Sleeping In the Car: Ultimate Guide

Sleeping in a car doesn’t have to be a nightmare.

Sleeping in a Car with a Dog
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So you’re planning your great American road trip and want to know how to sleep in a car? Perfect! Whether traveling with or without a destination, an automobile is a great multifaceted tool that can double as a reliable form of shelter. So long as you find a legal and safe place to park, the possibilities for planting a flag are virtually endless.

Depending on the vehicle and the preparations taken, an overnight stay inside a car can feel as luxurious as an Airstream or as low-rent as a Craigslist hostel—shudders. But it doesn’t have to be a roll of the dice to determine your comfort level. 

Here at The Drive, our informational team has spent more than a few nights in the confines of our automobiles and have suffered the pains, aches, and early morning jostling from the local constabulary. All done in an effort to save you from similar hassles and misadventures. So let’s dive in and help you choose the right setup for your needs.

Blankies at the ready!

Sleeping in a Car Basics

Estimated Time Needed: Eight hours

Skill Level: Beginner

Vehicle System: Interior

Why Sleep in a Car?

There are a million reasons people end up sleeping in a car, but there are a few in particular that justify our experiences.

  • Cheap or free
  • Time-efficient
  • Opens the world to simplistic exploring
  • Guaranteed protection from the elements and viral outbreaks

Sleeping in a Car Safety Tips

You won’t have a fulfilling night’s sleep if you’re too busy worrying about your safety. These tips will help you create the safest and most secure night possible.  

  • Text somebody your location before going to sleep. We know this is an alarming statement, but we like to ensure your safety is priority number one.
  • Never park on the side of the road. 
  • Try to create a sleeping surface that is as flat and long as possible. Sleeping crunched up or on uneven seats can create conditions that are poor for your blood circulation. 
  • Do not leave the car running or leave the key in the “on” position overnight to use the climate control. You risk breathing in harmful car emissions, running out of gas, or killing the car battery.
  • Never leave your car window open more than a crack. Although ventilation is important, an open window is an invitation to thieves or other or other ill-willed miscreants.

Everything You’ll Need To Sleep in a Car

Technically, the vehicle is all a person needs to sleep in a car, but there are several ways to make the night (or nights) significantly more enjoyable. Here’s what to bring if you want or need to sleep in your car.

Gear List

The new Ford F-150 features front seats that recline flat.
Ford

2021 Ford F-150

Here’s How To Comfortably Sleep in a Car

Sleeping in a car is a fairly simple task, but there are ways to make it more comfortable. This is how The Drive turns its automobiles into auto motels. 

Where to Park your Car

We don’t know where you are, what you’re doing, or where you’re going, but we can tell you where to stop. These locations are typically reliable waypoints, many of which have restrooms, to sleep overnight. Just be sure to check local signs and laws to confirm you’re legally allowed to do so.

Orient the Bed

Different vehicles call for different types of setups. Each ride will be different, but these are good, if not somewhat obvious, general guidelines for creating a cozy place to sleep.

  • Truck: In the truck bed
  • SUV/Crossover: Fold down the rear seats and use the flat space.
  • Minivan: Many minivans have rear seats that fold completely flat to create a massive open area of flat space. Welcome to the Waldorf Pacifica of sleeping in your car.
  • Wagon: Fold down the rear seats and use the flat space.
  • Hatchback: Fold down the rear seats and use the flat space.
  • Sedan: If the seats do not fold down to create a long surface, use the back seat.
  • Coupe: If it’s dry outside, maybe just sleep in the grass.

Making the Bed

  1. Check for any protrusions. You don’t want uneven bumps or anything prodding your side. 
  2. Inflate the air mattress or sleeping pad and lay it in the desired position. 
  3. If you do not have a pad, use your blankets, sleeping bag, and/or clothes to create some cushion between you and the surface.
  4. Set up the sleeping bag.
  5. We recommend bringing two pillows. Cars interiors are built in awkward shapes, and there are several things that could make sleeping uncomfortable. Gaps between surfaces, door armrests, wheel wells, or seats that don’t fold flat are all issues that could, at the least, be somewhat covered by an extra pillow for cushion.
  6. Crack the window or sunroof for ventilation.
  7. Count beached Walmart carts until you fall asleep.
The Ford F-150's rear seat folds up to create a large floor space.
Ford

2021 Ford F-150

Pro Tips for Sleeping in a Car

Sleeping in a car can be an unpleasant experience without the proper preparations and precautions. Here are The Drive’s Pro Tips for creating a restful sleep.

  • Park near a bathroom and use it before you go to sleep. You never know when that emergency will interrupt your slumber.
  • If this is more than a one-time thing, stick-on vinyl or a legal window tint could reduce light intrusion. If it’s not, use a piece of clothing as a sleep mask.
  • Roll-up sun shades are cheap and will help keep parking lot lights from ruining sleep.
  • Sleep with your head toward the front of the car. This allows for more upper-body space and your sleeping bag won’t slide into the trunk as easily.
  • Find shade, if possible. Cars quickly turn into air fryers, and sleeping hot is the worst.
  • If bugs are a problem in the area, bring netting to put over the slightly cracked window. Some people use magnets to keep the netting in place.
  • Buy a portable and rechargeable battery-operated fan for hot climates.
  • Don’t use your car’s dome lights. You will forget to turn them off, and you will kill your car battery.
  • If noise is an issue for light sleepers, bring earplugs
  • Air mattresses designed specifically for the rear seats of cars are available and will create a flat and cushioned sleeping space using the awkward footwells.

Life Hacks For Sleeping in a Car

Use these small tricks for more comfortable and efficient experience while sleeping in a car.

  • Stuff clothes in the sleeve from a sleeping bag or sleeping pad to create a pillow.
  • Extremities are the first parts of the body to get cold, and sleeping with cold feet can ruin the night. If a blanket is not available, throw some clothes at the bottom of the bag to keep things dry and warm.
  • For added warmth, heat up water, put it in a water bottle, wrap it in a shirt, and put it in the sleeping bag. It won’t last long, but it could help with falling asleep.
  • Bungee cords and a cut-up old sheet can make for useful curtains.
  • Pin a set of solar-powered Christmas lights around the rim of your ceiling for worry-free lighting that doesn’t require a plug.

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Featured Products for Sleeping in a Car

ALPS OutdoorZ Redwood -25 Degree Flannel Sleeping Bag

Klymit Static V Sleeping Pad

Lightspeed Outdoors PVC-Free Warmth Series Self Inflating Insulated Sleep Camp Foam Pad

Got a question? Got a pro tip? Send us a note: guidesandgear@thedrive.com