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How to Live in Your Car

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If you ever have to bug out from your home during a major disaster, your car is one of the safest places you can be.

And while living in your car may not be as nice or comfortable as living in a house, it can be done. There are three specific scenarios where you may have to live out of your car:

  1. If you are ordered to evacuate your area by the authorities during a disaster,
  2. If you choose to bug out during a dangerous disaster,
  3. You decide to live out of your car part-time or full-time instead of a house or apartment

woman forced to live in her car

This is why knowing how to live out of your car is important. This guide covers why a car is a great shelter option, how to live in your vehicle during a major disaster, and a list of the most essential items to pack.

Why Your Car Is a Great Shelter Option for SHTF

A car is not as ideal as a house for shelter, but it is more ideal than outside exposure to the elements. Here are four reasons why:


One of the most obvious advantages of a car is its mobility. You can easily get from Point A to Point B (barring roads becoming blocked off). You can also do so faster than on foot.


A car inherently provides superior immediate shelter from the elements (rain, snow, wind, flying debris from wind storms, etc.) than a shelter you could build on your own.

In fact, if you can keep the car gassed up, you could have a consistent source of heat and air conditioning. This is critical in the event of an extreme weather situation.


You can always carry more in a car versus bugging out on foot. You should plan on bugging out via a vehicle for this reason alone.

Somewhere to Sleep

Finally, a car provides you with somewhere to sleep without having to take the time to build a shelter. Appropriate places to pull over to sleep include:

  • Camping grounds
  • Church parking lots
  • University parking lots
  • Hospital parking lots
  • Grocery store parking lots (such as Wal-Mart)

How to Live in Your Car

Keep the following considerations in mind when living in your car:

Security Precautions

Security must be your first and biggest priority when living out of your car. There are many steps you can take to improve your safety as much as possible, including:

  • Use a car steering wheel lock
  • Install a carbon monoxide detector in the car
  • Invest in a tire clamp that can wrap around your wheel; make sure it’s adjustable for different wheel sizes.
  • Have a personal alarm installed that will go off if your car door is opened from the outside while you are asleep
  • Have defensive weapons readily available, including pepper spray or a taser
  • Learn how to EMP proof your car

Personal Hygiene

One of the downsides to living out of a car is not having access to the personal hygiene amenities of a house. Nonetheless, there are options for keeping clean, including:

  • Buy a gym membership to take showers
  • Take showers at truck stops
  • Stay at a hostel or hotel occasionally
  • Go to a campsite that offers showers
  • Bring a solar shower with you

Invest in a portable toilet as well. Rely on public restrooms as much as possible, but a portable toilet is a good backup option for emergencies.

Staying Warm in Winter

Vehicles can shield you well from the elements, but the insulation is rather poor (primarily due to the windows). Here are steps to keep yourself as warm as possible:

  • Wool blankets
  • Sleeping bag
  • Emergency bivvy
  • Hand and toe warmers

Staying Cool in Summer

An equal concern is remaining cool in your car during the summer, when it can actually become a major heat trap. Steps to cool down in your car during the summer include:

  • Invest in car shades, curtains, or covers to block the sun (and also offer privacy)
  • Park in the shade of trees or buildings
  • Invest in a portable fan to keep going in the vehicle while you sleep

Leisure Time

Some ideas to help pass the time while living out of your car (besides playing games or watching movies on your phone) include:

  • Go to a library or coworking space to work, read, or engage with the community
  • Bring a bicycle with your car
  • Exercise
  • Go fishing near
  • Go hiking

What to Eat and Drink

You don’t have to eat out for each meal when you live out of your car. Have a container with standard cooking equipment, including pots, pans, dutch ovens, plates, silverware, and portable propane-powered cooking stoves.

It’s also a good idea to have a cooler with you as well. Examples of food you can bring with you to prepare full meals include:

  • Ramen, pasta, and noodles
  • Canned meats, beans, and vegetables
  • Sandwich ingredients
  • Protein and energy bars
  • Rice


Chances are, you can’t store literally everything you have in your car, but you can probably bring much more than you may have thought. The most important thing to do when it comes to storage is to organize like a prepper.

Tips on how to do so include:

  • Have a laundry bag for dirty clothes
  • Water storage container
  • Food storage containers
  • Toolbox
  • briefcase or backpack for work-related devices and documents
  • Toiletry/personal hygiene case
  • Suitcases for your clothes

Take note that if you plan to live out of your car full time, you’ll likely need a storage unit to hold all of your items that you cannot bring with you.

Essential Packing List for Car Living

Strongly consider packing these items for car or van living (but feel free to add other items as well):

  • Sheets
  • Blankets
  • Sleeping bag
  • Pillow
  • Towel
  • Wet wipes
  • Personal hygiene kit
  • Cleaning spray (all-purpose)
  • Broom (handheld)
  • Complete first aid kit
  • Portable charger for phone and laptops
  • Carbon monoxide detector
  • Car jack
  • Fire extinguisher
  • Flares
  • AAA card
  • Reflective vest
  • Red flag
  • Change of clothes
  • Bug out bag or survival kit
  • Baby emergency kit
  • Any other possessions you want with you (think carefully about this)

To be certain you have covered all of your bases, be sure to read up on our Ultimate Car Survival Kit.

Ready to Live in Your Car?

As a final piece of advice, be sure to practice living in your car. A true SHTF bug-out scenario should never be the first time you live in your vehicle.

Put your car-living skills into good practice first, so you’re well prepared for when a true bug-out disaster occurs.

how to live in your car