes weren't too high, Joe, because you lost, buddy. There certainly are directional tires.

RAY: Some higher-end performance tires are designed to perform best in one direction only. When you design a tire, if it has to be perfectly symmetrical and work equally well rolling both ways, you have to compromise when you set up the orientation of the grooves. On the other hand, if you know it's only going to turn in one direction -- and water and slush have to be channeled in only one direction -- you can optimize it for that direction.

TOM: But as far as we know, installing a directional tire backward will not ruin it. Nor will it cause a car to run rough or handle dangerously. It simply won't give you its optimal performance.

RAY: So it's entirely possible that your friend simply had worn-out tires -- directional or not. And worn-out tires, especially when they get cupped, get very noisy and can make the car handle poorly.

TOM: In any case, you owe your friend an apology, Joe. But don't worry. I'm sure you're going to look great in that flowered apron, cleaning her house for the next six months.

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

(c)2004 by Tom and Ray Magliozzi

and Doug Berman