How “livable” is your vehicle?

Your car is a nice place to visit, but you wouldn’t want to live there, right? Well, what if you had to live in that vehicle for several days? At least it would provide shelter. And preparing in advance for that possible eventuality could go a long way toward making the experience much more practical and enjoyable. As with anything else, knowing what to do in advance will make the challenges more manageable.

If your vehicle were the only shelter you had for several days or possibly even a week, could you handle it?

In my previous post, we looked at where to park and sleeping arrangements. Today we’ll examine issues of hygiene, food and cooking, tips and tricks, and must-have gear.


Good hygiene is important for health and morale, and you can continue to have good habits in this area even if you’re confined to your car for a while. Baby wipes offer a surprisingly effective and convenient way to tidy up, but nothing beats a hot shower.

A gym may offer a single-day trial membership and the chance to exercise before showering. Municipal recreation centers and campgrounds may let you use their facilities for a small fee.


Cooking inside a vehicle is a serious fire and ventilation risk. If you choose to include a small cook stove or barbecue grill in your car survival gear, only use it outdoors when you are in a campsite setting.

In an urban situation, food in cans or pull top containers is a better choice. Canned beans, pasta and tuna are good, as are plastic cups of applesauce and fruit. Protein bars are convenient and store well. Peanut butter and jelly are your new best friends.

Water is crucial to any survival situation. Reload what you previously stored in your vehicle from building taps or water dispensers in stores. Consider a multi-gallon container for the car and siphon off what you need to fill smaller, lighter bottles.

Grocery stores have cooked food sections. Nothing delivers an uplifting “real food” feel like a few pieces of chicken and potatoes.

A watertight cooler is indispensable. It works most efficiently when full, so add bottles of cold water to fill space as you remove food.

Tips and Tricks

Dishwashing soap is good for washing hands, body and hair, and can be used for shaving. It stores better than bar soap.

Store dirty clothes separately in plastic bags or boxes to control odors and protect your clean clothes. Hang damp clothes outside to dry completely before storing them in the vehicle.

Every car needs a good flashlight. Choose a three- or four-battery model that will deliver plenty of light and enough heft to defend yourself in a bad situation.

When away from the vehicle, leave a window slightly cracked and scatter dryer sheets inside to leave a pleasant scent.

Consider earplugs to reduce background noise for better sleeping.

At night, keep a window cracked far enough for ventilation, but not enough for an intruder to reach through. Bug spray on the glass will keep mosquitoes away.

Good and Must-Have Gear

Drinking water. Stay hydrated. Keep at least a gallon of water on the floor under a towel.

Pain medicine. Odd sleeping positions may lead to muscle aches and pains.

Car fan. Available for a few dollars at auto stores, a small fan can deliver comfort overnight without draining the vehicle battery.

Power Inverter. Plugs into cigarette lighter to charge phones, laptops and other devices. Best used when driving to put less strain on the battery. 

Sleeping bag. Better than blankets if you have the storage space in your vehicle.

Jumper cables. It’s easier to find a Good Samaritan willing to give you a jump than it is to find one who is willing AND has jumper cables.

Vitamins. Your new, though temporary, living conditions are putting added stress on your body. Give your immune system a boost.

Running shoes. For the ladies, cute heels won’t cut it. Have a pair of sneakers or flats on hand.

Towels. Microfiber towels take up less space and are more absorbent than traditional terry cloth. 

Blankets. Fleece is inexpensive and comfortable. In winter, have one for each person who typically travels in the car.

Interlocking play floor tiles. Line the trunk with these colorful, padded tiles. Then use them for an extra layer of cushioning in the vehicle or on the ground if sleeping outdoors.

Cash. At least $50 in small denominations and coins in the event credit card systems are down.

The checklist. You may not have room for everything on the list, but you can choose wisely to get by for a few days.


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