The Legality of Car Sleeping in South Carolina: What You Need to Know

Whether driven by economic hardship, a love of travel, or a desire for a minimalist lifestyle, sleeping in your car can be a viable option for some. While it might bring to mind images of long-term homelessness, there are many valid reasons to sleep in your car temporarily. However, before you park up and settle into the back seat in South Carolina, it’s essential to understand the regulations and restrictions surrounding this practice.

South Carolina State Law

It’s important to be aware that South Carolina has a state law that can indirectly affect the legality of sleeping in your car. South Carolina Code Section 58-23-1350 states:

“Vehicles shall not be used for sleeping or certain other purposes.”

While this law is primarily intended for commercial vehicles like taxicabs, it can be interpreted to include private cars under certain circumstances. If you are deemed to be using your car as a dwelling or seen engaging in activities typically associated with living in a vehicle (like cooking or storing excessive belongings), you may be drawing attention from law enforcement and potentially run afoul of this law.

Local Ordinances in Major Cities

In addition to state law, cities and municipalities within South Carolina have their own local ordinances. Here’s a look at some of the major cities:

  • Charleston: Charleston has ordinances against loitering and camping on public property, including in parked vehicles. You might be able to find short-term parking in specific areas, but overnight sleeping could attract unwanted attention.
  • Columbia: Columbia has similar ordinances as Charleston, prohibiting loitering and camping in public spaces. Long-term parking in any one spot is likely to be noticed.
  • Greenville: Greenville has regulations against sleeping on public property, which can include sleeping in parked cars in public areas.
  • Myrtle Beach: As a major tourist destination, Myrtle Beach enforces ordinances that prevent overnight parking or camping on the beach or in specific beach-related lots. While other areas might be an option, you’ll need to be cautious.

Safe Alternatives

To avoid legal trouble, here are some safer and possibly more comfortable alternatives to sleeping in your car on public streets:

  • Rest Areas: South Carolina offers rest areas along major highways, which may be suitable for short-term sleeping. However, it’s important to check the specific policies of each rest area, as some have time limits or prohibit overnight stays.
  • Campgrounds: There are many campgrounds throughout South Carolina. While some can be pricey, you may be able to find state park campgrounds or private ones offering more affordable rates.
  • 24-Hour Stores and Businesses: Some 24-hour stores, like Walmarts, may unofficially allow overnight parking with campervans or cars in their lots. It’s always best to ask for permission from management before settling in.
  • Private Property: If you know anyone with private property in South Carolina, they may give you permission to park and sleep in your car with no risk of legal issues.

Tips for Staying Safe and Discreet

If you do choose to sleep in your car in South Carolina, here are some tips to stay safe and avoid attracting attention:

  • Choose Your Location Wisely: Look for well-lit areas that are not isolated. Ideally, you should park in areas with some activity to help you blend in.
  • Be Discreet: Avoid activities that might make you look like you’re living in your car. Keep belongings organized and out of sight.
  • Minimize Light and Noise: Use blackout curtains or window coverings to keep the inside of your car dark. Avoid playing loud music or making excessive noise.
  • Keep Your Car Clean: A tidy vehicle is less likely to attract unwanted attention.
  • Don’t Overstay Your Welcome: If you are parking in a business lot or other semi-public place, move to a new location every few days at most.

Additional Resources

If you find yourself in dire need of resources and a place to sleep safely, here are some options to consider:

  • Homeless Shelters: Many cities in South Carolina have shelters that provide temporary housing and support. You can find a list of shelters on websites like Homeless Shelter Directory: [[invalid URL removed]]
  • Faith-Based Organizations: Churches and other religious organizations often offer assistance programs for those in need. Contact local religious institutions to see if they can help.
  • Social Service Agencies: Local social service agencies can connect you with resources for housing, food assistance, and essential needs.

Important Considerations

Before sleeping in your car in South Carolina, consider the following:

  • Weather: South Carolina summers can be extremely hot and humid, while winters can have surprising cold snaps. Sleeping in your car without adequate ventilation or temperature control can be uncomfortable and even dangerous.
  • Personal Safety: Sleeping in your car puts you at an increased risk for theft and other potential dangers. Always be aware of your surroundings and take precautions to protect yourself.
  • Mental Health: If you find yourself considering sleeping in your car for an extended period due to financial difficulties, it’s essential to seek assistance and support. Many resources are available to help you get back on your feet.

In Conclusion

While car sleeping may seem like a viable short-term solution, navigating the legal landscape of South Carolina requires careful consideration. By understanding local and state regulations, utilizing safe alternatives, and focusing on staying discreet, you can increase your safety and well-being in less-than-ideal situations. If you find yourself needing longer-term help, don’t be afraid to leverage the available resources for guidance and support.


Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and does not constitute legal advice. It is strongly recommended to consult with an attorney or legal professional for specific guidance regarding legal matters or potential legal issues.

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MBS Staff
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