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Is it illegal to sleep in your car?

Local laws are the deciding factor for car camping, including provincial, territorial and municipal parking laws.

While catching a snooze in your vehicle may be permitted by provincial, territorial or municipal laws, you might not be allowed to park on city main streets, highways or public property. However, you can find a few locations that are commonly open to overnight visitors.

You won’t find a nationwide law banning people from sleeping in their cars. However, you must follow the provincial/territorial and municipal parking laws and any specific laws against vagrancy. In general, it’s best to find designated overnight parking areas ahead of time.

When is it illegal to sleep in your car?

In general, there are no laws prohibiting you from sleeping in your car. But you need to follow parking signs at rest areas, parking lots and on main streets to determine whether extended parking is allowed. Laws for overnight parking and sleeping in your car may vary by city because they have different consequences depending where you are. For example, overnight parking on main city streets could lead to a bottleneck in traffic flow.

But regardless of municipal or provincial laws, sleeping in your car while intoxicated is widely considered illegal. Many province’s DUI laws include provisions against having “control or care” over your vehicle, even if it’s turned off and parked. This may include any intoxicated person being in the driver’s seat, with keys in the ignition or otherwise with the capability of driving the car. That means you could get a DUI even if you’re only sleeping in your car and don’t intend to drive it.

Is it illegal to sleep in other vehicles?

Parking laws and sleeping in car laws tend to apply to vehicles in general, which includes RVs. You should also be aware of any additional parking rules for oversized vehicles in cities. You may be allowed to sleep in your RV at rest stops or a designated overnight parking area, if you check the signs.

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While many cities have specific laws prohibiting car camping, you have several options for doing it legally. Those include:

  • Rest areas. Many rest areas let you park to rest for a limited amount of time, although many prohibit parking for a full night’s sleep.
  • Campgrounds. This option won’t cost as much as a full-blown hotel but gives you the freedom to camp in your tent or car.
  • 24-hour retailers. Some stores are known for their graciousness toward overnight visitors, such as some 24-hour Walmarts. You should ask for permission at stores or other private areas before spending the night there.
  • Private property with permission. If you know someone with private land and can get permission, you should be in the clear to stay overnight.
  • Truck stops. Most truck stops are considered private property, so you might be able to stay if the store allows overnight car or RV parking.
  • Your own private property. You shouldn’t have a problem with temporary car camping on your own property. However, follow residential parking laws if you’re parking in the street.

Is sleeping in your car safe?

Sleeping in your car offers less security than a locked home or private hotel room because of the car’s open view and fewer locks than a home.

Where you park your car matters

If you choose to get a night’s rest in your trusty vehicle, take care when choosing where you park. Some areas have higher crime rates than others, so you might stay away from alleys, deserted or poorly lit sections of town. To pick a safe place to park, search for online crime maps or call the local police station to ask about crime in the area.

Don’t leave the engine running

Letting your engine run while you’re sleeping can be dangerous if carbon monoxide levels start to rise. This is especially risky if the car is parked in an enclosed area like a garage.

Carbon monoxide levels can rise:

  • If the exhaust pipe gets blocked
  • If you open your SUV or truck’s tailgate without opening the car’s vents or windows
  • If a car malfunctions and blocks airflow

Hide your belongings in the car

Passers-by can see your belongings in full view when items are packed inside your car. If an experienced thief sees valuables, they may break into your car while you’re distracted or away.

Getting a good night’s sleep

Consider the health implications of sleeping in your car, such as aggravating back or neck problems. Also, many avid car campers attest they don’t get as good a night’s rest as they do in a bed. Over time, these issues could take a toll on your health.

How does sleeping in your car affect car insurance?

Car insurance should still pay out whether you’re sleeping in your car or not. However, insurance companies may see sleeping in your car as an added risk. So if you do decide to sleep in your car for any length of time, contact your insurer so they can update your information on file. While that may result in you paying more for insurance, it will ensure you are covered should you need to make a claim. If your insurer finds out you’ve been sleeping in your car after you’ve made a claim, they may deny your coverage. You may also need to add extra coverage in some situations.

Coverage for your belongings

Keep in mind that standard car insurance policies don’t cover your belongings inside the car. A few companies may offer a personal effects add-on for these situations.

However, your home policy or renters insurance might cover stolen belongings if you have that coverage. If not, you could opt for a separate personal property insurance policy.

Collision with a parked car

Car insurance should cover you for these collisions as long as the driver has the proper coverage.

  • If you collide with a parked car: You would need property damage liability to cover that car’s damage and collision coverage to repair your car.
  • If someone collides with you: That person’s property damage liability should cover your car while bodily injury liability should cover any injuries you received.
  • Uninsured or underinsured motorists: You might need uninsured or underinsured motorist coverage to pay for your repairs if you’re hit by an underinsured driver.

Bottom line

If you choose to sleep in your car, make sure to abide by all local laws and pick safe areas to stay overnight. While car insurance should cover you the same wherever you lay your head, you might need extra car insurance coverage to protect against car damage or theft of personal property.

Frequently asked questions about sleeping in your car

Written by

Sarah George

Sarah George is Staff Writer for Small Business Loans at BankRate and formally a personal finance writer at Finder focusing on all things banking and insurance. Her know-how has been featured in such publications as CBS, CNET and, and she was a panelist in Finder’s 2020 money-saving webinar. Sarah earned an English education degree and is a Certified Educator in Personal Finance. See full profile

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