Can You Leave Your Car Running While Sleeping in It?

Have you ever been in a situation where you want to sleep but have no place to go? In some instances, you may find that your car may be your only option. However, if you have never had to sleep in your car, you may be concerned about the car safety aspect of it. You might also be questioning whether or not you are violating any laws. Brace yourself as we explore the ins and outs of sleeping in your car in the following discussion.

Can I leave my car running while I sleep in it?

A woman and child sleeping in a car in the Pefki village of Euboea, Italy
A woman and child sleeping in a car | ANGELOS TZORTZINIS/AFP via Getty Images

No! Do not do it. According to the Road Trip Expert, safety should be your number one priority if you decide to sleep in your car.  If you take a nap in your car with all the windows closed and the AC running, there is an increased risk that the same air will be recycled inside the vehicle, and fumes from the engine will make their way into the car through the cabin.

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

As The ASEAN Post highlights, a vast majority of people who die in their cars die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is the main constituent of exhaust fumes. This risk is higher in older vehicles because their mechanical systems do not comply with the required standards. Therefore, there’s a more significant potential with older models to have exhaust pipe leakage.

When there is a high concentration of CO in your vehicle, you are dancing with death without knowing as you inhale a colorless and odorless poisonous gas. The level of CO can also increase if your AC is faulty, increasing your chances of death when you are asleep.

Carbon monoxide becomes lethal as it inhibits the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen to the rest of the body. When the level of CO in the blood rises beyond 70 parts per million (ppm), an individual experiences headache, nausea, and general fatigue. When the level increases to 150 and 200 ppm, a person loses consciousness, leading to death.

How to keep your car cool

The Road Trip Expert highlights some ways to keep cool while sleeping in your car. The most efficient way to cool your vehicle without turning on the air conditioner is to keep all the doors and windows wide open. A high-powered portable fan will serve the purpose. You can also reduce heat by parking your car in the shade or using a windshield sunshade.

You can further cool down in the car by using frozen water bottles as ice packs. Furthermore, you may consider investing in tinted windows to prevent UV rays from getting into the car.

How to keep your car warmer

An article on Family Handyman suggests that you should invest in portable heaters. Catalytic heaters are most preferred because they do not produce a lot of carbon monoxide gas. It is important to note that these should not be used when you are sleeping. You may use the heater to warm your car, but remember to unplug it when you are about to sleep. An electric blanket can also be used to warm up your sleeping area before you sleep. Charge the blanket and unplug it before you go to sleep.

The best places to park if sleeping in your car


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Walmart parking lots are some of the best places to sleep if you plan to sleep in your car.  They provide overnight parking and are well-lit, thus increasing your safety. Given that some stores remain open 24 hours, you will also have access to restrooms at any time.

Casinos are also safe because, in addition to operating 24 hours, they have good security and cameras all around just in case something goes wrong.

If you are on a highway, rest stops are the safest places to sleep. Many have restrooms that operate 24 hours. Additionally, it is legal to sleep in rest areas in many states, meaning no one can ask you to vacate in the middle of the night.

The bottom line

Is it legal to sleep in your car? Well, it depends. Dubslabs highlights that different states have different regulations. Although sleeping by itself is not considered an offense, it all depends on where, when, and how you are going about it.

While it is great to familiarize yourself with your state’s rules, do not assume they apply to all other states. Most importantly, if you must sleep in your car, remember to turn your vehicle off for the above-mentioned safety reasons.