Is Sleeping in Your Car Illegal?

In most places in the country, it is not illegal to sleep in your car. There is no Federal, countrywide law against sleeping in your car. To get in trouble, you need to be breaking another law or a local ordinance. Some cities outlaw sleeping in your vehicle to control homelessness. Some states even outlaw sleeping in your car at rest stops, hiking trailheads, or other tourist destinations. Campers, travelers, and van life enthusiasts should always review local laws before sleeping in a car.

Can you park and sleep in your car?

This 1949 Nash was engineered with fold-flat seats. You can park and sleep in your car if you are not breaking any local laws. There is no federal law against sleeping in your car--in a legal parking spot. |  FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images
This 1949 Nash was engineered with fold-flat seats | FPG/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

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The short answer is that you can park in most places and sleep in your car. If you can legally park somewhere, the act of grabbing a nap is rarely forbidden. However, a few cities and towns have specific rules against sleeping in your car. Therefore, it is always good to research local laws.

Some popular tourist areas, such as beaches, hiking trailheads, or rest stops, forbid sleeping in your car. This is to keep large groups of tourists from camping out. Make sure to read all nearby signage.

In most places, you will only get in trouble for breaking another law. For example, nodding off while you are operating a vehicle is illegal. Being intoxicated in your car on a public street is prohibited. If you park your vehicle on private property to sleep, without permission, you are trespassing. Finally, many public spots forbid parking during certain hours or for an extended time.

If a police officer or park ranger sees you sleeping in your car illegally, they will often wake you up and tell you to move. In some cases you could even face a fine or arrest. See more advice for where to sleep if living out of your car.

This is a photo of a man sleeping in a Volkswagen Beetle. Sleeping in your car is legal unless prohibited by local laws. | Erich Andres/United Images via Getty Images
Sleeping in a Volkswagen Beetle | Erich Andres/United Images via Getty Images

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Camping in your car is only legal when parked legally for the night. If you are trespassing on private property to park, you are breaking the law. If you are at a trailhead, parking lot, or beach that forbids overnight parking, camping in your car is illegal. But if you parked legally for the night, rarely is napping or sleeping is expressly prohibited.

In many campsites, you rent a tent spot and a car space. Few campsites dictate whether you must sleep in a tent or your car. But it is a good idea to ask about the campground guidelines.

In many legal overnight parking spots, it is acceptable to camp in your car. But it is good to double-check that the location is legal for both overnight camping and parking. For example, some spots have a two hour limit, so camping all night would be against the rules. Other places, such as trailheads for hiking trails, allow hikers to leave their cars overnight. But these same spots may not allow camping or sleeping in the lot.

Sleeping in a car comfortably

A kid napping in a car. Sleeping in a car comfortably, overnight, often comes down to airflow and temperature. | Montifraulo Collection/Getty Images
A kid napping in a car | Montifraulo Collection/Getty Images

Cars may seem like waterproof, lockable, safe places to sleep. In addition, many station wagons and SUVs have plenty of space to roll out a sleeping bag. Some sedans and trucks even feature seats that recline fully and make excellent beds. But unlike RVs and tents, engineers do not design cars to sleep in comfortably.

There are two major challenges to sleeping comfortably in a car. The first is temperature. The second is airflow.

While driving down the road, you can set your heat or A/C at a comfortable temperature. But if you stay in your car overnight, you must shut off the engine. If you leave the engine running, poisonous fumes could flow into the passenger compartment. But with the engine off, the car will quickly get hotter or colder, based on the weather. Many car campers find a warm sleeping bag a must in cold weather.

Your HVAC, heat and A/C system constantly circulates the air in your car. If you are sitting in a closed vehicle for an extended time, you will be rebreathing the same air. This can cause condensation to build up, the car to get too hot, or you to even get light-headed from lack of oxygen. Always crack open a window when sleeping in your vehicle. 

In some climates, a cracked window is a recipe for mosquitos. For this reason, seasoned car campers hang mosquito netting: either across all window openings or hung over their sleeping bag. Read more hacks for sleeping in your car comfortably.

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