Sleeping in a Tesla

Air-conditioning and roomy back make the Model Y an ideal car to sleep in. It’s great for camp grounds, boondocking (dispersed, dry camping on public land), and even urban stealth camping. It has the size of a 2 people backpacking tent. You can pull over at a rest area and sleep a few hours in comfort. I have slept in the driveway of friend.

View out of the back of a Tesla on the Pacific
View out of the back of a Tesla on the Pacific

Tesla’s camp mode will keep you comfortable all night. It will keep the temperature and humidity steady, which prevents the fogged up windows you get in other cars when spending the night with closed windows. There is also no risk of CO poisoning. And there is no risk of running down the 12V battery.

Making Your Bed

You can just fold down the rear seats and make a nest with whatever soft materials you have in the car. The next level up in comfort is any old/cheap mattress. My first night was spent on an old futon we had sitting in a trundle bed. The thinner and lighter your mattress is, the less space it will take in the trunk – or at home – when not in use. Space in the car is at a premium, but a good night of sleep is critical. I recommend using the thinnest mattress you sleep well on. For me, that’s a 1” latex topper.

A two people tent has a footprint of about 88”x52”, but the far edge is impacted by the slope of the tent. Your Tesla Model Y with seats down is 70” long. That is shorter than that two people tent but you can extend it if needed. The car does have more head room than a tent. The width varies from full size (54″) at the shoulders to twin (38″) at the legs. You have two main mattress options.

  • A twin mattress fits between the wheel wells, but will only be ~38” wide at the shoulders. That’s more than enough for a single person. If you are looking for a commercial product, e.g. the Dreamcase, a €600 solution, is a 35″ rectangle.
  • A full size mattress (54″ wide) will provide a wider shoulder area, ideal for two people. You can sleep in V formation and the bed feels like a full size.
    A thin mattress can just fold up at the wheel well, but you will have to cut a thicker one to shape (or purchase one that is pre-cut). Also, thick mattresses don’t roll well, so you need one with tri-folds.

The most comfortable solution is a cheap foam or latex mattress of your preferred firmness cut to shape.

The rear of the rear seats will slop up a little bit, which can be a problem for stomach sleepers. You can reduce the slope by removing the rear seat bench. It will make the car noisier, though.

I chose a different path and built a bed frame that gives me a flat, and slightly longer bed than just the seats folded down, and some extra storage under it. It’s also more stable, and the floor boards are supported across, a concern with 300lbs of passengers on top.

Charged for Camping

When you stop at an electric camp site and plug in the car to an RV-50/NEMA 14-50 socket (Mobile Connector and $45 NEMA 14-50 adapter required), your battery will be at 100% the next morning, ready for the road. Any camping site with

When I cannot plug in, I (conservatively) reserve 15% for a full night of camp mode. Camp mode will stop when the battery drops to 20%. This means I plan to arrive with 35% for a single night, and I have to make it back to a charging location with 20%. If I leave with a full battery, I can use about 40% to drive there, 15% for the night, and 40% back, for a reach of about 100 miles (without charging on the way). Temperature makes a big difference. A balmy 60F-70F is ideal, hot days may require AC, and cold nights will require heating. I spent nights below freezing (28-32F) and the car still used less than 15% of the battery.

Finding Spots for the Night

The obvious spots are campgrounds. They are designed for spending a night, have convenient (mostly) decent bathrooms and sometimes showers and laundry, are (mostly) safe and you have your dedicated space where you are left alone. If you want to plug in, look for “electric” sites. Don’t limit yourself to National or state parks. County and even city parks are often in prime locations. A special case are RV parks which will always have electric, but typically have less nature, and you may pay extra for services you don’t need, like water and sewage hook-ups. On the positive side in an RV park nobody will be bothered if you heat pump works in full force in a cold night.

Tesla at Sunset in Rancho Jurupa, Riverside, CA
Getting ready for the night in Rancho Jurupa, Riverside CA.
This beautiful campground is in the middle of the Los Angeles areas.

Another category of night spots are public areas where you can spend the night for free. This includes rest areas that often allow you to stay for eight hours, but you have to check local regulations and also make sure they are actually open. Google Maps is pretty good about closed rest areas and comments about sleeping in your car. Casino and Walmart parking lots are also popular. You need to ask for permission. All of the above provide bathrooms. It turns out you can sleep in your car at the base of some ski resorts.

Often all you have is a single parking space for the night, and because they are free, they may be popular with the local car dwelling population. Law enforcement may also knock at your window, especially when they disagree on whether you are allowed to park and sleep at a given location.

Tesla in front of Kelso Dunes
Getting ready for the night in front of the Kelso Dunes in Mojave National Park

Boondocking sites can be very helpful to find more exotic places. You basically drive a few miles on a dirt road into some publicly owned land, and spend the night there. You obviously won’t have a place to plug in, but there may be a pit toilet.

Urban stealth camping is the least convenient alternative. Just pull up anywhere you can legally park, and crawl into the back. Your windows won’t fog up in camp mode, so it won’t be obvious that you are sleeping in the car. On the other hand, the Tesla makes some noises all night, which may attract people. In popular places, someone may shine a flashlight into your car at 2am and ticket you. You probably will have to leave after that, too. As of bathrooms, you have to do that some other place, before you pull up for the night.

Everything has its Place

25 years ago I bought a used cooler, and it’s still going strong. It fits almost perfectly into the trunk well. The minor problem is that my stove doesn’t fit on top. The stove does fit flat in the rear footwell, so that’s it’s home for now. I am considering purchasing a 12V operated model that’s a bit less tall, so cooler and stove both fit in the sub trunk.

What I call the “kitchen” – everything that I need at camp – is limited to one box that fits in the trunk. It leaves enough room for the mobile adapter, and occasionally fragrant take away food.

In addition, there is a carry-on allowance of one soft duffel bag per person. That bag rests on the bed while we drive, and moves to the front seat when we sleep.

I like to travel light, so everything else must fit into the rear foot well. Extra shoes, kits, camping chairs, etc. When we go to sleep, we typically have an empty camp site other than the car. If we drive in the morning we move two duffel bags to the back, unplug, store the cable, and are on our way.

You could allow more cargo on top of the bed, but you must find a place for it at night. I guess you could pitch a tent and store stuff in there for the night.

Getting In and Out

At the beginning, I used the trunk door. It’s a lot more convenient, but it makes more noise and disturbance if another person is still asleep. Shoes go into the side wells in the trunk and you need your phone handy to get out. 

Lately, I started using the side door instead. It takes a bit more dexterity, but overall it’s less intrusive. I get out of my shoes, get into the car, then reach for the shoes with my arm and move the shoes to the rear footwell.

Shading the Windows

Shades do provide two benefits: darkness and privacy. Covering my eyes with blinds works well enough for me, and blocks out interior lights, too, e.g. the screen. On one occasion a big RV had extremely bright exterior lights that turned on at 9pm. I just moved the Tesla a few feet and put a tree between us. Problem solved. 

I don’t do much more in the car than sleeping (lights off) or reading/playing on a phone. The factory tint in the back is dark enough that people can’t see in, unless I have lights on and they walk up to the car. In a pitch dark location they can tell someone is using a cell phone on the inside, but that’s about it. The windshield is a bit more transparent, but the front row seats block it pretty well, and often I can point it away from people, or again, just ignore it.

Shades may come handy in high foot traffic areas where it’s legal to sleep in your car (e.g. highway rest areas). But when doing urban stealth camping, the shades will just make your car stand out.

I never used these, but Tesmat screens seem to be working well and are small to store.

Last Updated on May 9, 2022.