Safety and Police Encounters When Car Living
I was a bit scared when I started to live in my car. I imagined all sorts of dangerous scenarios.... no doubt fed by the stereotypes of being "homeless". None of these things have come to pass. I now feel safe and secure in my van and do not worry about crime.
Much of this is due to the stealth characteristics of my vehicle. People simply do not bother what they don't know is there. Also, I park in populated areas that are not "high-crime". Once I'm parked, I never exit my vehicle. If I must get out (to walk the dog, for example), I drive to another area and do this. I keep my profile as low as possible whenever I'm parked for the night.
Besides creating a "stealth vehicle", I suggest a few other precautions. One is to hide a spare set of keys on the outside of your car. Getting locked out is considerably more annoying when you are also living in your car! Magnetic storage boxes are available at any auto parts store.
For personal defense I keep a small canister of pepper spray within quick reach of my bed. This is mostly for peace of mind as I have never felt threatened (except when encountering police :). Also, I live with my dog, so her bark is enough to deter most folks. Finally, I have a cell phone.
Concerning police encounters: Here are the key points: 1. NEVER admit to sleeping or living in your car..NEVER! When its obvious I have been asleep, I say that I was driving home, got tired and decided to "rest" before I drove home (have a friend's address to give the police if asked... but don't volunteer this info). I emphasize that I did this for safety reasons, "I didnt want to fall asleep at the wheel". 2. Stay calm, get dressed, and then smile as you exit the living area of the vehicle. Get out of the car unless instructed not to do so. Be as relaxed as you can (given the situation). Keep your hands in view. Have your driver's license ready. 3. Don't volunteer any info and don't launch into any long stories. Answer their questions, smile, and shut up!
Another safety point-- store your things in opaque containers (if they can't see it, they won't bother it). Keep the curtain/partition (that separates the drivers area from the living area) closed. In police encounters, casually slide this closed as you exit. They may ask you to slide it open... but do so only if commanded to. If they notice your bed and ask about it, use the following excuse: "I go camping alot and sometimes stay in RV campgrounds". They may know that you are living in your car... but never admit it (as its "illegal" in most places).