Camping at the Car Dealer – Be Careful!

Anyone who has read about vandwelling or vancamping has likely viewed tips about camping at car dealers.  I tried it… It’s pretty quiet but I made a mistake that scared me a little.

The trekker van had a leaking tailshaft seal so it had to go in for an hour’s worth of work.  I scheduled an appointment for Monday morning at a dealer in a different city (where they had already worked on a transmission issue).  I had recently had the front hubs replaced (under warranty) at a local dealer. 
This gave me a chance to check out two Chevy dealers for their “campability”…

At both dealers I scouted out safe places to camp.  At the local dealer, there is an area that is fenced in but unlocked (no gate) where it is fairly dark and secluded.  The neighborhood is safe.  In fact, if you park right, you can just open up the van door and pee at will.  All of the vehicles in this lot have plates and are ready to be worked on.  It should be easy to blend in.  My advice would be to camp there only if you plan to get your vehicle serviced in the morning.  Otherwise, leave at the crack of dawn.  In terms of safety, I would give it a 9 out of 10.

At the dealer in a neighboring city (where my old Chevy dealer is located) it is a different story.  After remodeling, the place is HUGE and lit up like Las Vegas.  It was hard to find a dark parking spot and the darkest spots that were open had numbers assigned to them.  That worried me because someone might have a list of license plates.    It also meant I was not parking between vehicles… In fact there were no cars in that row.  As I tried to sleep, what I presumed was a security vehicle circled the lot, stopping near my vehicle.  I could hear the car or truck idle for a minute or two.  I went into “possum mode” and turned off the fan in the Fantastic vent while leaving the cover open.  I could see the reflection of tail lights bouncing off the plastic cover.  Eventually they left.  Thankfully nobody had knocked.

I got out of there and camped at Wal-Mart for the rest of the night.  Predictably, there were no disruptions.

So what was learned while trying to camp at the Chevy dealer?

1)  You MUST fit in at ANY new urban location.

2)  Large, brightly lit and shiny new buildings could mean security vehicles.  Be extra stealthy.

3)  Trust your instincts and get the f-word out of an area if there is any worry.  Go into possum mode and stay quiet and silent if a threat is detected.
4)  Don’t restrict your dealer camping to just one brand of car/truck.  Next time I might try a competing brand dealer or medium sized car repair shop where there are likely to be cars with license plates and perhaps fewer parking lot lights.  Smaller dealers or shops are unlikely to have security cars.  The nice thing about car dealers is that most have quite a variety of cars, not just Chevys, Toyotas, or Fords.

Please make a comment if you have camped on a car lot.  I would love to hear about your experiences.  Many offer free wi-fi and perhaps a quick breakfast if you can pull it off… Be careful though.  Trust your instincts.  I didn’t use my head and it scared the sh** out of me!   🙂

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About VanTrekker

I am a former vandweller in Eastern Iowa who, for several years (off and on), lived in a 2007 Chevy cargo van. I still travel around Iowa with my tortoise shell cat, Jennifer Stefanie. Our favorite place to explore is the Country Heritage Community, the four far northeastern counties of Iowa (Clayton, Winneshiek, Allamakee, and Fayette). Ride along as we fish in pristine trout streams, enjoy fine home cooked camping meals, and meet new people. It's all possible on a shoestring budget. Happy travels always! --- Brad, the "Van Trekker"

4 Responses to Camping at the Car Dealer – Be Careful!

  1. Ash says:

    I hate that feeling when you’re lying there, hoping no one knocks, fingers crossed. This is just before you realize you’re not breathing and hope inhaling doesn’t tip anyone off.

    I haven’t tried a car lot but I was in a mall parking lot where they had security. The guy walked around my car with a flashlight and finally left. Possum!

    The Tuckerbag

  2. Bradford says:

    Thanks for the posting. That would be scary! All it takes is one close call to make a person jumpy. Glad it turned out okay for you. The mall parking thing scares me.

    I’ve given thought to mall camping during the day… It would be interesting to stay up at night and camp during the day in a shopping mall. Nobody thinks to look for people sleeping in broad daylight.

  3. Pat says:

    I like your blog. I’ve been working my way from the beginning. I don’t have a van yet, but I was in a strip mall lot the other day looking at Enterprise Rent A Car storefront. They had several rentals parked overnite in front. If your van looks new enough, it could pass for one of the rentals. Or look for a plumbing or ac company with a fleet of vans.

  4. I am too afraid to park in a public lot. I prefer to sleep in quiet, upscale neighborhoods. I just have to be very, very stealthy.