The following is the description of my quest to build the ultimate car camper - the Volt-abeago. I've provided the basic instructions below, complete with the option for full stealth mode. Updates have been made to this post along the way.
Before we start, I have a confession to make. I actually bought the Volt because I wanted a great car to use on long road trips. Driving in pure EV mode around town is nice -- I'll never go back. But having a car with an air conditioner that runs on battery power -- oh baby... that is sooooooo sweet.
There have been a few previous threads posted about sleeping in a Volt, so, I'm not the first person to have such a crazy idea.
As a bit of background, my wife and I have done a bit of camping in our 4x4 pickup. We purchased a used camper shell and built a platform in the back so we can cram a bunch of camping gear in the drawers underneath and sleep on the platform above. Even in pouring rain, we're tucked away safe and sound. The were only two drawbacks:
- The lack of A/C, especially in hot and humid locations.
- 18MPG Highway.
The Volt is an attractive answer to both of those issues. While it's not as spacious as the pickup, it's larger than our backpacking tent. But can you really sleep in it?
Turns out that with the rear seats down, the front seats pulled forward and folded forward, you get 76" x 40" of sleeping space. At 6'4", that is exactly
the length I need. Much to the amazement of the salesman, I tried that out during the test drive.
Me: "Have you ever tried laying down back here?"
Salesguy: [Looking a bit confused] "No, I can't say that I have."
Me: "Let's see what we can do... I bet I could fall asleep back here."
Salesguy: "You want to sleep in the car during the test drive?"
Me: "Just a quick nap, if you don't mind"
Actually we just measured it with a tape measure, but that's not nearly as good of a story.
They only problem is filling the void between the front seat and the rear seat. Here's what I've found to be the optional solution.
Push the front seat(s) all the way forward. Tilt the seat(s) all the way forward.
Remove the rear seat bottom and fill the void.
As you might have noticed, the rear seat won't fold fully flat without removing the rear seat bottom. Fortunately, that's an easy fix. Just lift straight up on the seat bottom with about 10lbs of force. There are three metal clips on the seat bottom that fit into the white retainers you see in the picture below. As long as you are pulling up, you won't break anything.
The gap between the rear seat and front seat can be filled almost perfectly with a milk crate. [Note: Ignore any warnings you may see on the picture about the legality of being possession of said milk crate. It's been with me since my freshman year of college in 1985 so I'm sure the statute of limitations are long over.
Actually, you can buy milk crates new for $15
Lay the rear seat down.
In my 30 seconds of trying, I could't figure out how to remove the rear seat headrest, so i just tucked it inside the milk crate. Problem solved.
Edit: The headrests do come out. Here's how
. With the headrest removed, the milk creates can still be used to store clothes or other stuff. Just transfer from the rear hatch area to the rear seat gap when making room for the sleeping area and closing the gap area.
Extend the platform.
The rear seat panel that comes with the VoltShelf
works perfectly to lay on top on the milk crate. You need to remove it anyway, so this is the perfect place to put it.
If you don't have a VoltShelf, you could cut a piece of 1/4" plywood to fit over the milk crate or go without.
Lay down a camping mat - or two.
Any standard 20"x72" camping pad will work. For ultimate luxury, the 3" Therm-a-Rest LuxuryMAP Sleeping Pad
in the regular size fits perfectly. Since the rear hatch area is 40" wide, two pads will fill the entire backend. If sleeping single, you can stack them for twice the cushion.
Power up and snooze in comfort.
If you are near a power outlet you can charge all night while also enjoying the climate control. To activate the climate control while charging, turn the car off, plug-in, then turn the car back on. The Volt will not charge if you just leave the car powered up and plug in. If you are away from power, the A/C (or heater) will run to the point you are out of battery power, then the generator will run for about 5 minutes to recharge the battery, then shut off. Even with the engine only turning on periodically, I would recommend pointing the car into the wind just to be safe from any chance of carbon monoxide being pulled into the cabin.
Note: If you have a 2014 or newer Volt, GM added a 150 minute timeout that will power the car down. This solved the problem of people accidentally leaving the car on
, but became a pain for those who wanted to leave the car on for camping, using as an inverter, etc. The timeout can be easily defeated by clamping the shift lever button closed (as if you were going to shift out of park) with a small clamp or rubber band. Here's more detail on that trick
Optional - Full stealth mode.
Ok, so you feel a little
strange about camping out in the Whole Foods parking lot during the middle of the day. That's where you need to go into stealth mode.
I used craft paper to make a pattern for the side and rear windows. Using that pattern, I cut out window inserts from that silver bubble insualtion you find at home improvement stores. That has just enough stiffness to cram in the windows openings and say put.
The next step is making one side black so you are as stealthy as possible. I used inexpensive broadcloth from the fabric store. You'll need about 2.5 yards. Cost is about $3 a yard.
Using spray adhesive, spray one side of the window cover and lay it down gently on the fabric. When dry, cut the fabric to release the completed unit.
Once installed, the windows just look tinted from the outside. Nobody would be the wiser. The added benefit inside is a well insulated Volt-ebago. The silver also reflects a lot of light so you'll find it very bright inside with just the interior lamps or a LED tent light.
What if you have some time to kill between appointments or need a remote office while on the go. The Volt-ebago has you covered here too. I've often sat in the passenger seat and have plenty of room for typing out emails and such. If the Volt is in sleeping configuration there is enough room to sit up and lean against the back of the front seat like a recliner. Both work well.
Bonus for Volt Shelf
owners: If you leave the VoltShelf installed, it works like a little table. You can put an iPad up there and watch a movie with bluetooth streaming to the Volt sound system, or use it for eating, a desk, whatever. And... the rear cup holders are in the exact right spot for a cool beverage and a cooler can sit in the other seat beside you.
The Urban Camping
post has instructions on how to open the rear hatch from inside. Flyingsherpa made a simple tool
to open the hatchback from inside. Note: If you do use the rear hatch, be sure to unhook the VoltShelf lifter cables or it will dump your stuff. I just use the side door for ingress/egress.
So... for the cost of about $30 - $50, you too can have yourself a fully equipped Volt-ebago.
You won't find a more economical car for a road trip to a national park than the Volt-ebago. At 40 MPG's it is one of the most fuel efficient ways to travel. It is far more comfortable than a tent at a campground and requires almost no setup or take down. In stealth mode, you can also camp at places that would't normally be options, like in a parking garage with a charging station or at a trailhead that doesn't have camping spots.
I work at a university 420 miles from my home. About once a month I need to go to the office. If I start getting drowsy, I'll pull over (ideally at a charging station) and take a quick nap in the front seat. Other times, I've gotten stuck at the office and couldn't leave in time to make it home by midnight so I've slept the night in the back. It only requires a milk crate (or two) of space to bring it. For me, it really adds to the value of having a Volt. So much versatility beyond being the world's best commuter car.