12 Tips for Long-Term Living in Your Car

These 12 essential tips for living in your car can help you maintain your normal way of life while allowing you to acclimate to your new living situation.
Written by Liliana Pina
Reviewed by Carrie Adkins
Sometimes desperate financial times call for desperate measures. Though living out of your car isn’t an ideal situation, there are many ways to make it work until you can secure long-term housing.
Here are 12 essential tips for successfully living in your car and securing access to food, water, and other necessities while living unhoused.

How to live in your car

If you're struggling financially and have resorted to living in your car, there are countless simple and cost-effective methods you can utilize to ensure your physical needs are met without compromising your already limited funds. These tips for living in your car can help you maintain your normal way of life while allowing you to acclimate to your new living situation.

1. Choose comfort over style

While driving a sports car can make sense for some, those showy vehicles provide limited comfort as a living space. If you will be living out of your car for the foreseeable future, you should consider whether your car would make a practical place to eat and sleep each day. If not, you should think about
trading it in
for a larger, safer model to ensure maximum physical comfort during this transitive time.

2. Clean the space regularly

Remaining in the same small space for a long period of time allows for bacteria and bad odor build-up, so be sure to regularly air out your vehicle by opening the trunk and windows for more than 10 minutes at a time. Additionally, you should routinely wipe down the surfaces of your car (including seats) with your preferred disinfectant, especially
if you were recently sick
within the space, to ensure that it stays
clean and fresh-smelling

3. Divide and secure the space

Because your car is a small space where you will be spending a lot of time, you should take the time to divide the vehicle into activity areas (if possible) like you would your own home. For example, if you often relax and wind down in the back of your car, considering making the front space one for productive tasks. This better allows you to compartmentalize the space to adjust to your new circumstances.
Once you divide the space, be sure to find a secure place to store your belongings, especially expensive electronics such as phones and laptops. Though it will be a small investment, consider purchasing a portable safe or a lockbox at your local bank to keep your valuables safe at all times.

4. Locate several bathroom options

Though you may consider parking in new locations routinely when living out of your vehicle, it is essential that you locate a nearby bathroom you can use whenever you need it. Malls, coffee shops, and other public spaces often offer free bathroom service to all patrons, so take note of places with accessible bathrooms so you always have a place to go when you need to go. If your funds allow it, you should also consider purchasing a portable toilet to keep in your vehicle and use whenever you need it.

5. Visit your local laundromat

In order to keep your clothes clean and smelling fresh, you should utilize your local laundromat to wash them regularly. Doing this essential chore also allows you to have a small and often welcome reprieve from your vehicle, so take the opportunity to stretch those legs and stay presentable at all times.

6. Utilize free public WiFi

Though we often take it for granted, being tuned into the internet is one of the most important ways to stay connected in modern society. Finding free public WiFi is necessary for anyone living in their car, particularly those who must remain in constant contact with coworkers, friends, and family.
In larger cities, you’ll find free WiFi hotspots scattered across the area that anyone has access to. In smaller towns and suburbs, however, you may need to head to your local coffee shop to utilize their WiFi and charge your electronic devices. Colleges and universities often provide free WiFi on their campuses, so find your local institution of higher learning and locate public areas where you can take advantage of their internet connection.

7. Purchase a portable charger (or two)

Having the ability to use your electronic devices is an essential component to maintaining your way of life, so be sure to buy portable charges (and keep them handy!) to utilize your devices whenever you need them, without relying on an external power source.

8. Make sure you eat and drink regularly

Living in your car can cause you high amounts of stress which, in turn, can influence your appetite and directly impact your physical health. You should keep hearty fruits and vegetables (such as apples, carrots, oranges, and cabbage) in a portable cooler and other non-perishable goods in your car at all times so you can continue to fuel your body as it grapples with this new experience.

9. Rent a storage unit

Though this may not be financially feasible for everyone,
renting a storage unit
is a simple, cost-effective method to house your unused belongings that don’t fit in your car while you're living in it. Storage units are accessible to customers for large portions of the day, enabling you to access your goods whenever necessary, and often provide public bathrooms, too.

10. Get a monthly gym membership

Purchasing a gym membership provides you with access to a few essential services, including showers, shower materials, restrooms, exercise, and the opportunity for some old fashioned human interaction. If you can swing it financially, it just may be worth the investment.

11. Handle your mail

No matter how long you plan on living in your car, you must update your mailing address as soon as possible to ensure you continue receiving your correspondence. Consider using a loved one’s address or purchasing a P.O. box so that the proper channels can still reach you and relay any important information.

12. Find ways to feel secure

Everyone has their own vision of safety and comfort, so take whatever small or large steps you can to make your car as comfortable as a home. You may consider adding covers to your windows to block the sun, parking in an overnight light to remain safe and undisturbed while you sleep, and/or purchasing additional locks for your car to increase your comfort level and overall safety.
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