Many people when they loose their job or apartment naturally move into the only shelter left - their vehicle. Unless you have an RV and a safe lot to park try to keep your car stay as short as possible due to the harassment and discomfort. Use this time to find a new place or plan a move to somewhere where you can set up a safe residence. How well this will work depends most on how comfortable and secure the vehicle is and if you can safely park and maintain your vehicle. This lifestyle is for nearly all who live it far less than ideal since it is difficult to store and secure more than a small amount of your worldly possessions. Not to mention it it just is not comfortable sleeping through a winter rainstorm inside a two seater soft top with seats that don't recline. Or worse, sweating ass off in a humid, hot climate.
Where to put your car without it being towed or having to live in your car being discovered can be a huge pain. Here are some spots and tips that could be considered.
- Many retirees pull what is called the "Camp WalMart" trick with their monster homes with wheels. They "park" overnight in the parking lot and save the overnight fee spent at RV parks. Some mart stores even encourage this since it often discourages theft or vandalism of parked cars. If you try this with a camper or van, make certain this is legal, since some cities have passed laws against "overnight parking" and you'll be stuck with a parking ticket or midnight eviction.
- If you see signs reading "No Overnight Parking" or "No Camping" either in the lot or at the entrance, they probably mean it. Watch out for the Rent-A-Cop in the "Security Patrol" vehicle made to look like a police car or the golf cart with a yellow flashing light.
- Church parking lots are often unused except on Sundays and sometimes a few regular evenings a week. To avoid the early Sunday morning problem also look for a Jewish temple or a Seventh Day Adventist church, since both meet on Saturday mornings. Avoid parking where the clergy housing is on site. It might also be useful to ask, especially at religious institutions, for the owners to show pity and let you occupy an open parking spot if you promise to be good and not trash the area. Act shocked when they say no.
- In non-residential parking lots park as far out of the range of vision to the entrance as possible, working slaves tend to ignore stuff as they enter and exit work. Try to avoid places with security booths or patrols outside.
- Apartment complexes, the larger the better are great for camping with your car cover on, you can either use a spot assigned to a friend without a car or find a place with unassigned spaces, park late leave early and only use this for sleeping. As best as possible keep the car stationary once parked, meaning dig in your pack or wiggle around somewhere else before you stop and park for the night or day sleep cycle.
- When you wake it is difficult to avoid a car wiggle or two, immediately get to the drivers seat and drive away. Always sleep in acceptable but loose street clothes, shorts and a t-shirt or sweats, have your shoes or sandals handy even if you are wearing slippers.
- National and State parks:
In the western US mostly in rural areas there are large tracts of BLM, National Grassland, and National Forest, most of which are free to camp for up to two weeks, although some areas require buying a special use permit now. If you choose a park at either national, provincial, or state expect to be visited by a ranger in the morning asking for the camp fee, some lock the gate at night too. Campgrounds are either private or public and rarely free; they range from a primitive fire pit and outhouse to full water and electrical connections, flush toilets, hot showers, sometimes even a general store, and Wi-Fi Internet, typically you get what you pay for. It is worth looking into on site management, It is usually an easy job and you get a place to stay for the contract period and a paycheck.
- The Empire maintains many rest stops for sleepy truck drivers and long distance travelers. Some have restrooms and showers. This could be an option if you have an out of state tag. However, the rest areas are vigilantly watched by state pigs looking to bust people up. Most rest areas are out in the middle of nowhere. It can take quite a bit of gas money and time to drive to or from. Sadly, with many states facing budget cuts, a number of these rest stops are being shut down.
You can park overnight in many whitebread communities at the curb if you cover your junker car with a nice clean car cover, this works best in areas where car covers are more common. You might even be able to stay in one place between the huge lot lines for several nights before any homeowner notices. With the car cover on the rent-a-thug/ethnic cleanser has no idea you are camping out in a rust bucket or which McMansion you (don't) belong to.
When you get your cover walk right out to your car open the package and try it on. You need to be able to open a door (front and back door if possible) and enter with the cover on. If this doesn't work, walk back and return it for a cover that will work. A clean car cover or window tinting should be near the top of your eviction shopping list if you plan to keep your car.
Your car cover can:
- Hide the exact make and model as well as the plate numbers of your vehicle, you may want to stencil your number or another plate number onto the cover to fool lazy cops
- Keep your vehicle warmer by reducing drafts especially in older vehicles with rotten door seals
- Reduce or eliminate leaks during wet weather especially with waterproof covers
- Hide the tell-tale window condensation that gives away a camped-out car
- Hides the campout gear in your vehicle from thieves and cops especially if you go out and leave it parked
- Some colored or silvered car covers will help hide the glow from small lights or computer use, parking under a street light also washes out the light from inside your car.
Do not run your vehicle while the cover is on as it might trap deadly carbon monoxide from the exhaust.
We have known car campers who install a black removable bar and curtain between front and back seats, tint the windows of the back seat and use a sun shield at night to block the front and rear window, nobody can see the sleeper in back even if you are not using a cover and it is difficult to see the interior divider curtain. Even a cheap stick-on tint is better than nothing, if applying a sticky film tint clean the interior windows spotless with Windex and let dry, try to go slow and use a squeegee to keep bubbles out of your work. Find out the local laws on rear window and driver and passenger door window tinting, even if legal it might lead to harassment by suspicious cops both when parked and while driving. Towels, cardboard, or improvised curtains in the windows and most obviously fogged windows are a dead give away to cops and neighbors that you are living in your car. Moving around inside your vehicle in a way that rocks or moves on the suspension is another give away when you are inside a supposedly unoccupied parked car.
A station wagon like a Volvo or Subaru gives you room to stretch out in back, even a sedan has a big back seat to sleep on, but a compact car often gets much better mileage.
If you have some tiny car it will work for camping too; just get the car cover or some sun shades to cover your window, opening a non-leaking sunroof kept open will keep the condensation down. It is very important that if you go with a compact you find a car where the passenger side seat fully reclines into a nearly flat position and adjusts far back so you can stretch your legs. If you are short enough piling a bag or gear covered with a blanket into the footwell can make this into an almost normal cot bed. Don't sleep on the driver side except in emergencies. We know someone who killed their battery by sleeping with a foot on the brakes. It also makes for driving related nightmares having the steering wheel right there. A convertible or soft top Jeep or coup might be fun, but the leak related headaches and difficulty keeping warmth in during the winter make them a less than ideal car camping option. A vehicle with a trunk means that you have a non-visible place to stash some stuff but the lock can still be popped by a thief. Some trunks can extend into the back seat area by folding down the rear seats. This is one option for a stealthy sleeping area.
A one bonus to hybrid cars aside from urban fuel savings is the massive storage batteries which you can tap for appliances. There are kits where you can charge the batteries from free or subsidized charging stations for electric vehicles. Another kit allows you to drive all electrical for urban and short highway drives. Combined with a folder bicycle in the trunk these can really save or eliminate fuel spending.
Of course better than a cover is if you just buy a van or minivan, there are plenty of old vehicles which have been cast off after years of ferrying kids to soccer or having been used by some crusty old guy living in it down by the river, an added bonus is you don't have to contort to get into the back for sleeping. Big vans can really burn fuel fast but some minivans can come close to the thriftiness of a larger car. If you can score a custom camper van all the better but if not take out the rear seats if they don't fold down and do your own modifications. Installing a table of some sort and propane equipment are among the most important modifications, VW campers even have water and drain water tanks built in, just attach a garden hose. If you are going custom wire in some power jacks in a handy place and then you can roll out a dark colored extension cord. Tint the rear windows and you will have a safer place to sleep and the cops cant easily peek in, hang a dark curtain behind the front seats or use sun shades at night for more privacy.
Owning a pickup truck is usually an investment in bad fuel mileage, although this can be offset by using it as a home and walking or cycling and only driving for long trips, moving location, or camping expeditions. Unless you need it for winter or back country travel 4x4 is often just a gas waster on the highway as are wide off-road tires although you will miss it badly when it is needed. A smaller truck with a small engine especially a diesel can save fuel if you drive right and keep your speed down but it is still not as efficient as a small car. Getting a canopy and tinting or covering the side windows makes it a great place to camp out even in town, much better than a car interior for people of average height and it often increases fuel economy. It is not unexpected to see blankets or sleeping bags in the back of a truck so you might pass a quick night time police or security check if they don't expect house-less people. Since part of detecting an unwanted vehicle is that they don't move you might try to park on a hill and every night roll down a few houses without starting the motor saving a bit of gas, but turn your wheels toward the curb so if your parking brake fails in the night the curb will stop you. Since car covers are rare for trucks you will have to keep the exterior clean and the interior of the cab neat so the cops and neighbors won't have reason to be suspicious. Since you will be sleeping in the back get a good steering wheel lock so you don't get taken for an unwanted ride during a car theft. Try to keep your worldly possessions down to a bicycle and pack and keep these with you on trips out so even if the truck is broken into they will not get your stuff, most canopies are easily broken into. Keeping your bicycle inside the canopy with you at night will not only prevent it from being stolen it will also help hide you. Always enter and exit the rear of the truck early in the morning or after everyone is in bed, during other times consider using the sliding window between the cab and canopy to enter the cab or canopy hiding your activities and making them look more natural.
The fastest way to get in trouble when parked overnight is to urinate or defecate right next to your vehicle. When the heat of the day comes it leaves a very nasty smell both for you and the neighbours even after you leave. This creates the impression that the homeless are filthy or disgusting, and is a good way to get car camping outlawed where you are staying. Don't screw over your brothers and sisters like this! Try to park next to a sewer grate where you can dump all of your toilet waste (unless it is marked as a untreated drain to a water body) and pour out your washing water (gray water) bucket at the same time to rinse it down. If a sewer grate is not possible at least have enough water to wash away urine from the gutter. Plan ahead and use a public restroom whenever possible but keep a bucket and trash sack for dire toilet emergencies. Be careful using bleach in your pee bottle we have heard of weird toxic chemical reactions, chlorine gas, and high temperatures associated with mixing urine into a bottle containing bleach.
Face it; Cars are not designed for camping in every night, even most vans are a bit uncomfortable. You should do some work to prepare it for long term camping. Get seat covers at least for the passenger seat or rear bench that you plan to sleep on. A very smart idea is to cover the factory seat with a carpet runner or heavy plastic and then a cotton bed sheet folded over several time or blanket to keep the funk out of the seat in something you can wash and then cover and hold everything in place with a seat cover from an auto parts store. Dryer sheets under the seat (on the floor not under the seat cover) or dash can help get the stank smell out of your car, especially in summer when you would normally shower more frequently. Many cars have hooks or handles above the front doors which can be used to suspend a bar on which you can hang laundry to dry. Plan for drippage or just air out during the day. Leave the sunroof or windows open a few centimetres open to allow moisture out. This bar is also where to hang a dark privacy curtain at night between front and rear seats.
It may seem like a great idea, and perhaps you have both the right electrical system and isolation to pull it off by attaching a FM transmitter to your laptop and blasting it through a nice car audio system. We have even heard of DIY outdoor theater types who add a video projector. For most of us the problem of staying hidden in our quasi legal car camp-outs makes a Walkman or MP3 player with earphones the better idea both for security and for the health of your car battery. Save the stereo system for the highway. In addition, have in mind that the glow from most video screens gives you away as a WiFi squatter or urban camper watching DVD's. Car sun shades or window tint might help hide the glow.
It gets lonely sleeping in your car, some people use an open WiFi hotspot to escape to virtual worlds on the Internet, but often this is not an available option. It helps to have friends both local and far away, with the right gear you can accomplish both for free after an initial investment. In the 70's CB was the undisputed way to communicate between vehicles, this is still often the case if you don't want to pay a mobile phone bill. For most people this means finding a used CB set and magnet mounting a good antenna to the roof of their car or truck. Gutter, mirror, and bumper antenna mounts are available as are permanent drilled installations. For the price of a new CB set you could pick up a used mobile ham radio set and depending on the frequency band increase you range by as much as a few thousand miles and add many cool free capabilities such as data transfer, telephone network interface autopatches, repeater networks to extend the range of small radios, and even international VOIP bridges. The only downside to ham gear is most licensed users are pretty straight and follow the rules, so if you are running pirate on their frequencies they have a sport called "bunny hunting" where they track down illegal operators with special gear and lead the cops to the offender. If you only have FRS or a CB walkie-talkie your range is limited to a mile or two. Nice communications gear is a lure to thieves so install it in a way where you can unplug it and hide it in the trunk or take it along with you.
We have seen small heavy duty steel safes installed in vehicles, mostly intended for locking up a firearm of some sort. At first this sounds like a good idea until we realized a thief need just steal the car and take it to a place where they could use a cutter to slice the thing open.