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Would you date a guy who lived in a van?

This week on Car Talk, is van dwelling a reason NOT to date a guy who otherwise appears sweet and reasonably hygienic?

That's the automotive-relationship conundrum that our caller Tara from Fremont, California was facing. Should she stick with the Stanford Med School student, who's hanging up his stethoscope inside his '86 VW Vanagon? Or is this one relationship that's headed for the breakdown lane faster than you can say mononucleosis?

Ray suggested she introduce him to Mom and let her be the judge. Tom said he sounds like a great guy--which may be enough reason for Tara to immediately run away.

What would you do?

Living in a van is not a disqualification for dating. Given the price of gas and quality of traffic in the Bay Area, this makes perfect sense to me. The guy is doing what’s often a 3 year course in 16 months!!! If the guy were living on a boat, would anyone have the same questions?

He’s clean and neat, and well-behaved. And has pretty good taste in women, apparently.

I know of at least two people who are millionaires now, very nice people, who have lived in such vehicles. And, you may want to think about the people you’ve had on in the past who wanted advice about living in vehicles, in the Bay Area, even. An airline pilot who wanted to get the four-wheel drive version of the Vanagon, IIRC?

I’ve found that everyone has some bit of weirdness about them. Sometimes it’s just good to know where this is in someone else.

Clearly, it depends upon where it’s parked when he’s sleeping in it.

You have got to be crazy. Sorry I am a PA and I can tell you this guy is either married or has another relationship. Don’t even try that it is too intense to go home malarkey. Twenty five minutes is not too long to drive to be alone with someone you care about. Now maybe I am off base and he does not have an apartment at all and is living in his van. In that case why would you want to be involved with someone who has to lie about such a basic issue as to where he lives. You are being mislead.

Tara, I’d have to be kidding you if I told I haven’t been in your shoes. I know MANY people who have lived out of their vehicle, one a VW Van even! A lot of people like that are AMAZING inside. Who REALLY wants an uptight, pretentious sort of person? People like the guy you are talking about are carefree, open-minded, freedom dwellers. They are the best company, the best of hearts, the best people all around. If you do decide to take him home, and mom asks where he lives, just tell her on campus. (It’s true enough) People can live anywhere as long as they are “living”. Your friend seems to be comfortable in his position in life, living his life how he wants. There is no rule or law that says man must live in boxed home, off of wheels with running water. (which, if you really think about that, rednecks would be in DEEP trouble!)-

Anywho, he seems like a great guy. Keep your hands on him, mom will come around and if she likes him, she has to like all there is about him. Apartment address or license plate address. It’s all the same and he’s doing better than a lot of guys these days. He’s getting his education!

God Bless and good luck!!



Thanks Autumn. You hit it on the head. He is truly LIVING (albiet in a van), and is a wonderful, sweet, non-judgemental, open, fabulous human being. I am so lucky to know him! Plus…the van is cool.

Just be sure to rule out the possibility that “the apartment” is where this guy’s wife & five kids live. ("Dear, I just HAVE to stay in the van to keep ahead of my studies. I’ll be home at LEAST once a month . . . ")

This guy may be ok, but if he sold everything, moved from New Hampshire to live in a van to do a 16 month course at a college, chances are after 16 months he has every intention of returning home and getting back on his feet again. Clearly he has no roots, so if you are looking for a long term relationship, it’s not here. Oh, and I really doubt he has an apartment, so lying about that is pretty low.

“so if you are looking for a long term relationship…”

It’s just a date. Let’s not get carried away here.

run, run away fast…he is married

Tara ?. Run like the wind!!! My sister eloped with a van dweller when she was 18. She is 54 now and is still traumatized. She doesn?t even realize that she twitches when a van drives by. Change your phone number and move immediately. Best wished A. Scott

Depends on how comfortable his seat is. I have a comfortable apartment, so that should be OK.
But if he is working on finishing a 3 yr course in 16 months, will he really have the time and mindset for a quality date??

Tara, your friend does not live in a van, he lives in a “Class B Motorhome”.

There are about a million Americans who live in an RV fulltime-most by choice! Of course, most are married couples, and there “rigs” are larger than a Class B. Federal law, however limits the size of RVs to under four hundred square feet, so we are talking less than two hundred square feet per person. Some of the “high end” motorhomes cost upward of a million dollars new and are very lavish, but they are still limited to under four hundred square feet. One such owner is Justice Clarence Thomas. While camping in our motorhome (230 sq ft) we met many wonderful people from all walks of life.

I think of it this way: some homes have wheels under them, others lack wheels and are much harder to move.

I would judge your friend exactly as if he was living in a dorm, but also had this second apartment on the side. If everything pans out, at the appropriate time, try to take a trip in the motorhome–you may find that you like it!

Steve in New York

Hmmm… When dating ANYONE, you need to verify WHO he really is, if WHAT he says is true, and WHERE he comes from… if he has family, they will give him up. If all of his family is “dead” or “I don’t talk with them”, that is a red flag. After I got together with my wife, one of the first things she said was, “I knew you were normal, and not lying to me, because I met your mom and your brothers.” Worst case scenario: you do a background check on the guy (lots of agencies online-- $50 will let you know if he is an ex-convict) or hire a private detective to find out the dirt. Everyone has a past, most of us exaggerate, and some of us lie… Remember: men are scum. So, be careful!

Hey Steve, one problem with your logic: EVERYONE that I met in the dorms, back in school, came from STINKING RICH families! I mean, it costs, what? $12,000 a year for the dorms? My good friend, Tom, lived out of his van in Santa Barbara… nice guy, but totally nuts. And most folks who live full-time out of RV’s are usually retired grey-hairs with 401K’s and a house back in the Hamptons! Anyone under the age of 50, living out of a motorhome is… well… typically either eccentric, crazy, or extremely poor… or, on the lam from the cops or an ex-wife!!!

Tara–I have a sweet, wonderful, smart and talented engineer son who has lived in a 10x10 box van for the last year. Why? He has a goal to tour Europe and anywhere else with his brother, who will any day be discharged from the Navy. They’ve both saved and planned for this. I see similarities with your guy, who seems to be goal driven, and aside from the van living arrangements, seems just fine to you. Go for it! P.S.–if it doesn’t work out, I have just the guy for you!

Tara, I grew up in the Berkeley and Palo Alto areas and have had many occasions to know “guys in vans”. I would heavily wieght the cleanliness factor as a positive indicator. Very heavily weight this! Lets face it, he doesn’t have an apartment. Who can afford to have an apartment in the bay area and never go there? Not a struggling silicon valley techno-nerd and certianly not a Stanford med student. He is in a financially challenged phase of his life that will make for great stories around the Thanksgiving table in about 15 years. But for now it’s eyes on the prize and he is making it happen for himself by sacraficing the comforts (and expense) of home. Showers in the gym, meals out and on the fly and laundromats. I think he sounds like a gem. He sounds like the kind of guy who can delineate his wants from his needs. And he can change the view from his living room easier than swaping out the throw pillows! Go for it!

Bob and Tom:

My pet human and I live in Gold Beach, Oregon: the live in your van capital of the United States. We are twenty six miles north of the California line with no sales tax and forty cents per gallon cheaper gas prices then in California.

We get surfers, granola heads, campers, retirees, nomads, homeless, and serial killers living in vans along the coast. Most are just passing through and most behave themselves. They do not want Big John, our Sheriff, pulling up in his truck on them at three AM.

So as a smart dog I have made categorizations (if you will excuse the word) of People who live in vans by type:

Old Dodge Vans: These are the guys who drank too much coolant as puppies. They are a quart low and missing teeth on the old fly wheel. Mostly homeless and slightly crazy. The '60-'70s Dodge vans are about the cheapest moveable dumpster they could find.

Old Chevy Vans: These guys are crazier and spend too much time marking the inside of their territory. They bought the Chevy because it is the cheapest to keep running. They are on a mission but the insulation on their wiring harness has rubbed through and they keep shorting upstairs. Exceptions: The Broke Surfer Kid.

Old Ford Vans: Usually bought from a company fleet sale because he heard that they hold up best and he needs to buy shampoo to control his mange with the repair money. Something went wrong, like telling his boss to “shove it” but the country song didn’t say what happens next. They range the gamut, only you notice even in the normal ones they stutter when they bark.

Old VW vans: Hippies and Coolsters. Harmless as a lapdog and they don’t come when called. I can smell marijuana present or past in all the busses and transporters. A couple crumbs short of a Milkbone.

'80s and newer VW campers: Interesting, many German Shepard types who seek the efficiency, design, and quality you can only get from a Nazi design. Lots of Medical Student types and computer geeks who can appreciate the efficiency of these vehicles live in them up to 10 years (1.5 human years). Just beware of the Synco crowd who can’t afford used Porsche Cayennes, those are the type that just psychotically pace back and forth in their kennels.

The only dog that stays cool in a SCCA paddock,

Tara, I say this guy sounds great. A 3-year program in 16 months?..this guy can get it done! Go for it! If it doesn’t work out? Well, I used to have an orange over white VW van. Think about it. Call me.