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If you’re looking for an easy way to give yourself a tonne of freedom, building a bed in the back of your car is the answer. We’ve all seen loads of those awesome self-build camper vans on social media (I’m still obsessed) but let’s be honest, not everyone has the time, patience or skills for that. Tom and I have been on-and-off living in our car for the past year in Australia and it’s been awesome.
Whilst camping in a car rather than a van certainly has its challenges, building a bed in the back was the best decision we made. There’s not a great deal of information online about how to build a bed for your car, so I’ve put together this guide on how we built our Honda CR-V sleeping platform that I think can easily be adapted to convert most SUVs into a camper
You might also like:
- What to pack for car camping- 48 essentials
- My guide to road tripping Australia’s East Coast
- How to find free and cheap campsites using WikiCamps
- How to buy a car in Australia (and what not to do)
Why should you turn your car into a camper?
Before Tom and I had even left the UK to travel to Australia, we knew we wanted to road trip. There’s nowhere we didn’t want to see and life road tripping around Australian was a fantasy we were determined to see through. Things worked out differently when we got here though, and after buying a faulty camper van (you can read about that here) and having our hopes knocked somewhat, we decided to buy a Honda CR-V 4×4 instead. This was hands down the best decision we could have made. It’s more inconspicuous, we don’t have any problem parking it and we have been able to hit up the free campsites that require a bit of off-roading to get to.
Having a camper car simply gives you flexibility. It becomes a 2-in-1 vehicle and you now have the option to just pack some stuff and head out to where ever you want to go. Whether it be a weekend trip just a few miles up the road or a much bigger, long-term trip, it’s so exciting to be able to go. It’s warmer and more secure than a tent and surprisingly not too tricky to turn into a camper!
How we built our Honda CR-V sleeping platform
With neither of us having any experience in making anything, we knew it would have to be a simple and easy folding sleeping platform for the car. As the back seats in our Honda CR-V (2004 Sport model) didn’t fold flat, we had to have to work around that. We didn’t want to take the seats out because we liked the idea of having it as a normal car as well, so we had to design the bed to fold fully into the boot space. As we were travelling at the time we made the bed, we actually built it in the car park of the local hardware store. This was perfect as they could cut the wood to size and we could easily get things amended as we went along. So here are the steps to building a car sleeping platform.
The design in a nutshell
The base of the bed is made from 3 sheets of sturdy plywood connected together by hinges to make it a foldable. Sheet 1 covers the area of the boot, sheet 2 goes over the back seats and rests on them once folded down, and sheet 3 covers the space over the passenger footwells. The piece covering the boot space has 4 fixed legs to support it and the piece that goes over the footwell as 2 legs on hinges to support the other end and so they can be folded flat too. I believe this Honda CR-V bed could also be used to convert most other SUVs into a camper as well. Just be sure to take all the measurements to make sure it fits!
Tools you’ll need
- Screws (the right type for the wood you’re using- the hardware store should be able to help with this)
- Drill – I used a battery powered drill as we were building the bed outside.
- Drill bits to fit your screws
- 8 x hinges – 6 x big ones and 2 x small ones
- Plywood sheets for the platform
- wood to make the legs
- Tape measure
- Spirit level
- Foam or something to use as a mattress – I would recommend buying some upholstery foam around 3-4 inches thick to make sure it’s comfy.
You will need to take the following measurements to make sure that not only will your bed fit inside the car, that you will be able to get it in there once it’s built and also that you have space to fold it as well as storage underneath it.
- Lay flat on your front and have someone measure your full height. You ideally want the 3 sheets to add up to this measurement to make sure you’re comfortable.
For the legs
- Measure the height from the passenger floor to the top of the passenger seats when folded down – this is the height of the 2 x hinged legs that will support sheet 3.
- Measure the height from the boot floor to the top of the passenger seats when folded down – this is the height of the 4 x legs that will support sheet 1.
For the plywood platform
For sheet 1 in the boot
- Measure the width of the boot door at the height your bed will be. This will be the maximum width.
- Measure the distance between the inside of the boot door to the passenger seat hinges. This is the length.
For sheet 2 over the back of the passenger seats
- Measure the distance from the passenger seat hinges to the top of the passenger seats, at the height the bed will be at. This is the length.
- Take the length of the sheet and measure up from the height of the bed. Measure across the car from this point. This is the width.
For sheet 3 over the passenger footwells
- Measure the distance from the top of the passenger seats to the back of the front seats when they are pulled and forward. This will be the length.
- The width of sheet 3 should be the same as sheet 2 as it’s the smallest piece.
How to build the folding sleeping platform
Now you have all your measurements and the sheets of plywood and legs cut to size, it’s time to assemble the platform. Be sure to use the spirit level while you’re putting it together as you don’t want to be sleeping on a wonky bed!
Attach the 3 sheets of plywood together
- Use 3 hinges to join each sheet together. All the hinges are to go on the same side of the plywood.
- Measure the middle point on sheets 1 and 2 and use the drill to screw the hinge on here.
- Screw the left and right hinges on an inch or two in from the edges.
- Repeat this to join sheet 2 and 3.
Attach the 4 legs to sheet 1
- Pull the measuring tape out to the length of sheet one and lay it in the boot. Use this to decipher where you would like the 4 legs to go. You want to maximise space under the bed for storage purposes, but you also want to ensure the frame is well supported. Our Honda CR-V also has a built-in picnic table in the boot that we used so we needed to make sure the legs were not over that.
- Take a pencil and mark where the legs will go on sheet 1.
- Drill the legs on by the marks.
Attach the 2 hinged legs to sheet 3
- These legs need to be placed with enough room to fit the hinges. We placed them fairly close to the edge and a couple of inches in from the sides.
- Take a pencil and mark this on sheet 3.
- Screw the hinges on to each of the two legs.
- Place one leg on to the plywood so that the hinge will make it lay flat on the sheet when folded.
- Screw the other half of the hinge to the plywood.
- Repeat for the other leg.
Now you’re all done! The bed for your car should easily fit in and can be folded and stored away. Now all you need is some cosy bedding and a road trip plan to get you on your way!