Can You Leave Your Car Running While Sleeping in It? (2023)

Have you ever been in a situation where you want to sleep but have no place to go? In some instances, you may find that your car may be your only option. However, if you have never had to sleep in your car, you may be concerned about the car safety aspect of it. You might also be questioning whether or not you are violating any laws. Brace yourself as we explore the ins and outs of sleeping in your car in the following discussion.

Can I leave my car running while I sleep in it?

Can You Leave Your Car Running While Sleeping in It? (1)

No! Do not do it. According to the Road Trip Expert, safety should be your number one priority if you decide to sleep in your car. If you take a nap in your car with all the windows closed and the AC running, there is an increased risk that the same air will be recycled inside the vehicle, and fumes from the engine will make their way into the car through the cabin.

The risk of carbon monoxide poisoning

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As The ASEAN Post highlights,a vast majority of people who die in their cars die from carbon monoxide poisoning. Carbon monoxide (CO) is the main constituent of exhaust fumes. This risk is higher in older vehicles because their mechanical systems do not comply with the required standards. Therefore, there’s a more significant potential with older models to have exhaust pipe leakage.

When there is a high concentration of CO in your vehicle, you are dancing with death without knowing as you inhale a colorless and odorless poisonous gas. The level of CO can also increase if your AC is faulty, increasing your chances of death when you are asleep.

Carbon monoxide becomes lethal as it inhibits the capacity of the blood to carry oxygen to the rest of the body. When the level of CO in the blood rises beyond 70 parts per million (ppm), an individual experiences headache, nausea, and general fatigue. When the level increases to 150 and 200 ppm, a person loses consciousness, leading to death.

How to keep your car cool

The Road Trip Expert highlights some ways to keep cool while sleeping in your car. The most efficient way to cool your vehicle without turning on the air conditioner is to keep all the doors and windows wide open. A high-powered portable fan will serve the purpose. You can also reduce heat by parking your car in the shade or using a windshield sunshade.

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You can further cool down in the car by using frozen water bottles as ice packs. Furthermore, you may consider investing in tinted windows to prevent UV rays from getting into the car.

How to keep your car warmer

An article on Family Handyman suggests that you should invest in portable heaters. Catalytic heaters are most preferred because they do not produce a lot of carbon monoxide gas. It is important to note that these should not be used when you are sleeping. You may use the heater to warm your car, but remember to unplug it when you are about to sleep. An electric blanket can also be used to warm up your sleeping area before you sleep. Charge the blanket and unplug it before you go to sleep.

The best places to park if sleeping in your car

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Walmart parking lots are some of the best places to sleep if you plan to sleep in your car. They provide overnight parking and are well-lit, thus increasing your safety. Given that some stores remain open 24 hours, you will also have access to restrooms at any time.

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Casinos are also safe because, in addition to operating 24 hours, they have good security and cameras all around just in case something goes wrong.

If you are on a highway, rest stops are the safest places to sleep. Many have restrooms that operate 24 hours. Additionally, it is legal to sleep in rest areas in many states, meaning no one can ask you to vacate in the middle of the night.

The bottom line

Is it legal to sleep in your car? Well, it depends.Dubslabs highlights that different states have different regulations. Although sleeping by itself is not considered an offense, it all depends on where, when, and how you are going about it.

While it is great to familiarize yourself with your state’s rules, do not assume they apply to all other states. Most importantly, if you must sleep in your car, remember to turn your vehicle off for the above-mentioned safety reasons.

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Is it safe to sleep in a running car overnight? ›

Turn Off Your Car — Never leave your car running overnight. Keeping the engine running can lead to dangerous carbon monoxide poisoning. Make a Bed in the Back Seat — If you can, fold down the rear seats of your car to create room for your bed. If you can't, sleep on the back seats.

Can I leave my car idling overnight? ›

Modern engines do not have problem idling for prolonged time, but there is a danger from a “tailwind” that could bring exhaust fumes to the cabin air intake or to an open window, so you risk gas poisoning. You can, but you're gonna waste a lot of gas.

How long can I leave my car running while parked? ›

How Long Can You Let Your Car Idle? Idling your car for 30 seconds to a minute is acceptable, and it will not cause any harm to your vehicle. With advanced technology, even if you let your car idle for a slight longer duration, it will not damage it.

Is it OK to leave car running with AC on? ›

As long as the engine is running and you aren't running low on fuel, you can keep your car idling with the AC on for as long as you'd like. However, you will want to avoid doing this with the engine off, as this will use up almost all of your battery power in a short time, leaving you in need of a jumpstart.

Is it OK to run car AC while parked? ›

Will turning the AC on while parking harm my car even if I put it on a high level? No, not as long as your cooling fans are working. Cars are made to run all day long with the AC on. If they have the cooling fan working, sucking air over the radiator into the AC condenser.

Does it hurt a car to idle for hours? ›

Over time, idling can cause your head gasket, spark plugs, or cylinder rings to deteriorate and stop working. Drains car battery. Idling does not allow your battery to charge and causes it to strain.

Is it OK to leave your car running for 2 hours? ›

But this is also why you should make sure your car isn't idling so you know your garage or home won't be filled with carbon monoxide when you wake up. It is most likely safe to leave your car running overnight. In a perfect world, modern engines with full tanks of gas can run for many hours without concern.

Can I leave my car running for 2 hours? ›

When an engine is idling, it's being lubricated the same way it would if you were driving. There's nothing wrong with letting a vehicle idle as long as it's in park/neutral. It's no different than driving 2 hours, other than there's less moving parts to wear out.

How long can a car idle before battery dies? ›

Typically, your car can sit about four weeks to two months without driving before the battery dies. The reason your car can sit only for so long before it dies is the fact that your car battery is in use even when you're not behind the wheel.

What happens if you leave your car running for 5 hours? ›

Your engine may also overheat if you leave your car idling for too long. However, this particular error often occurs because of mechanical malfunctions. If your engine overheats, get your cooling system or fan belt checked by a certified mechanic. Your car may run out of gas.

How can I sleep in my car without AC? ›

A fan near a window that is slightly open will pull in cool air from the outside and circulate it through the vehicle. If you have windows cracked open on both sides this can allow hot air to escape and cooler air to enter.

Can I sleep with the car on and AC on outside? ›

No, as the gas carbon monoxide may cause you to suffocate. This can occur when you sleep in your car, and the car engine remains on with the AC system in full play.

How long can you leave a car running? ›

How long can you leave your car running before it causes damage? The EPA recommends that you never let the engine idle for more than 30 seconds. Realistically, 30 seconds isn't long enough to cause damage—but repeated long idles can cause damage. Running the engine for a few hours to a day can cause overheating.

Does running the AC while parked burn gas? ›

Yes: The alternator, which is powered by the engine, is what provides energy to the air conditioner. The engine runs on fuel, meaning you are using up gas when you run the AC.

Can I leave my car running for 8 hours? ›

As long as the engine's cooling system is working normally, a modern car can run for days and days -- until it runs out of gas -- without causing itself any harm.

How much gas does idling with AC use? ›

Idling uses up to ½ gallon of fuel per hour (although it varies depending on the type and size of the engine). It may not seem like much, but idling for a few minutes everyday can cost you several dollars per week. MYTH: Engines need to warm up by idling, especially in cold weather.

Why do truckers idle all night? ›

The most common reason to leave a truck idling, is severe weather. Both extreme cold and extreme hot weather, can present conditions where the driver may find it necessary to idle the truck, in order to be comfortable.

How long can a car idle before overheating? ›

This can occur when a car is stopped at a light or stuck in rush hour traffic for an extended period. The engine may overheat if it remains idle for more than 10-15 minutes, particularly on hot days or if the air conditioning is running.

How long can you leave a car running before the battery dies? ›

When the battery dies, the best solution is to jump-start, opt for slow recharging or replace it. This will offer you peace of mind and surety. A car battery can last 3-4 weeks maximum when left idle before it dies. So, it's essential to start the car at least once a week to keep its charge.


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