Can You Suffocate at the Back of a Van?

Sleeping in a van can be a safe and fun way to travel, but many people worry if there’s enough oxygen to prevent suffocation. Since vans are significantly smaller than motorhomes, they lack airflow. However, thousands of people live, travel, and camp in vans without experiencing breathing problems.

You can suffocate in the back of a van if there’s too much carbon monoxide, but proper airflow will prevent oxygen deprivation to provide a safe sleeping environment. Cracking the windows, installing a roof vent, or circulating the air conditioner periodically can prevent breathing troubles.

In this article, we’ll discuss the potential dangers of suffocating in a van, how you can prevent it from happening, and tips to make your camping experience more comfortable in the back of a van.

What Can Make You Suffocate at the Back of a Van?

You might’ve heard people talking about the potential of suffocating while sleeping in the back of a van. Condensation builds on the windows, the air gets harder to breathe, and it might make you uncomfortable. There are plenty of solutions, all of which we’ll break down in this post. Check out the list below to find out why there’s a chance of suffocating in the back of a van.

  • If there’s carbon monoxide from cooking appliances, you might experience a lack of oxygen. It’s a good idea to avoid cooking in your van to prevent spills and odors, but you shouldn’t ever cook with the doors closed. Your van will fill up with gas, turning it into a hazardous environment.
  • Leaving a vehicle on while in an enclosed parking space (for example, a garage) is dangerous. Carbon monoxide enters the vehicle, causing the fumes to take up more space than oxygen. According to Goody Feed, a leaking exhaust pipe is another probable cause that worsens this scenario.
  • Never seal a van to make it airtight, even if you’re looking for insulation solutions. Insulating your van with fiberglass batts and other tools can make it retain its ambient temperature. However, sealing your fan to limit the airflow coming through the hood is a surefire way to cause oxygen issues.

As you can see, there are a few avoidable reasons the back of a van might not be safe for sleeping. The primary explanation is that carbon monoxide replaces oxygen. It’s very unlikely that you’ll face a lack of oxygen outside of this issue since vans aren’t sealed to prevent airflow.

Is There Enough Oxygen in a Closed Vehicle?

If you plan to sleep or rest in the back of a van, knowing how much oxygen you’ll have is undeniably important. With all of the doors closed and windows open, your van has enough oxygen to last much longer than you might think. 

Survival Freedom claims the oxygen is cycled and fully replaced within a few hours. It goes through the vents, hood, and other non-sealed spaces quicker than it can be used through breathing. In other words, you don’t have to worry about suffocating in the back of a van in the vast majority of situations.

Carbon monoxide replaces oxygen in small spaces, such as a van. It becomes toxic, which is why you should leave off any gas-powered appliances when it’s time to go to bed. Using a CO detector will stop it from building up without you knowing.

The Kidde Carbon Monoxide Detector beeps whenever there’s too much carbon monoxide in the air. It’s an irreplaceable gadget if you want to sleep in a van. As we mentioned earlier on the page, unknown exhaust leaks, cooking appliances, and many other components can release dangerous CO.

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How to Prevent Suffocation in the Back of a Van

Whether you’re camping, living, or taking a short nap in the back of a van, getting enough oxygen is crucial. The two most important parts of the process include preventing CO buildup and improving the airflow inside of the vehicle. If you can check off these boxes, you should be safe to relax and snooze in the van.

Follow this four-step solution:

  1. Don’t turn on the vehicle if you’re parked in an enclosed area. Try to find an open area with plenty of airflow. Even if you turn on the engine every so often to use the air conditioner or heater, you won’t have to worry about the carbon monoxide building up or poisoning anyone in the vehicle. 
  2. Consider installing a roof vent fan to promote optimal ventilation. Freedom Vans explains a roof vent brings in clean air, making it like sleeping in a tent rather than an enclosed vehicle. The Fan-Tastic Vent Fan installs in the top of the van and comes with multiple speeds to pull or push air around the van for better breathing and resting.
  3. Crack the windows and use bug nets to keep insects out of the van. Many car campers know lowering the windows by an inch can drastically reduce ventilation issues, but the biggest drawback is bugs and other debris can get in the van. We recommend hanging a bug net over the windows for the best results.
  4. Turn off all appliances before sleeping in the back of a van. Everything from the camping stove to your car’s engine should be off. Make sure you don’t have any gas-powered lanterns running, either. There shouldn’t be anything running in the van when it’s time to go to bed!

These four methods will keep you from having to worry about not having enough air to breathe in your van. Airflow isn’t all about preventing suffocation, though; Stagnant air can be uncomfortable to breathe, so improving it will provide a better night’s sleep. You’ll wake up ready to take on the day wherever you travel!


Now that you know sleeping in the back of a van is highly unlikely to cause suffocation, you can camp in peace. Remember to prevent condensation and breathing issues by cracking a window or installing a roof fan. You might not suffocate, but nobody wants to breathe thick, humid air on a warm morning!

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