Can you sleep in Your Car legally? The Full Guide

sleeping in a car

Sleeping in your car is a classic debate that rages on around the world. As you are probably aware, if you are reading this article, there is no universal law against sleeping in your car.

However, for many Americans, it's illegal to sleep in their cars without a good reason. Business travelers may be exempt from some of these laws because they need to sleep while commuting. You can fight against unwarranted ordinances or unlikely requirements if they try to push the issue with you. But where do all of these rules come from? Are they true everywhere? Why have so many people told you different things? These are great questions that don't really have an answer at the moment. So let's get started.

Can you park and then sleep in your car?

The simple answer is yes, this will however depend on the laws within your own state. For instance, you can't just park anywhere and sleep in your vehicle in some states while some other states do not have much laws put in place to stop you.

Depending on the town or city you are in, you can be fined anywhere from $25 to $1,000.

Here are a few examples of the most common fines:
  • Camping in public -$25 (3 nights max).
  • Exposing yourself while sleeping in your car -$50-$200.
  • Sleeping in public when you have been told not to multiple times- $100-$1000.

In California, if you get caught sleeping in your car twice, then you will face a fine of up to $500 and/or 6 months jail time. If it happens a third time, then it can increase up to a maximum of 1 year in jail and/or a $1000 fine.

How to sleep in a car comfortably?

Sleeping in a car can be comfortable or uncomfortable. It all comes down to the type of car and the preparation. First of all, the type of car can be a make or break for a good night's sleep. For some, a small car can be comfortable enough, but for some it may not be the most ideal situation because there won't be a lot of space to stretch out in.

A 2-seater car is unlikely to be more comfortable than a 4-door car. The latter will allow you to sleep on the back seat and possibly stretch your legs and arms.

If possible, try to fit a mat or some kind of mattress that would provide added support for your entire body as well as some extra cushioning if necessary. There are also special items such as air mattresses which could potentially help with the issue of not enough space in a small car.

Some people use pillows with their own bed sheets but make sure they don't carry any illegal materials inside with them because it could lead to an uncomfortable situation where law enforcement asks them about the contents upon a search.


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Is sleeping in a car dangerous?

This will usually be your main concern when it comes to sleeping in your car and there are a few things to keep in mind which will help. Sleeping in your car can be very dangerous. Especially in locations that are not as lit as others.

Below are some tips to keep you safe while sleeping in your car.
  • First and foremost, keep the doors locked and windows rolled up at all times while you're inside the vehicle.
  • When you're ready to go to bed, change into pajamas and pull a blanket over yourself.
  • Also keep a flashlight with you at all times in case of emergencies.
  • If possible, bring a friend along for the ride. Having someone with you will not only provide safety but it can also be more fun.
  • Keep all your electronics fully charged at all times.
  • Keeping a phone charger in the car can also be helpful if you need to make an emergency call.
  • Keep your gas tank full at all times, running out of gas is no fun when stranded on the side of road or parked on some dark street.
  • Don't leave anything valuable in plain site because vehicle break-ins happen way too often these days. Keep your wallet/purse under your clothes so it's not easily accessible by thieves.
  • Block your windows off with some dark thin cloth. If you live in an area that requires tint it's best to be compliant with local laws, otherwise you could end up getting a ticket.

It is important to be aware of other people who might approach your car such as police officers or other civilians who might try to take advantage of someone sleeping. If they manage to get inside without warning, this could lead to some serious legal trouble so always be vigilant if you choose this option for sleeping overnight.

Should you sleep in a car while it is running?

The rule of thumb is to never sleep in a car with the engine running and always be aware of your surroundings. Usually if you run the engine to keep the heater or air conditioner on, it is fine as long as you shut off your vehicle properly and don't leave it unattended while you sleep. If your goal is to sleep through cold nights, try finding parking lots near businesses that are open day and night like convience stores or gas stations, this way you can run their hot-air exhaust overnight and stay warm while still getting some good rest.

What are the different reasons for sleeping in a car?

Many people with will have different reasons for wanting to sleep in a car. Some may want to save money, by not having to pay for a hotel. Others might want the freedom that comes with living out of your vehicle, which can be hard to do if you're paying for a place to live every month. Maybe you're going on a road trip and don't mind taking turns driving or maybe you just got fired from your job and had no choice but to sleep in your car until you find something else.

Here are some of the main reasons why people might want to sleep in their cars:
  • Road Trip - The most common reason for someone to sleep in their car is for a road trip. Although some people might prefer to pay for a hotel, others would rather save money and rely on the comfort of their own car to sleep in.
  • Emergency - Sometimes bad things happen unexpectedly and you do not have any other option but to sleep in your car until you can sort out the mess. Perhaps there was an emergency, or someone passed away so you need time to think clearly before making important decisions about your life.
  • Homelessness/Fired - If you were recently fired from your job or became homeless, sleeping in your car is something that could be necessary while you figure out how to fix the problem at hand. You should keep all your valuables with you at all times when doing this though because you never know what will happen.
  • Camping - If your car is large enough, you can technically sleep in it overnight if you really wanted to.

Where Can You Park Legally?

sleeping in a car

There are many different places where you can park mlegally. But how many places can you park legally for the sole purpose of sleeping?

  • At Home - This is probably the worst option you could choose. Not only will this be more expensive than any other options on the list, but you'll feel terrible both physically and mentally when you have to leave in the morning.
  • In a Storage Unit - If your car fits in a storage unit, go ahead and park there for the night. Just don't get too comfortable because if they catch on that it's not a vehicle being stored there overnight, you might have some trouble on your hands.
  • On a Commercial Property - Some commercial properties allow their employees to sleep in their cars while they're working graveyard shift jobs. These are usually one person per vehicle though so don't bring anyone with you.
  • Private property - If you get permission from the owner of the property, it's usually alright to park your car there for a night and possibly even sleep.
  • Parking lots - You can generally sleep in a parking lot as long as they don't have a rule against it. Even if they do have a rule against it, most security will still let you stay unless you cause trouble or are being unsafe, disturbing other people, or falling asleep at the wheel etc.

So, is sleeping in your car legal? Well it's a grey area, but if you go about doing this the right way and keeping yourself safe, it is very unlikely that anything will happen to you. If you do make sure to avoid too much illegal activity like loitering or trespassing (if you don't get permission), there's no real reason to worry. Happy camping!

About Author:

image of Kevin Pommells

Hi, I'm Kevin Pommells, a lover of camping and the great outdoors as everyone says nowadays. I'm also a passionate soccer fan and the proud owner of, a website dedicated to helping campers and outdoor enthusiasts make the most of their adventures. With years of experience exploring the wilderness and a deep love for the sport of soccer, I'm always looking for new ways to combine my two passions and share my knowledge with others. Follow me for tips, tricks, and insights on all things camping and outdoor recreation.

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