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Subaru station wagon | Toyota Sienna | Car as Bedroom

Car as Bedroom


(THUMBNAIL IMAGES ARE BELOW THE TEXT)

BACKGROUND:
On road trips I like to sleep in my car whenever possible. This saves me money, gives me flexibility in choosing a place to sleep, and avoids the inconvenience of using a tent. The thought of regularly spending money on a bed for ten hours rubs me the wrong way, though an occasional motel or hostel stay is desirable.

What about tents? I would rather not deal with a tent at all because of all the work involved: one must unpack the tent, set it up, put things in it for the night, get in it, and repeat that process in reverse the next morning. Rain converts this mildly annoying effort into a greatly annoying one---packing up a wet tent is not a pretty sight. Sleeping in a car eliminates these hassles.

SLEEPING SYSTEM #1
My first system for sleeping in a car was simply lying on the floor of my Subaru GL wagon (a predecessor of the Loyale and Outback). I started doing this in the 1980s at trailheads and campgrounds. With the back seat folded down, there was barely enough room to lie down diagonally. There were three shortcomings with this system. First, I had to move a lot of my gear around to make room for lying on the floor, and that was a monumental hassle. This was long before I had a roof-mounted cargo box. Second, part of the floor at the rear of the car was uncomfortable to lie on because under the carpeting was a corrugated aluminum panel. Placing a sheet of cardboard atop the corrugated panel helped a little. And third, the folded-down seat was not flush with the rest of the floor (it tilted upward slightly). These problems finally motivated me to make some drastic changes

SLEEPING SYSTEM #2
After beginning road trips to Utah I decided it was time to improve the way I slept in my car. Thus in mid-2005 I created a much-improved system consisting of a carpeted plywood floor in the Subaru. It solved all the problems of the original system. After removing the front passenger seat and the rear bench seat, I filled all the space in the car (less driverís seat and center console) with a level, flat plywood floor covered with indoor-outdoor carpeting. (Removing the back seat and the front passenger seat was easy and the-light-weight seats were easily carried into the garage.)

The corrugated panel was no longer felt, the not-quite-flat rear seat was gone, and the extra room meant that I had to move less gear to make room for lying down. The increased space allowed me to lie parallel to the car's long axis, which was more convenient that lying diagonally. Apart from the design, I realized that moving things out of the way got easier after I realized that I could store some tote boxes on the hood of the car at night (a tarp kept them dry). This system lasted only two years because I sold the station wagon and bought a mini-van.

SLEEPING SYSTEM #3
The third system was born in 2007 when I bought a Toyota Sienna mini-van. Modifying the mini-van, like modifying the station wagon, involved removing seats and building a custom plywood floor. I removed the second-row seats and third-row seats, creating a large space behind the front seats. But it wasnít easy! The Siennaís seats were difficult to disengage from the car and they were heavy (about 55 pounds [25 kg] each). Moving those beasts into the house required a hand truck. But there were problems with the floor: 1) There was a large depression at the back (a space for holding folded-down back-row seats); 2) The floor was not level (it sloped down toward the front); 3) The floor was not flat (there was a weird dip right behind the front seats); 4) Some of the metal seat anchors protruded above floor level. The custom floor solved the problems of the depression, the dip, and the anchors, but in my rush to build it I did not make it level. In other words, it still sloped downward toward the front. Thus during trips I tried to park in places where there was a slight gradient to compensate for the sloping floor.

Complicating the matter was my decision to buy a full-size tire to act as a spare. I did not want to depend on the ridiculous reduced-size spare that came with the car. But the full-size spare was too big to store in the seat well at the back, so it had to go in the cabin with all my gear. I attached a piece of plywood to it so the thing could act as a shelf for other gear. Problem solved. Two years later I improved on this design by getting rid of the tire shelf and storing the spare in the seat well---once I figured out that it would fit there if deflated. I bought an air compressor to inflate it in the field.

I take too much equipment with me on road trips, so even with the increased space of the Sienna I still had to move stuff around to create a room to sleep. Several tote boxes and other containers filled the space. And I could not store gear on the hood because it sloped too steeply. This led to a new system.

SLEEPING SYSTEM #4
My fourth system, created in 2009, was born out of the desire to make the floor level and make better use of the space in the car. There followed a major reworking of the floor to make it level. In previous systems, my gear containers had to be moved out of the way to make room for sleeping. I figured car-camping would be easier if I did not have to do so much moving of gear, and from that notion came the idea of using my Rubbermaid Roughtote storage boxes as a surface for sleeping. A headroom test confirmed that when lying on the totes I had just enough room to sit up. Excellent! The boxes were not flat on top so I cut four pieces of plywood to lay atop the boxes, providing a flush sleeping surface. It seemed good on paper, but was more trouble to use than the previous system. The pieces of plywood had to be stored out of the way during the day so I could get stuff out of the boxes. Storing and installing them was very inconvenient. Thus led to my current system.

SLEEPING SYSTEM #5
For my fifth and current system---created in 2010---I found a way to get the benefit of sleeping atop containers without having to move pieces of plywood around. The plastic tote boxes were replaced with a set of ten plywood boxes of varying sizes and having detachable lids. The plywood-handling nightmare of the previous system is gone---the lids are small enough to be easily handled and donít have to be stored out of the way. As with the previous system I had to cover the plywood with a rug to protect my air mattress from splinters.

The boxes are nine inches (23 cm) tall with lids installed. When placed in the car, they occupy a space 30 inches (0.9 m) wide and 84 inches (2.4 m) long. They were assembled with butt joints and wood screws: I figured they did not have to be bombproof because they just sit in place during a trip. Nylon cord acts as carrying handles and lid handles, causing no discomfort while lying atop them. The thin handles also allow the boxes to be pushed close together to make a smooth surface. Later I covered the lids with indoor-outdoor carpeting to eliminate the need for the rug that protected my air mattress from splinters. And I painted the boxes gray to match the Sienna's interior.

CONCLUSION
I am a happy (car) camper.

BED SYSTEM 1: Seat backs folded down for diagonal sleeping in Subaru GL wagon (004)
BED SYSTEM 1: Seat backs folded down for diagonal sleeping in Subaru GL wagon (004)
BED SYSTEM 2: Carpeted plywood floor in Subaru (3148)
BED SYSTEM 2: Carpeted plywood floor in Subaru (3148)
BED SYSTEM 2: Front end of carpeted plywood floor (2395)
BED SYSTEM 2: Front end of carpeted plywood floor (2395)
BED SYSTEM 2: Head of the bed (4295)
BED SYSTEM 2: Head of the bed (4295)
BED SYSTEM 2: Reading lamp (6553)
BED SYSTEM 2: Reading lamp (6553)
BED SYSTEM 2: Crowded area (4494)
BED SYSTEM 2: Crowded area (4494)
BED SYSTEM 2: Less-crowded area (4286)
BED SYSTEM 2: Less-crowded area (4286)
BED SYSTEM 2: Stuff on the hood... 20061010_0139
BED SYSTEM 2: Stuff on the hood... 20061010_0139
BED SYSTEM 2: Breakfast in bed space (2848)
BED SYSTEM 2: Breakfast in bed space (2848)
BED SYSTEM 2: Putting the bed away (6605)
BED SYSTEM 2: Putting the bed away (6605)
BED SYSTEM 2 : Storage of sleeping bag (4299)
BED SYSTEM 2 : Storage of sleeping bag (4299)
BED SYSTEM 3: Carpeted plywood floor in Toyota Sienna (7936)
BED SYSTEM 3: Carpeted plywood floor in Toyota Sienna (7936)
BED SYSTEM 3: Pillow and spare tire (9470)
BED SYSTEM 3: Pillow and spare tire (9470)
BED SYSTEM 3: Plenty of room (6702)
BED SYSTEM 3: Plenty of room (6702)
BED SYSTEM 4: Plywood in the morning (4458)
BED SYSTEM 4: Plywood in the morning (4458)
BED SYSTEM 4: Tote boxes supporting the bed (6823)
BED SYSTEM 4: Tote boxes supporting the bed (6823)
BED SYSTEM 4: Bed has been put away (4471)
BED SYSTEM 4: Bed has been put away (4471)
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood boxes acting as a bed surface (0657)
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood boxes acting as a bed surface (0657)
BED SYSTEM 5: Head end of plywood boxes... 20100826_0668
BED SYSTEM 5: Head end of plywood boxes... 20100826_0668
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood box by sliding door (0663))
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood box by sliding door (0663))
BED SYSTEM 5: Lid details... 20100826_0675
BED SYSTEM 5: Lid details... 20100826_0675
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood boxes are carpeted (9041)
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood boxes are carpeted (9041)
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood boxes are easily moved (3432)
BED SYSTEM 5: Plywood boxes are easily moved (3432)
BED SYSTEM 5: Air mattress ready to be stored (0504)
BED SYSTEM 5: Air mattress ready to be stored (0504)
BED SYSTEM 5: Storing the bed (0509)
BED SYSTEM 5: Storing the bed (0509)
BED SYSTEM 5: View from bed... 20111020_3612
BED SYSTEM 5: View from bed... 20111020_3612
BED SYSTEM 5: Folding curtains (2125)
BED SYSTEM 5: Folding curtains (2125)
BED SYSTEM 5: Curtains stored in shelf (1730)
BED SYSTEM 5: Curtains stored in shelf (1730)
BED SYSTEM 5: Painted equipment boxes (1734)
BED SYSTEM 5: Painted equipment boxes (1734)