There is a trend for those that want to live a more nomadic lifestyle to pack everything up and hit the road in a van – and it’s perfectly legal to live in your car if that’s what you want to do.

    • In most jurisdictions it is legal to sleep or live in a car
    • Local councils can enforce parking laws and fines
    • Be mindful of local residents

    Other people might have found themselves in a situation where they are houseless, or they consider their home to be their car. And that’s not illegal, either.

    And then there’s the fatigue-beating snooze on the side of the road, which is encouraged if the alternative is falling asleep at the wheel. Plus some jurisdictions suggest you could nap in your car if you’ve been at the bar, rather than drink-driving. Seems smart, right?

    The fact is – it is legal to sleep or even live in your car, whether by choice or by circumstance. But there are some things you should consider if you are in this situation. 

    In Queensland, the rules are pretty black-and-white about what is considered camping – living or sleeping in a vehicle is technically camping, so if you plan to partake in that, you need to do so in a designated camping area. Queensland is arguably the strictest Australian state for this interpretation.

    And while it isn’t illegal to camp in your car in the Northern Territory, some resources state that it is “frowned upon” to do so in any area that isn’t designated for camping. There are great resources on the Northern Territory government website that tell you where you can camp, and whether you’ll need a 4WD to get to the spot or not.

    In New South Wales there is no law against sleeping or living out of your car, though it is important to make sure you are parked where it is legal to do so.

    There are many locations around NSW that have signage stating “No Camping Allowed”, and while you could argue that you’re not camping if there’s no tent or campfire, it is best to simply abide by any such signage.

    However, keep in mind that there are also some councils that regulate so-called “illegal car park camping” – trendy areas on the NSW northern coast have a no-tolerance attitude towards camping in car parks, because if it were legal, everyone would do it and the local amenities would be overwhelmed. 

    If you’re considering sleeping or living in a vehicle in Sydney, be mindful of parking inspectors and signage for parking limits. The fines could be more expensive than a night at the local hostel.

    The state of Victoria does not have any law that says it is illegal to sleep or live in a vehicle, but like NSW, there are councils that may have specific laws regarding the regulation of it.

    It’s another case of “park at your own risk”, but if you check with the local council to make sure you’re not going to be moved on or fined, then you should be fine.

    Most other states are the same, in that you need to check with council authorities and make sure you abide by the street signs. If you can’t figure out what’s legal and what might get you in trouble, you could always head to the local police station and ask for advice.

    One other thing to note is that if you do sleep in your car with the air-conditioning on, it’s best to make sure the system has no leaks. There has been numerous reported cases of lethal carbon monoxide poisoning of those who have slept in their vehicle with the A/C on.

    Not intended as legal advice. Check with the relevant roads authority in your state or territory.

    Matt Campbell
    Matt Campbell is a Senior Contributor at CarExpert.
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