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Your Essential Guide to Living in a Car

Your Essential Guide to Living in a Car

Living in a car isn’t an unfortunate experience for everyone. People may choose to live in their vehicles for a number of reasons, and it’s far more common than one might think. When you want to save money to make a down payment on a house, or give yourself the flexibility to travel more, living in a car isn’t always an unpleasant option. 

Some people choose to live in their car as their first step toward downsizing and tiny living. Others may need to turn to their trusty vehicle in a time of need. Whatever the case, the rules are slightly different when you live in a car. Before deciding whether you want to try car life, let’s investigate all you need to know.

Living in Your Car: The Essentials

If you want to live in your car, there are a few rules you must know that will make life easier. Cars aren’t normally set up as living quarters, so you’ll likely have to get creative. Now, some cars are going to be inherently easier to live in than others. For instance, minivans have more interior space than a sedan, and can easily be turned into a little camper.

However, there are a few things you need to know no matter what vehicle you live in. Here are a few key elements you should know before living in your vehicle. 

LIVING IN A CAR - IS IT SAFE!? 5 Risks of Sleeping in Your Car

The legality of living in your car can be a complex subject. It’s not illegal in most states. However, some local governments, like in California, have taken steps to make sleeping in your car a citable offense.

The legality of living in your car also has much to do with where you park. Parking somewhere that doesn’t permit you to stay overnight can get you into trouble in a hurry. 

Location

Location is everything when living in a car, and some places are better than others. The police can write you a ticket or even arrest you for trespassing if you park on private property, but most of the time you’ll simply be asked to move on. You can also get in trouble with the people who own the property.

If you have permission to park in a friend’s driveway or on their land, then officials shouldn’t bother you. There are also many apps that can help find free overnight parking. However, if you park away from public restroom facilities be sure to have an appropriate way to dispose of your waste, like using a portable camping toilet.

Many people chose to stealth park and blend in with other (empty) parked cars on side streets and public 24/7 parking lots. Some may find that changing their location frequently can help avoid suspicion.

Storing Your Belongings

If you want to keep the possessions you had in a house while living in your car, you’ll need to find storage. A friend or a family member might have room in their garage. Otherwise, renting a storage space from a local storage facility is an option to keep your stuff stored and safe. 

For organizing belongings inside of the vehicle, we highly recommend taking some time to develop a system. Otherwise, your car will always be a mess. Be prepared to modify sections of your vehicle into shelves, tables, and storage areas.

Couple cuddling together in the back of their car.
Always check the laws of the state you’re in to ensure you can legally sleep in your car.

Food and Cooking

Cooking in your car is a particular situation. You don’t always want to eat fast food or out at restaurants for your health and your budget, so you need some way to cook.

To solve this, grab a portable power station. An ample battery pack with a few outlets will serve you well. Obtain a small electric cooktop, connect it to the power station, and then you can make simple meals in your vehicle. 

Alternatively, you can use tried-and-true camping stoves that work off of small propane canisters. These portable wonders can whip up a homemade meal in minutes. Just remember to roll a window down for proper venting when cooking with propane.

Storing food is another story. Using non-perishable foods in your car is wise, but preserving fresh foods or keeping things cold can pose a challenge. Using a small travel fridge can help in the short term, but many people eventually work their way up to larger electric coolers that can run off the vehicle or a power station.

Where Should I Shower if I Live in a Car?

Showering will also take some forethought. You don’t have to be stinky to live in a car. There are actually many places that offer public showers for cheap or even free.

One option is to get a membership at a widespread chain gym, and you’ll have the opportunity to shower whenever you need. You could also shower at truck stops or take a sponge bath at a rest stop along the interstate. 

Pro Tip: Use this guide on How to Find Public Showers While Traveling to stay sweet smelling and fresh while on the road.

Communication

You’ll want to keep your cell phone turned on if you live in a car. For safety reasons, having a clear line of communication is essential.

You’ll also need wi-fi, and your cell phone service provider can give you hotspot capabilities. Other options would be to find businesses that offer guest WiFi networks. Coffee shops and libraries are excellent places to look for connectivity.

Woman on phone while sleeping in car
If you are going to sleep in your car, make sure you have good phone and WiFi service so you can always communicate your whereabouts with your loved ones.

Lighting

For lighting, you don’t want to use your car’s dome light. This could potentially drain your vehicle battery. Instead, get some LED light strips and plug them into your portable power station. You’ll also benefit from a quality headlamp or having flashlights on hand.

However, be cognizant of using the lighting in your vehicle, particularly when you are trying to stealth camp. Lights in a car not only eliminate privacy unless you have appropriate black-out shades but can be a quick giveaway that someone is staying in the car overnight.

Find out some of the other stealth camping giveaways you’ll want to avoid.

Staying Safe While Living in a Car

Your safety is of the utmost importance when you reside in a car. Cars get broken into, and a car doesn’t provide the same security as a house. Consider these elements before making a move to car life. 

Privacy Shades

Privacy is crucial when living in a car. You don’t want to get an indecent exposure charge for changing your clothes. Instead, get a sunshade for the front and back windshields, and tint your windows as dark as the law allows in your state. 

And as we mentioned, getting black-out shades or curtains will help ensure someone doesn’t find you out.

Man applying tint to window of car and adding privacy screen to safely sleep in his car
Tint your windows as dark as you are legally allowed and add privacy shades to ensure nobody can see that you are sleeping in your car.

Security

You can add more security to your vehicle by utilizing the alarm on your car. All cars have alarms now, so this shouldn’t be an issue. Lock the doors to your vehicle once you’re inside using the key fob, so your alarm will activate. 

Staying Warm, Cool, or Dry in Your Car

Always ensure you have what you need to stay warm or cool while you sleep in your car, even if you have to turn the car off and on all night. It’s not the most efficient way to maintain the temperature, but it works. You could get an electric heated blanket to stay warm, just remember to plug it into your portable power station instead of your car battery.

Woman taking photo while laying in bed in the back of her car.
Living in a car isn’t for everyone, but for some, it offers freedom and flexibility.

Is Living in a Car Stressful?

For most people, it seems like living in a car could be pretty stressful. It takes a lot of adapting when you’ve lived in a house your whole life. For some, however, it can be exhilarating and freeing. It depends on who you are. 

By preparing with the right gear and knowledge, you can reduce the stress of finding places to sleep, feeding yourself, getting connected, and staying safe.

25 Best Places to Sleep When Living in Your Car!

Is Living in a Car Worth It?

Living in a car is a personal choice. Whether or not the move is worth it has everything to do with individual experiences and needs. For some, their vehicle can be a viable long-term living situation, while others may enjoy the freedom and flexibility car living can provide temporarily.

Do you think you would be happy making a move to car living? Tell us your thoughts in the comments!

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Russel Hawkins

Thursday 8th of September 2022

Remember to have good air circulation.

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